Hair Management: Learning to Live With Wilful Locks

You know, sometimes when life gets very serious, it’s good to stop and stress about something not so serious. Like hair. Wilful, mind of its own, totally misbehaving, unmanageable hair. Like mine. Because as you are no doubt aware, if you stop by here regularly, I do like to stress and obsess about my hair. I seem to write a hair story every few months, starting way back in the spring of 2014 when I first started writing the blog.
In that post I mention how the writer Natalie Goldberg, in her book Writing Down the Bones, says that if you are casting about for daily writing topics, and nothing springs to mind, “write a hair story.” And when I was still teaching, each semester I would suggest “a hair story” as a journal topic. I was always surprised by the clever, funny pieces the students produced. Especially the story written by Jenny (lovely, quiet Jenny, with the long red curls) who felt unable to live up to the fiery personality her hair seemed to promise. Perhaps Jenny thinks she should have been born a cool brunette. With a sleek pageboy cut. Like Donna Parker.
Donna Parker cover art picturing girl with pageboy style hair
I’m sure my hair aspirations date back to my sister’s copy of this Donna Parker book
Sigh. I know just how you feel, Jenny. I so wanted to be Donna Parker. Or Honey Wheeler from the Trixie Belden books. I longed for shiny, frizz-free, sophisticated, manageable hair. I even did my darnedest to have that sleek pageboy for a while when I was fifteen. Now that was a labour intensive look. Especially in the era before good blow-dryers, or straightening irons, or “product” that wasn’t Dippity-do. Anyone else remember that sticky, gooey gel that we used to smear on the ends of our hair? At times I resorted to using Mum’s hair spray. And not with entirely successful results. See below. Ha. Poor me. What a mop of hair I had.
Curly page boy hair at age 16
Age 15, Donna Parker wanna be
By the time I was in university, and the seventies were in full swing, I let my curls have their way. And, as you can see from my university I.D. photo below, sported a full on Afro. More or less. My curls were not entirely reliable. Some bits curled more than others, some bits just frizzed. Some bits decided to lay flat and needed major encouragement. This look required washing every day because sleeping on an Afro meant I looked like a free-form hair sculpture come morning. And then there was the fluffing, and the waiting, and more fluffing. Makes me smile to look at my hair in 1975. It’s very… uh… round… isn’t it?
Afro hair at age 20
Age 20, in my Afro phase
The shot below is what my hair looked like for most of the nineties. Short. Blonde-ish. Thick. And curling. Not actually curly, since I tried my hardest to make it go straight, wielding my round brush, and blow-dryer, and any number of hair products. But at some point in the day it would begin to curl and then slowly revert to its natural state. Makes me wonder why I just didn’t give up and let it have its way. But although I had out grown my dreams of Donna Parker and Honey Wheeler pageboys, I now had visions of tousled, glossy, piece-y bangs, a la Linda Evangelista. This is my driver’s licence photo from 1992.
short curls in the 1990's
Age 36, not looking like Linda Evangelista
Then, when I turned forty, I decided to make one last push for that sleek bob that had always eluded me. I grew my hair out, and suffered frustrating curls and whorls for months. Not to mention the comments from colleagues.
Male Colleague (who shall remain nameless): “I see you are growing your hair, Susan.”
Me: “Yep.”
MC: “Do you want an honest opinion?”
Me: “Nope.”
