My Mother's Perm Traumatized Me -- Did Your Parents Change Their Appearance In A Way That Upset You?

What is it about a small change in a parent's appearance that makes a big, scary impression on a child?
Publish date:
September 10, 2014
parents, mustaches, childhood trauma, makeovers, perms

The other night, I was at a mermaid-themed bar, talking about a two-year-old documentary I haven't seen, as you do. Actually, I wasn't talking so much as listening to my friend Sonny talk about the documentary, Morgan Spurlock's "Mansome," which I really should see since I have so many opinions on male grooming and beards and whatnot.

She explained that, in "Mansome," Spurlock shaves off his signature horseshoe mustache, to the utter traumatization of his five-year-old son. The poor kid apparently cries hysterically when he sees his dad without facial hair for the first time in his short life.

"That happened to me with my mom!" I shouted, and then I realized it sounded like my mom had a mustache for the first few years of my life, which is not the case.

I went on to tell a tale of yore, yore being the early 1980s, in which I felt betrayed and startled by a minor parental makeover.

When my mother dropped me off at preschool one morning, she looked pretty much like this:

And when she picked me up later that very same day, she looked... like... THIS:


When I walked into the hallway, I saw my friend's mother, Joanne, talking to a curly-haired woman, whose back was to me. Joanne waved at me, which cued the curly-haired woman to turn and look in my direction. That's when I saw that this woman had stolen my mother's face.

At least that's how it felt to four-year-old me. I couldn't quite wrap my pigtailed head around the idea that my mother's appearance could change, and so quickly, and with no warning. And even though it was just the texture of her hair that had been altered, I was as upset as if her arms had been replaced with chainsaws.

"I have a mom-perm story, too!" Sonny replied. (My friends and I like to shout our responses at each other. It's weird.) She clearly recalls playing on the floor of her daycare place and catching her mother's white windbreaker in her peripheral vision.

"I turned away from whatever toy I was playing with, and saw a woman with curly hair wearing my mom's jacket crouched down holding her arms out. I immediately turned back to whatever I was doing because, DUH, that wasn't my mom," Sonny says. Although she didn't cry like I did when I saw my mom with a perm, she says, "My mom's perm rendered me momentarily incapable of recognizing the woman who gave me life."

I asked some XO editors if their baby brains exploded upon seeing a change in their parents' appearance, and a few had stories to share (though none about perms, sadly).


"My dad has had a beard and mustache my entire life. I don't remember this, but apparently he shaved once when I was a baby, and I cried a lot. I do remember being afraid of men without facial hair until the age of nine or so."


"I wasn't that little, but when my dad briefly shaved his mustache off when I was in high school, the mustache he'd had for all of my years on this earth, I had a meltdown. It was so creepy. I could barely look at him. He did it again a few years ago, and I screamed when I saw him in the airport. He had a mustache tan line both times."


"In contrast, my dad came back from being deployed -- he was in the Navy -- and had a beard, and I didn't recognize him and was TERRIFIED. Apparently I would only let him talk to me if he covered the lower part of his face until he shaved."

My mother has changed her hairstyle and color plenty of times over the course of my life, but they all rolled off my back. Nothing shook me to the core like that first perm.

I don't dramatically change my look all that often, but it's strange to think that, if I had kids, I'd have to take into consideration how it might affect them. Add "freedom to change my appearance without traumatizing a child" to my list of reasons I don't want to have children, I suppose.

Do you have any memories of being deeply troubled by a parent's minor change in appearance? Are you a parent who accidentally freaked out your kid when you changed something about your look?