Hair Style Life Style

Reading the book Queens: Portraits of Black Women and their Fabulous Hair by Cunningham and Alexander (Doubleday, 2005) and watching a TV program about a psychologist who attempted to predict behavior of married adults from studying their childhood photos led me to ponder these aspects of my own life.

In a large sepia-tinted photo, I sit on my beautiful mother’s lap, framed by her mother and her father’s mother. “Reigning” as the firstborn child, my wispy blond twirls, tied with a bow, formed a “C” on the crown of my head. Even as an infant, my hairstyle has always seemed to reflect who I am.

My hair, tamed with braids or flying in the wind, defined my childhood and elementary school pictures—a photo journal that now tells me more than words ever could. Each shot captured bangs with big, loopy curls around my ears or swept-back straight hair pinned into a dainty French roll with one big 1950s curl in the middle of my forehead. And unlike the girl in the old poem, I was always “very, very good.”

In the photos, the styled hair, as well as beautiful dresses, and a big, honest smile revealing the gap between my front teeth showed how much my mother took special care of me. Permanents, big curls set with bobby pins, and green hair gel (we called “goop”) did the trick. I do remember, though, having my hair done one day with a curling iron that slipped and brushed my forehead. What a cruel instrument to use for beautification.

Having decided to follow Christ as a young child, I had heard the verse in 1Peter 3:3-4: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” That truth challenged me for years, and still does. But it did not keep me, even in fourth grade, from noticing women’s hair styles, especially one swept back from the forehead and coming around into a curl at each temple. It was definitely a glamorous way to look, I then thought.

In sixth grade, lost in the back row of the small Christian school photo, I had a short, choppy do. I wonder if I was imitating my best friend, worldly-wise Alana. Or perhaps it reflected the growing unhappiness in my parents’ marriage, cutting away any chances of peace and security for me and my brothers and sister.

By seventh grade, my awareness of fashion and beauty blossomed. For the first time, I remember coveting a must-have hairstyle: a long ponytail twirled around and around like one long sausage roll. I decided to grow one myself.

In the next three years, I would often go to a photo booth in a five and dime store and take pictures of my hairstyles. My smiles belied the anger I felt over my parents’ problems and the resulting separation. I tried so very hard to act like it was all OK and accept the situation in which I found myself.

By 1960, rollers and teased hair took over. While visiting the home of my friend, Bonnie, I yielded my hair to her two older, beautiful sisters. A little cut, a little tease, and lots of hairspray and they worked their transforming makeover. Could it be? So little effort, so lovely a change.

My interest in hair styling increased, not only with my teen years, but with my struggle to find peace in an increasingly unstable home. My frustrations often led me to get out the scissors and chop off a little bit more of my hair—a futile attempt to somehow change who I was, cutting away at the chaos and unhappiness. In the process, I learned to cut hair properly, but only after one day doing a bad job on a friend’s! Her mother dispatched her to the beautician to right my wrongs.

In 1962, one day my mother very suddenly left my father, and we six moved to the other end of the country. With my Bible open on my lap, I looked wistfully out the window as we pulled out of the Greyhound bus station that night. I remembered how God told His people that He would protect them in crises, that “not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:18). From then on, few photos show my coiffure anything but perfect—not a hair out of place. My family life might have been a mess, but not my hair. Short, bouffant styles took me through the next two years. Finally, I returned to my elementary school bangs and swingy blond locks.

In high school, I had no money and few nice clothes, but I did have brains and beautiful hair. I got attention by not only studying hard and excelling academically, but by coming to school every day with a different hairdo. I loosened up, enjoyed my good friends, and loved myself more and more. My senior photo, though, remains a testament to the perfection and acceptance I still craved: a golden flip—as flawless as a painting—under my white cap.

That summer I returned to the West to see classmates I had greatly missed. My hair grew longer and longer, sun bleached to a beautiful, golden color. It was a California dreamin’ kind of vacation. I had a blast.

As I entered college, I pondered my future career. A committed Christian, I considered going overseas as a missionary. But the only missionary women I knew wore their hair in tight buns at the nape of their necks, and I seriously doubted I could ever accept looking like that. I wondered over Bible verses, sometimes mystifying, about the appropriate length of hair, as found 1 Corinthians 11: “If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.” “…but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory. For long hair is given to her as a covering.” Happily, some modern-day missionary types visited the college and I realized that hair had little to do with sanctity.

By then, I had developed a gift for cutting and styling hair and was able to make a little extra money. I even wished at one point that I had attended beauty school before college so that I could legally charge a higher price. In my freshman year, everyone wanted an “artichoke” cut. Coeds made appointments with me to do their hair for special events; some days I was busy from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. They asked for piles of curls on the top of their heads. This was a fun activity for me except for the day one client told me who was taking her out—the young man I secretly loved for most of my four years in college. Was I tempted to…!

The ensuing two years found me teaching high school French. By then, a short, curly blond wig proved a quick, fun way to “do” my hair. Two years later in 1971, when I arrived at a Bible school in Paris wearing the same wig, it surprised many ultra-conservatives. Riding the métro, I always hid my long hair in another way—under my winter coat, in order to discourage numerous, disgusting characters.

Later, during many years spent in Africa, I cycled through long and short, permed and straight hair. In the good times and the bad, the truth of Luke 12:6–7 assured me.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.

Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

My Heavenly Father has always watched over me and known me—even every blond hair on my head.