Whenever I tell people my secret, especially guys, they look at me like I am nuts. Or high maintenance. Perhaps I am a touch of both. Whatever I am, though, the truth remains: I don't wash my hair myself and, with limited exception, haven't since 2006.
Yes, there are times when I do wash my hair myself simply for the sake of maintaining good hygiene, like when I am on a beach vacation. I then wear my hair in a bun until I can have it professionally blown out before returning home where, God forbid, someone I know might see me. Or when I have water unexpectedly sprayed on me while on a ride at an amusement park with my kids. Or the husband of a friend douses me with a Super Soaker at his pool because he thinks I have a pole shoved up my ass since I refuse to put my head under the water and ruin my blowout. When that last scenario occurred, I began dialing my hair salon for an appointment while still poolside. But, trust me, it was with good reason.
As a child, I always hated my hair. Aside from it being red, which is often accompanied by fair (pale) skin like mine (and, at times, ridicule from other kids due to that more unusual and not always flattering combo), my hair was also unbelievably thick and if left to its own devices, unruly. Which meant any hairstyle I coveted, from Farrah Fawcett's 1970s feathery locks to the ringlet curls repopularized when "Annie" took to the silver screen in the 80s, proved disastrous.
But that didn't stop me (or my mom) from trying. At age three, a hair stylist suggested cutting my hair short and giving me layers and bangs. "It will look cute!" he had promised. Instead, my hair inexplicably inflated and when all was said and done, I looked like I was wearing a red football helmet. Not cute.
In the fourth grade, I feathered my hair. I'll never forget the pained look on my father's face when he saw me for the first time after my haircut and asked, "What did you do?' That same year, some kid I didn't know also asked me if I was a boy or a girl. My mother reassured me he was only kidding. He wasn't.
I began growing out that haircut the moment I looked in the mirror. From there, I went from bad hairstyle to bad hairstyle (though not as bad as the fourth-grade one), including a perm in the eighth grade, which was supposed to result in soft curls. It didn't. It seemed every hair stylist I went to claimed he or she knew exactly how to style my hair. None of them did.
By the 10th grade, I gave up and grew out all my layers and began wearing my hair completely straight, parted neatly off-center much like I did when I was in grade school. It was kind of Susan Dey-like, except my hair was red, much heavier, and more voluminous, meaning it wasn't quite like Susan Dey's.
Sometime during my senior year of high school, I accompanied my boyfriend to his hair stylist. She took one look and assured me she could work a miracle; I just needed to let her try. It was 1990, Bon Jovi was all the rage, and I lived in New Jersey. Within 45 minutes and with the addition of long layers instead of short ones, I was miraculously transformed. For the next few months, I had the best Jersey girl hair ever and, for the first time in my life, I felt pretty.
Unfortunately, like every other fad, this one died, too, along with the glam rock era that inspired it and there I was, again, left to figure out what to do with my unmanageable hair. After another series of bad haircuts, I finally gave up, grew my layers out, and let my hair dry naturally, even after a haircut, for the next however so many years.
Fast forward to 2006 and the haircut that would change my life forever. In all fairness, it was what would happen after it that did. My hair stylist had just finished cutting my hair but instead of pulling out the diffuser to speed up the natural drying process, she asked if I would like her to blow my hair out straight for a change. After she did, and flat ironed it as well, I stared at the mirror and could not believe the transformation. I looked like a different person!
More importantly, I felt like a different person. Suddenly, my face was framed, and my features no longer were overpowered by a heavy head of hair. One wedding (with bad hair, I might add) and three children later, I realized it had been years since I thought of myself as attractive and with my new hairdo, I suddenly did. The feeling was nothing short of intoxicating, and a triumph over a lifetime spent struggling with my appearance. I was hooked. From that day on, I scheduled weekly blowouts for myself and began working on my self-esteem, from the outside in.
Ironically, it is the same thick, unruly hair which first drove me to my weekly blowout (and flat ironing) that also enables a single blowout to last a full seven days (sometimes eight or nine if need be) without turning me into a grease monkey. The best part is, there is little maintenance involved to keep my hair looking the way it does on day one on day seven. All I have to do is put my hair in a high but loose ponytail before bed and brush my hair with an inexpensive vent brush in the morning and as needed throughout the day. I also keep a comb with widely spaced teeth in my bag for when I am on the go, right next to my travel umbrella, and wear a shower cap whenever I shower or bathe.
As of today, I have been with my current hair stylist for more than eight years, almost the full duration of her career, and have followed her from salon to salon. I do, however, keep "understudies" in place for emergencies, like when she is sick or on vacation. Though my hair stylist is, in my estimation, the best out there, the thought of going a week without having my hair blown out and feeling dissatisfied with the way I look much as I did when I was young is enough to send me into the chair of another.
But it is not because I hate my hair, or myself, for that matter. Rather, it is a reflection of how over time I have come to put my physical and emotional needs first, at least some of the time, because I deserve to feel good, too. For me, a blowout is one of the things that does it and, at 43, I will not make any excuses or offer any apologies for pampering and treating myself well.
I still have my hair blown out each week, even after getting divorced and scaling down my spending accordingly. To be honest, if faced with the choice, I would rather have my hair professionally done than eat. That is because a weekly blowout represents more than my ritualistic devotion to some seemingly superficial beauty treatment. It is, instead, affirmation, both public and private, that I value myself and want to be the best version of me I can be.
As for that high maintenance "thing" guys think they see in me when we first meet, the obstacle that potentially stands in their way of a swim or some hot and steamy shower sex? I tell them I am still game as long as either activity takes place on a Wednesday, right in time for my Thursday hair appointment.