“Why do you always wear your hair up?” Debs asked me.
I shrugged. “It stays tidier that way. Tends to be frizzy, y’see.”
“Mmm. Why bother growing it if you never let it loose?”
“I think it would look good if you let it down.”
“Not sure, m’self”.
Prior to this, I’d kept my hair short. It was the scene of endless teenage battles in front of the bathroom mirror, trying to get it to behave itself … and failing. I lose count of the times I broke into tears of adolescent frustration at my hair’s refusal to let itself be styled straight or even to lose the dreaded frizz. How I hated the frizz.
The irony of this is that I was a teenager in the 80s, when big hair was all the rage. I could not understand why my peers permed their perfectly respectable, enviably straight hair in order to create a mass of curls. I fought my own curls every inch of the way, keeping them short in an attempt to force them to co-operate. Not that it ever worked.
The 80s hairstyles that I aspired to possess were both equally unattainable; the sleek bob and the towering gelled spiked ‘do. The bob was the kind of style that would swish tauntingly at me from adverts for the latest miracle hair products and also gleam in the pages of teen magazines. It was the spikes that I coveted the most, however. One of my peers possessed sleek jet black hair, gelled into mighty spikes which stood proud of her head to a length of at least two inches. I was in awe of her. She appeared to be everything I was not; edgy, poised and even a little dangerous. On reflection, even if I had been able to style my hair into that look, it never really would have matched my personality. I am, and always have been, more of the vague, fluffy type.
Which brings me back to the conversation with my new friend Debs, in b22, Beck Hall, Swansea.
Swansea was my new home, having recently been freed from parental restraint to explore the life of student-dom. Beck was the hall of residence I had come to inhabit; three Victorian terraced houses knocked through to provide accommodation for the usual rag-tag bunch of proto-adults drawn from all corners of the UK. b22 was my mates’ room. Nick and Kenny shared this large double room, which became a natural meeting place for our bunch of friends, due primarily to its size. The rules of Beck Hall stipulated that more than 6 people in a study bedroom at any one time constituted a party – or was it 8? – either way, it was not permitted. I believe we must have averaged at least one illicit party every week or so. Our debauched practice of sitting around, drinking tea and being very silly mercifully went unnoticed by the powers that be, I hate to imagine what dread penalty we would have incurred.
Anyway, back to the conversation. Debs eventually did persuade me to let my hair down. As I did so another friend, Nick or Kenny perhaps, immortalised this iconic moment in photographic form.
Little did I know that the literal act of unleashing my hair for the very first time would become a metaphor for my life; both before the act of release and from that point on. As I look at the resultant photograph, I feel a great deal of joy, yet it is tinged with a little sadness. The joy is brought about by fond memories of the person I was; how the events of that time and the friends I made were instrumental in shaping the person I went on to become. The sadness is a result of knowing that the person letting her hair down in the photo has since been replaced by one necessarily more adult. If only a little.
That pivotal point, captured in photographic form, illustrates graphically the changes that were happening to me at that time. I was learning that I did not need to be so tightly wound, so proper, so under control in order to be accepted. In fact, my friends appeared to welcome my more quirky side. Rather than treating it as something to be ignored or controlled, at best, nor mocked and despised, at worst, they actively encouraged the more unique expressions of my nature.
My student days saw an explosion of my hair, like a frizzed super-nova. This coincided with an expansion of the limits I had formerly accepted upon my personality. My behaviour, like my hair, became free to be more uninhibited, free to be me, free to be free.
Out of necessity, my hair has become slightly tidier since that time and I have even found one miracle hair elixir that actually lives up to its claims. No more frizz (relatively speaking!) The requirement to play to the part of a professional adult prevents me from sporting the full Einstein look these days, but this is not a problem as the time for that has passed. I do still get the chance to let my hair down, however , and seize every opportunity without hesitation. I owe it to myself, after all. To real me, anyway.