Then, when it was long enough, my hairdresser enacted a miracle, one that without myriad layers, “undercutting,” “texturizing,” and lots of product would not be possible. He gave me a smooth bob. And I was in raptures. Finally. This is my passport photo from 2000 below. I’d had my smooth bob for four years. And I had the arm muscles to prove it. One summer on vacation when Hubby was reading and I was getting ready for dinner, he commented on how many times I sighed and laid down my huge round brush and blowdryer. Then picked them up again and continued with the drying. It took forever; the top layers had to be pinned up so the bottom layers could be dried smooth, then the top bits often had to be dampened because they were dry by the time I got to them. Then everything had to be sprayed to keep the frizz down. Well, you get the idea. And on humid days, it still looked like it had when I was fifteen. That’s when I began to resent my smooth bob. Big time. And then as I approached my mid-forties, I began to think the cut was aging. And that was that.
smooth bob in 2000
Age 44, and growing tired of this labour intensive bob
It’s funny that I longed for a smooth bob for decades, but when, after four years, I cut it off and went back to short hair, I felt much more like me. As if maybe I’d been masquerading as a sleek-haired girl for all those years. Took me some time to settle into a cut I liked. And with a hairdresser I liked. Then I discovered flattening irons, and de-frizzing leave-in conditioners, and hair wax, and suddenly those tousled, piece-y bangs were achievable too. Maybe not Linda Evangelista worthy, but not bad. At least on low humidity days.
And then last year I had an epiphany  And decided to try to let go of my hair management issues. I had my hair cut very short and eschewed the flattening iron, and the straightening conditioner, in favour letting my curls have a bit more freedom. Not full on, round headed, Afro-style curly. But wavy, letting my natural whoop-de-do flip in the front have more leeway. Some days. At least until it gets too long and I begin to develop Elvis hair. Then I step in with the round brush and the straightening iron. I’m trying to accept my curls, even if they are wilful and don’t always behave.
But this last week and a half at Mum’s has been challenging. And I’m not talking about the family worries. I’m talking about my hair. You see, I had it cut very short again the day before I left to fly home. And what with the soft water at Mum’s, which always makes my hair curly, and puffy, and the fact that I accidentally packed a bottle of my old Aveda smoothing/conditioning cream, which makes my hair really straight… my poor hair doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going. If I use the conditioner it goes too straight, and too soft and puffy. Sticking up on the crown like Rod Stewart’s hair back in the day. If I don’t use the conditioner it’s puffy and frizzy. Sigh. Still, it’s given me something else to worry about besides my brother. And my mum.
Until today. Today was a good day, folks. My hair was looking pretty good. No embarrassing Rod Stewart tufts. Bit flyaway. But otherwise it behaved itself. And my mum and I spent the day shopping, something we haven’t been able to do since I arrived. We crossed a ton of things off her list. We were able to do that because my sister arrived yesterday. And since she would be at the hospital, Mum felt good about taking a couple of days off.  And then this afternoon my sister texted me from the hospital with good news. They were going to get my brother up out of bed and into his wheelchair for the first time since his surgery in January. Woo hoo. So it’s been a good hair day, a good news day. A good day all round.
woman reading and waiting
 Ready for shopping, good hair and all
You know, I’m not sure I’ll ever settle into a smooth, easy going relationship with my hair. It’s too darned stubborn and wilful, and I’m too darned controlling and critical. I guess we need to learn to live with each other the way we are.
Besides, my hair just wouldn’t be my hair if it wasn’t doing something it wasn’t supposed to do. And I just wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t whining and obsessing about my hair. And it does give me something not so serious to worry about.
Makes a change from the real serious stuff, don’t you think?
How about you, my friends? What’s your hair management secret? Do you have a good relationship with your locks… wilful or otherwise?


