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MsDD loves her “stupidly long hair,” as she calls it. Her friends, male and female, come and plait it as a lunch queue pastime and she has a lot of fun making sure it is perfectly styled for every occasion. MsDD loves her hair, even though it is so thick and heavy that it pulls the glossy black ringlets with which she was born straight and Rapunzel-like, to hang doomed around her waist. At least, though, she looks after it now.

Once upon her time she would never bother to brush her hair and it would twist and tangle and mat. I threatened her twice with having it all cut off if she could not look after it. I carried out this threat only twice and now she makes sure that it’s brushed and washed and, occasionally cut.

Her brother derides her stupid hair. I’m not sure why. Perhaps he envies it, as I do. It reminds me of when I too had hair I could sit on, but it had to be brushed every morning  by my mum, who put it into a plait, the default hairstyle of young women in India.

We had neither shampoo not conditioner in our house: every six weeks or so she’d boil up some Shikakai paste and pour it over my head in the bath. It smelled absolutely foul and was always boiling hot. My main worry was the long and painful detangling process: it would would often take an hour to comb the resulting tangles out of my hair and my mum was not gentle with her fine-toothed Indian Kangwa. The herb powder residue left in my hair for the next week despite this thorough combing was often mistaken for dandruff and I was once humiliated by the school nit nurse wanting to comb my clean, entirely louse-free hair through with Dettol. For shame!

I could never manage my hair and it was hopelessly old-fashioned in that plait that no-one could do but my mum so at 12 years old I let a friend persuade me to make an appointment in my local, fairly down-at-heel hair salon. I had no idea what style to ask for to replace my plait: remember that I’d never been in a hair salon. Anything to do with beauty or hair or make up or clothes were completely alien to me.

I asked for a one-length unlayered pageboy cut: my first disastrous and unmaintainable hairdo, the first in a long line of them that would stretch over many decades. It was a matter of days before my mother offered to put it up in bunches every morning because she could not bear to see loose hair.

I’ve had ridiculous hairstyle after ridiculous hairstyle: an inch and a half long all over; a sculpted, cut under short bob that stuck up because of my four double crowns; a style that made me look like one of the Supremes (at 13;) one inspired by Phil Oakey of the Human League. I’ve only finally in the last couple of years settled on collarbone-length hair that rejoices in its natural wave. What took me so long?

So MsDD had her hair shaped, trimmed and curled today and it looks fabulous. It’s a funny thing, isn’t it, hair? Many of us mercilessly pursue and eradicate the hair on most parts of our bodies that’s deemed unattractive and yet in one particular place, on the head, it is held as one of our signs of alluring beauty. No wonder so many cultures see it as a symbol of sexuality, to be hidden from all but a close inner circle. And we have ours braxzenly out on display to all and sundry.What must other people make of that?

 

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