What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 20
Hair Anxiety 

[p.60]I think hair is one of the world’s stupidest inventions. So what if it keeps your head warm in the winter. BIG DEAL. That hardly compensates for the fact that hair is nothing but a nuisance the rest of the time. The very worst thing about hair, of course, is that you have to decide what to do with it. Sometimes I think my whole life has been spent in pursuit of the Perfect Hairdo.

I get this obsession about hair from my mother who truly believes that if you can just find the right hairdo, all of the problems in your life will be solved automatically. Whenever I used to talk to my mother about the problems of being a teenager, she’d fix me with a sympathetic stare, then say, “Do you think we ought to perm your hair, Sweetheart?” If I’d recently had a perm, she’d try another tact and ask me if I wanted to do something to the color instead. Usually I said yes—maybe my problems really would go away if I looked like a totally different person the next day—and so Mom and I would get two Tabs from the fridge, crawl in her Volkswagen bug, drive to the nearest Skagg’s Drugstore, and check out the hair color products.

“What do you think,” she’d say as we surveyed the rows of Miss Clairol together. “Do you want to be a Winter Wheat this time?”

During one giddy summer my mother and I dyed my hair four times. I went from being a blonde to a brunette to a redhead back to a brunette. And we frosted it after that. My family refers to that period as The Summer Ann Had an Identity Crisis. It’s not that I didn’t know who I was so much. It’s just that I kept forgetting what I looked like. Whenever I’d see myself in the mirror first thing each morning, I’d jump in surprise, then say, “Oh that’s right—I have red hair now.”

When I asked a friend why people (including my Grandpa who always calls me Rhonda) never recognize me from one time to the next, he said, “I think it’s because you fool around a lot with your hair.” It’s true. I do fool with my hair. Although I haven’t dyed my hair since I got married and moved out of my mother’s house, I still try on different hairstyles in much the same way I imagine that Queen Elizabeth tries on hats—and mostly with the same disastrous results. One ultra-[p.61]cropped haircut I had awhile ago looked positively institutional. Another had bangs so short that I looked a little like Mamie Eisenhower at the Inaugural Ball. For awhile I even had buffalo hair just like all those girls on my then-favorite soap, Days of Our Lives.

Telling my hairdresser who I wanted to look like, in fact, used to be my favorite technique for describing the hairdo I wanted. I’d say, “Why don’t you give me buffalo hair, just like all those girls on Days of Our Lives!” and sure enough I’d walk away from the salon with the best darned buffalo hair you ever saw. I abandoned this technique, however, after I once told a stylist to make me look like Jacqueline Bisset. He sniffed and said, “Well, I’ll see what I can do from the neck up—”

I do take some comfort from the fact that I am not the only woman who worries about her hair. Most of the women I know worry about their hair. In fact, so many women worry about their hair these days that the American Psychological Association (APA) has recently recognized a disorder known as Hair Anxiety. Here are the three main symptoms of Hair Anxiety, which I believe is one of the major problems facing Americans today.

1. Every day you wonder what you ought to do to your hair.
2. Every day you ask your husband what you ought to do to your hair.
3. Every day your husband tells you he doesn’t care what you do to your hair so please, please don’t ask again.

For awhile there it looked like none of my own children would ever have to experience Hair Anxiety because I only have boys. I learned how wrong I was when I took Dylan, who was three years old, to the barber shop. The shop was staffed by two jolly barbers with round faces who looked like they might well enjoy singing snatches of Austrian folk songs as they worked. They smiled at Dylan and invited him to sit in a chair which Dylan reluctantly did. Dylan managed to sit patiently as they wrapped the towel around his neck, then draped the plastic smock over his clothes. But when Dylan caught sight of the scissors, it was all over. He began to scream. Worse, he began to fidget. Those barbers looked at each other, and then they began rubbing their hands together. “I think we need—THE STRAP!” cried the head barber.

[p.62]“Yes, Master,” cried his assistant. “The strap.! The strap!” “Igor, get me the strap!” cried the head barber. So Igor, like the good assistant barber he was, dragged his knuckles across the floor to the closet and produced the strap, whereupon they tied Dylan in his seat and proceeded to give him their version of the haircut from hell. It was awful. Dylan cried. I cried. Even my mom cried when I told her about it. Fortunately we both knew exactly what to do to feel better.

We hurried right out and got ourselves a perm.