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From the archives


On Slow Travel and Gratitude

We’re savouring our slow travel this summer. And feeling grateful.

The Wild and Wonderful Consequences of Reading

Reading can take you places you've never been and you never really come back. I can't imagine what people do who don't read.

Summer Closet Rummage

I had a good summer closet rummage this week. Looking for new outfit combinations. And not exactly achieving what I'd hoped to achieve.

59 thoughts on “Hair Management: Learning to Live With Wilful Locks”

  1. Great hair story. I always wanted curly hair like you – so typical, wanting what we don't have. My was too fine to do anything with. No shags for me! (speaking of haircuts, heh) I had perms and then I'd brush the heck out of my hair to get a huge, puffy, frizzy head of hair. I had the biggest head in school, hairwise. Now I wear it towering or down, so if it misbehaves I pretend I wanted it like that, but it doesn't always work.

    I love the photos from your past. And I like your most recent photo best for some reason. Maybe because I know you like this or there seems to be a knowing in your face. Thanks for the lost-topic hint though. I may need to borrow it sometime.

    1. Thanks, Melanie. You're right about always wanting what we don't have. My hair has thinned a bit in the past two years. I almost wish I had that thick mop back. That desperation topic is thanks to Natalie Goldberg. I love her writing ideas.

  2. Good to hear your brother is picking up & I do like your hair photos . You are instantly recognizable at each age , unlike me , I seemed to morph into another person regularly .
    Early Pics are of a Wavy haired blonde toddler , by school pics it's poker straight , short , dark haired & cut by mum ( with a knife & fork I think ) . There was a brief perm at 13 – I cried for days . Long dark glossy with fringe ( bangs ?) by 15 – very 60s & chopped in my twenties . I now seem to have regressed to my toddler days . Wavy , frizzy at times & I don't want to be grey so have opted for a similar color to you . I haven't liked some of the 'grey pressure' going on but it seems to have eased recently . Perhaps people have realized that some skin coloring isn't flattered by grey & it's good to have a choice . The one constant in all this is my double crown which drives me crazy but I don't want my hair too sharp or neat now . Slightly messy seems more youthful & suits my personality 🙂
    Wendy from York

    1. Love that your mum cut your hair "with a knife and a fork." Had a good chuckle over that line. You're right IMO about the grey pressure, and I think it has eased lately. I can't stand evangelism of any sort:) Religious or follicular. Is that a word do you think?

  3. My hair is pocker straight and baby fine. It's impossible to work with and I spend way too much time trying to make it bend! Love your last photo. Great hair.

  4. I'm so glad that your news are good 🙂
    And about the hair: I actually think that your hair is thick and beautiful,with a great haircut,although I could understand some of your problems.
    You look great on all your photos,lovely complexion,beautiful face-who doesn't have some odd hairdos photos from the past (but I suspect they were actually pretty good than)-there were only a few lucky ones in seventies with long,sleek hair (like Joni Mitchel)
    My hair was always blond and too thin and fine,curling on the ends. It looked only good when it was completely natural and long in seventies,without bangs.
    Bob is the best solution for me (with bangs that I dry straight almost every morning),if there is no humid weather,or I wear a ponytail. John Frieda Frizz Ease 3 days straight serum could help
    After all kind of hairdressers,I've found the perfect one in my neighbourhood-she is the best and I have a beautiful sleek blow dried hair (for a day or two,depending on the weather forecast)
    Travel and/or seaside (or summer here)is a nightmare-It was always a disaster if I wanted to look "good" as all the beautiful women around me (with beautiful hair as yours!)
    After all kind of approaches,I surrendered- I just leave it the way it is,with a little Keune curling cream on the ends. Do I look good? Not realy! But,that's the way it is 🙂
    Maybe it is time for me to start wearing turbans and kaftans ( I do kaftans sometimes) on the beach

    1. Thanks, Dottoressa. You're too kind. You probably had the seventies hair that I was longing for… Long straight, swinging, like Peggy Lipton.

  5. That was a great morning read. Over the many years, I have agonised/criticised/accepted my basic body shape and metabolism whilst pretty much taking for granted my hair. It was always dark, shiny, smooth and took well to being in a bob, happily submitting to being dried and twirled or just sitting on my head. It has been long, short, cropped, demi-permed and remains cheerful. Today, in a strange melange of shades that are best described as Friendly Badger, it still looks fine in a bob, side-parted. Perhaps, instead of telling myself that I was rubbish because I wasn't a 5'6" size 10 (UK) with long legs, I should have simply said: short, round, legs that work, great hair. How wise we are when older. I will probably have it all cut off again in the autumn, because it annoys me when I am running, as I am, most days at present. Blonde is still very much the desired shade in the UK, for all ages, which is odd because the national shade is actually light brown. That's a lot of women working hard to defy nature. Glad that you are able to get out and about a bit more now and that things are looking up. Here's a blast from the past: back-combing. Glory be.

