Six years of bad haircuts, ranging from the remortgage-your-house expensive to the hide-all-the-mirrors variety

August 12th, 2014, 8pm

Having curly hair requires constant vigilance. It’s like having a toddler: every two minutes you think, what it’s doing now?

As a kid I had thick, straight hair, cut into a hedgerow with a fringe as thick as a broom. But then the hormones arrived, whipping it into an incomprehensible, frizzy mess. Not quite straight and not quite curly, my hair suddenly didn’t make any sense, like someone speaking a language with perfect grammar but an incomprehensible accent.

For years, I resisted it, ironed the hell outta it, poured chemicals through it to knock out the kinks. But I live in Japan, where for half the year you can hardly breathe for humidity, sweat while you sleep, no clothes too skimpy — and so, of course, my curly-wavy-what? hair didn’t stand a chance.

None of the hairdressers in Tokyo spoke my hair’s language. There was one that spoke a dialect close to it, maybe, or perhaps a sort of pidgin that made them aware of the havoc waves could wreak but not how to tame them. But even they cost an arm and a leg, so I braved it with the cheaper ones , who attacked my mop with these strange toothed comb-scissor hybrid instruments and blow-dried it from underneath, creating this kind of static cotton-candy cumulonimbus that made them look very, very worried because it had never happened to them before.

So I sort of gave up, taught myself elaborate twisty ponytails and ballerina buns and forgot about ever letting my hair down again.

Cue my friend Marina, she with the magic hands. I’ll cut it for you, she said, and I figured, what do I have to lose?

So I go over to her house and she ties my hair up in a high knot and chops it off below the rubber band. A cat’s worth of hair in the sink.

I have a mullet.

I start yowling, gripping on to tufts — “Just leave this one! I like this one!”, just like when I was six and my mother tried to prise my precious collection of grimy bird bones and feathers from my hands. “This part here- it’s good! Any shorter, it will misbehave!”

Marina looks at me with big eyes and says, “I never met anyone with so much trauma-” — she rolls the r and draws out the vowels in her Spanish accent, aaaauma, “—over their hair before. Just let me do it!”

And so I let her cut some more, and more, knowing it’s irreversible, six months’ growth at least, a recurrence of the nightmare of growing back an undercut or chemical hair straightening or that awful puffy boyish crop I got at 14.

But she manages it. Somehow, I have found the only speaker of my hair’s language (who knew my hair spoke Madrileno?) who isn’t even a hairdresser. Maybe it’s because she gets paid to draw 24 frames per second of Disney princesses tossing their manes every day - she’s an animator - but she coaxes these stubborn Anglo-Saxon waves and frizz into coherent curls for once, something approaching stylish. It even dries from wet into something that doesn’t look like a haystack or a bird’s nest or a bad halo of frizz that drums up memories of the bad braces-and-acne yearbook photo, even in the humid puddle that is August in this city. Magic.

Christine and Craig said thanks.

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sophie knight

I get high on conversation.

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