Three Happy Hair Days!

By Nancy Malvin

I’m not very good at picking my best/worst anything. Actually, I find it nearly impossible. Given that as my norm, indulge my short list of times I was happiest with my hair. (Interestingly, in describing them, I found they all coalesced around a central theme.)

  1. My high school senior picture
  2. Being guest of honor at a business function
  3. Summer 2014

Happy Hair Day 1: My high school senior picture

The flip was the classic teen hair-do of the times (mid- to late 1960s). The style varied in length (landing anywhere between the bottom of your ears to the top of your shoulders) and where it was parted (none, center, or on either side), but there was one constant: its shape. It poofed out from the top and then flipped up at the bottom (a shape similar to a ladle hanging on the side of a punch bowl).


In junior high, the poof was more exaggerated, usually obtained by teasing. (Trying to describe that technique ate up too many words. Besides, I googled it and was astonished to find it’s still used, although it looks less obvious.) Over the years, the poof became less poofy and more straight. Those of us unlucky enough to have missed out on the DNA marker for straight hair wrapped it around cylindrical items (e.g., curlers—with or without bristles—even soup cans) to achieve what nature had denied us. Heavy doses of hairspray might also have been needed if your hair was inclined to spring back to its natural state.

The more closely I managed to make my hair conform to the “ideal,” the prettier I felt. The day I had my senior picture taken was one of those days.


Happy Hair Day 2: My early 40s

My hair was shorter, the flip was gone, and the tools had improved (blow dryer and a brusMalvin-hair-2h instead of a bonnet-styled dryer and curlers). My look had changed, but it was still fairly classic, only instead of a classic teen style it was now that of a typical business woman in her 40s.


This picture was taken at a business event where I was the guest of honor. It was another day when my hair looked exactly the way I wanted, only this time in addition to feeling attractive, I also felt competent and confident.


Happy Hair Day 3: Forget the hair (my early 60s)

Every day, for at least a nanosecond, my level of confidence unconsciously rises or falls based on the last glimpse of my hair as I step away from the bathroom mirror. Is that because as a child, I learned from my mother that my hair was my best feature? (I was proud to have naturally curly hair, oblivious to the fact I never made the distinction between it being my best physical feature and it being the best part of me.)


So what would happen if hair was not in the picture? I wasn’t brave enough to shave it all off, but I did get it cut really short.

I loved it. What freedom!


That would have been a great place to end this hair saga. It would also have been dishonest.

Yes, at first I was thrilled with my really short hair-do. But then a strange thing happened. Those around me didn’t say anything about it. I’d expected (hoped?) to hear, “How cute!” or “It’s adorable!” or even, “Wow, that was brave of you!” What I got was – nothing. Did I look so ridiculous that they were too embarrassed to even mention it? I stuck with it for the rest of that summer, then gradually let it grow a bit longer. (I have started letting its natural curl and wave have their way more often.)

Sarah’s writing prompt led me to re-examine my whole “hair” thing. When I started trying to describe how I looked on those good hair-do days, I kept trying to use shortcuts by describing who I looked like: the pretty, popular teenager; the confident, classy business woman; the pixie-ish, vibrant older woman. I realized I’d used my hair to project the type of woman I was trying to be.
I don’t believe I am unique in this. The way we wear our hair is part of our identity, and I don’t think I can or even want to eradicate that part of me. What I am working on is feeling more congruence between how I look on the outside and how I feel on the inside. And when I accomplish that? Those are really good hair days.

P.S. My first hair-do.

(c) 2016 Nancy Malvin


I recently posted a writing prompt: “When were you happiest with your hair?” Thank you, Nancy Malvin, for playing along! Readers, be my guest–send your happy hair stories–or horror stories!

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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