    1. Ah yes… Back-combing. I remember for my brother's wedding in 1969, my mum and my two sisters and I all went to the same hairdresser to get our hair done. I must have been the only thirteen year old there with helmut hair. Back-combed within an inch of its life.
      P.S. Still trying to visualize a badger look.

  6. So glad to hear about your brother, I have discovered in recent years that you've gotta have faith, as per the song. And when life gets really serious, I find escape in the lighter side of life which, incidentally is how my blog was born, whilst hubby was so poorly. He's fine now BTW, that's faith for you!
    So, hair. I loved your hair through the decades tour! Such a pretty lady, then, now. I do like and admire your curls and I love your hair in the latest pic!
    As I age, I yearn to have short hair but can't unless I morph a cute Judi Dench face, and that's not going to happen. I have very straight hair, fine but lots of it (though am now thinning on top). I look like I have a pancake clinging to my head if I have a short cut, so those have been rare blips and immediately remedied by reverting to my default long or long bob styles. So I would say that now is the perfect time in life to celebrate and show off those curls, and straighties like me will look on admiringly, then let out a wishful sigh …
    Hugs, Mary.

    1. Thanks, Mary. Short is my default style, I guess. Just feel more like myself with short hair. Although I'm struggling with this cut. Maybe a bit too thinned out as well as short. I''ll have to reassess when I get home and using my regular water and styling products.

  7. I'm glad to hear your brother is doing better and your mother had a bit of a break. Hair… EESH! Mine is very unruly, but I kind of like it wild. 😉 Wishing you many more good news and good hair days! I really enjoyed this post! -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures

  8. Fingers crossed I have a good news day also: my brother is going for a scan to check the status of his illness (stage IV lung cancer) after having to suspend treatment due to kidney complications. I know how much my sister-in-law dreads these appointments, and wish we lived closer so I could hang out with her.

    So, a hair story was just what I needed to read! I've been mostly at peace with my hair since day 1, as I simply refuse to spend more than 5 minutes on it. There were times I longed for perfect, soft curls and thought a perm was the answer (it wasn't) and a brief decade when I thought my graying hair aged me and coloring was the answer (it wasn't). Now I wear a funky pixie style in varying shades of silver, salt and pepper and am mostly thrilled with it……..until I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror or window reflection and wonder when I turned into my mother :~).

    1. Hope your brother's appointment went well… and provided good news.
      My sister has a funky pixie cut with her salt and pepper hair and it looks fantastic. She's a brunette with dark brown eyes and the silver looks great with her colouring.

  9. I love your hair story, and the whole idea of "hair stories"!

    I have straight, fine, hair but also a lot of it. It's also really soft. I long for long and luxurious curls, but don't want to actually spend time on my hair. So it's short. But not as short as I'm hoping to get it next week when I go for a cut. Because not only do I not want to fool with my hair, in the warmer weather I sweat profusely, so I can't bear to have a lot of hair on my head. I have seriously considered a buzz cut for a few summers. Someday I may actually be brave enough to try. 🙂

  10. I totally understand your hair story. My hair is thick and as my hairdresser puts it, "has a lot of body". What it really has are waves and curls and cowlicks and areas that are straight. I've finally learned to live with it after going through a lot of the same things you went through. I now have a new look every day.

    1. Oh the kinks, and cow licks are getting worse for me…especially in the back. It splits around a double crown and looks like a bald spot from afar!

  11. Hair is a challenge, and I've always wanted what I didn't have. By this I mean, if my hair was short I wanted it long, and if it was long I wanted it shorter. Aging–I'm 62–has thrown me a curve ball. My once very straight hair has some wave, and I don't know how to deal. Trying to feel my way through that one. Thinking of you and your brother.

    1. Thanks, Maggie. I don't think I could go through the frustration of growing my hair again. Funny how the texture and curl of our hair changes as we get older, isn't it?

  12. Great hair story, Susan! The more I go through life, the more I realize that I've never met anyone who is completely happy with their hair. Mine's always been the opposite: thin, fine, straight. I've also come back around to a short cut as my best option. But I've also learned to see the upside…that it's very low-maintenance. I'm so glad to hear that your brother is doing better!

  13. Sue, so glad to hear that your big brother is improving! I am a similar age to you and also have curly hair – truly a box of Forrest Gump's chocolates as in "you never know what you're gonna get." I've had short, medium and long hair at different times in my life – sometimes straight and sometimes curly. I remember in high school, lying on my back to pin my wet hair between me and the mattress so it would dry as straight as I could possibly get it (with varying degrees of success). The game changer for me was a really good blow dryer bought in 2004 and a round brush – oh, and hair products of course – and I can straighten my hair with the best of them. In summer though, all bets are off and I don't usually bother doing anything more than air drying. There's just no fighting humidity.

    1. Oh… You're the only other person I know who did that. I'd lie on one side and then the other. I remember one morning in high school, pre-blow-dryer days, my Mum yelling for me to get up and my replying: "In a minute, I'm flattening my hair." Ha. I'd forgotten that.

  14. Susan, I could have written this post! At 60 years old, one would think that I would have found the "perfect" hairstyle, yet almost every time I go for a cut and color, I have a new picture for my stylist. I'm sure she rolls her eyes behind my back! My hair is thick, coarse, and wavy/curly around my face. I generally keep it short but every few years decide to try a bob, apparently forgetting how "big" it gets with humidity and how long it takes to dry with the round brush! I currently have a short shag. We shall see how it behaves in the humidity forecasted for the next few days!

    1. Carmen just laughs at me now when I show up with a new picture. But I'm learning what can be done and what can't. Especially during our humid summer in Ottawa.

  15. PS Did you use the pink hair tape with your Dippity Do? I plastered and taped my bangs to my forehead in an attempt to make them straight! PPS Your current style and color look great! And I'm glad your brother is doing better.

  16. Hair stories…..I've had a few. Like you curly hair and tried to have it straight. Sleeping on those enormous rollers. I went through all the stages….the colours. I have made peace with my hair. It is now short and curly with a grey/silver streak in the front. I have had strangers compliment me on my hair. Just think of the anguish that I could have saved myself all those years. A good cut is soooo important.


  17. Great hair story. So glad your brother is doing better. And that you and your mum got a day off to shop and hang out.

    My hair is straight as pins and I've spent as much time trying to curl it as you have trying to straighten it. 🙂 Over the years I've had the bob, the long straight, the perms (which my DD was kind enough to post for Mothers' Day…the little bugger), and have now settled into a short layered cut not unlike yours. It's easy most days but changing water and weather definitely affect it. And it's hard to know when I travel what I'll find, so some days it looks wretched and others great (per the random total stranger). All in all, I'm not unhappy. Well, except that my two cowlicks on the crown have become more pronounced as I age, so there is that to manage.

    1. My cow licks and funny crown are in the back. And if I don't dry that area with a brush it separates and looks awful. You're right about travel. That's why half the time I wear a baseball hat or pop my sunglasses on top on my head to hold the hair down. Very important that my sunglasses fit the top of my head…not all of them do.

  18. Your brother is up for the first time since January – that is huge good news – may he continue to make good progress.

    My hair has gone grey and got the frizz – so the smoothish sort of bob I am used to – isn't. Too short and the cowlicks give me random Mohican spikes. Sigh. When I grow up I'd love hair like your last picture!

  19. Wow — someone else with my hair! Part of mine is curly, part wavy and there is one straight area, which makes styling difficult. I spent some time in a tent in Africa, obviously without electricity, and while everyone else at least looked styled, I looked like a crazy person. I can manage as long as I have a hair driver, but natural only works when my hairdresser does it.
    So glad to hear about your brother and so great that you and your mother got some less stressed time together.

  20. My comment just disappeared into the ether…. sigh… let's just say that I love Natalie Goldberg, writing down the bones is a terrific book, and I think your hair looks fabulous the way you wear it now. It's funny how having a good hair day can make all the difference when having a bad week, or for that matter a bad year. At the moment, the only thing getting me through the surreal state of affairs in US politics and media is the occasional good hair day. Well, and maybe a nice pair of heels… buried somewhere in and unpacked box.

    1. Sorry about the comment glitch, DA. Amazing how a good hair day can raise the spirits, isn't it? Turn the tv news off and dig out those heels, girl:)

  21. So pleased to hear that your brother is on the up, let's hope that this continues. It's very hard to cope with seeing loved ones suffer and certainly a case for some fluff and gentle reading in order to be able to cope and get some perspective.

    Your hair story could be mine and it's nice to read in the comments similar stories. Makes one feel less alone! My hair is thick and curly since age 12/13 (I blame it on hormones!) and since then have travelled a similar route to yourself except I haven't cut it short very often. I grew up in the UK where there is plenty of humidity so there were constant battles. When I came to Canada I lived in Manitoba where it is dry and my hair behaved itself with the help of an excellent hairdresser. I moved to BC where the humidity is high and have finally let it go curly and I do feel more like me with curly hair which is strange after trying for straight hair for years.

    I loved all your looks but the last picture is the best and if I had your bone structure then I would probably go short as well.

    1. Thanks, Christy. One reason I love winter is that the humidity is low and I can do what I want with my hair. I'm also finding it ironic to be embracing my waves after so many years of fighting them,

  22. Hi Sue, great news about your brother! I'm afraid I've been rather mia on the blog for a few weeks but I've been thinking about you. Absence mainly due to a busy month, family health issues etc and now I'm having problems with my google account! Hence "Anonymous" I've missed commenting and thus feeling involved in the conversation! 🙂 As you know my hair journey follows a path very similar to yours. Mass of wayward curls ….that were red!! (Well auburn! ) caused much heartache in my teenage years. Like you, thanks to better hair products, straighteners etc my hair is generally manageable. Except for days like yesterday …wet, windy and slightly humid. I left home looking like me returned with crazy hair!!
    Take care … I hope your brother continues to make good progress. I remember our chat about him and what a positive attitude to life he has. Enjoy your time with him,your mum and sister.

    1. Thanks, Rosie. Hope all is well wrt the health issues. Oh… those humid windy days are dangerous for hair like ours. Wild haired women abound on days like that:)

  23. Susan, you and I must be twins separated at birth! You have described my hair perfectly, complete with that crazy "whoop-de-do flip in the front" and I have fought all the same battles with mine. Currently, after keeping it short for many years, I'm letting it grow out a bit and going with the natural curly look most days. At this point, I'm not sure what the end goal is and I wouldn't be at all surprised if I end up having it cut short again, but it was time for a change.

    So glad to hear the good news concerning your brother!

  24. Oh, the hair stories! We all have them and I loved reading all the comments after your own story. Yep, in the 90's I let mine go totally curly. Not afro, but very curly. Thing is, it was SO easy to take care of.. Now, twenty years later and being twenty years older something has happened! It's become thinner. Oh no!!!! I never, ever thought I would have hair that wasn't TOO thick. But now, well, I guess it's more "normal" and not so thick. Problem is, I don't quite know how to deal with it. So I am spending a fortune trying out new products (do they even really make a difference?) We shall see. And yes, short is good!!

    1. Me too!!! Wish I had some of my old too-thick-thickness back. Especially on top and on one side in the back where a natural part makes my hair split and I look like I have a bald spot.

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