When you love/hate your crazy Jewish hair
(Kveller via JTA)—It took 42 years, 4 months and 18 days, but I think I may actually now like my hair. No, not the hair I was born with, but rather a finely tuned version that has taken years to attain.
Too long. Too short. Too straight. Too dark. Too light. Too frizzy. Too flat. I can’t win!
One morning recently I was working when my mom called.
“Rae, what are you doing at 1 o’clock today?” she asked.
“Because I made you an appointment to get a keratin treatment. I am paying for it. I’ll be over in five minutes to drop off the money,” mom said.
I was born with a full head of black, shiny, spiky hair that made me look about three weeks overdue for a haircut. In childhood, that black hair turned brown, which would lighten up in the summer sun. Eventually puberty plus the ‘80s plus Long Island resulted in a gigantic head of brown permed lusciousness.
By the ’90s, the perm was out, but my troubles with taming the wannabe straight hair had just begun. I can look at pictures from college and know how much humidity must’ve been in the air that day by seeing the size and shape of my hair frizz.
I also found that first gray hair in college and began plucking. At first the highlights I got would add some blond and cover the gray. Then I’d add a few dabs of brown color to the gray spots during the highlighting process. I remember being 25 and being so horrified by the gray that for a time I went to the salon every three weeks.
By my late 20s I had too much gray, so it became a two-part coloring process: color whole head first, sit for 30 minutes, wash out, blow dry a bit, apply highlights, sit for 30 minutes, rinse out, cut, blow dry, style. Three hours later and $100-plus poorer, I’d then repeat the whole process every month or so.
When I was pregnant at 28 with my first son, I was gray enough that there was no way I could go without color. I experimented with safe-for-pregnancy henna, which turned my hair an interesting orange color. At least it wasn’t gray.
Now more about the texture and shape. My hair isn’t really curly and it sure isn’t straight. It’s a combination that makes going in either direction challenging. I’ve often unintentionally sported a triangular look, but my preferred shape is more square or rectangular.
When I was pregnant with my second son, I did the henna again. I was admitted to the hospital for the remainder of my pregnancy at 32 weeks and even had my hairstylist come to the hospital for a cut and color (it was on my 35th birthday, so it was a special treat, too). Who wants to post Facebook pictures at 35 years old with their newborn lovingly placed in their arms with hideous 2-inch gray roots?
After my second pregnancy, a special patch formed in the back of my hair that was perpetually like a rat’s nest. So I bought my first flat iron. It worked, sort of, though it was still hard to flatten puffy frizz, especially in the back.
My mom often asked, “Rae, did you really blow dry the back of your hair?”
Yes, I always did, but this patch simply did not go straight—even the flat iron didn’t work!
Oh, I also have scalp psoriasis. As in itchy-try-not-to-scratch-it-because-it-makes-it-itchier scalp. I sometimes wonder if my hair mass makes it difficult for my scalp to breathe, so that’s why it has the inflammatory reaction. And my hair grows like a weed; probably worse than a weed. I literally see roots after 10 days. I’ve often wondered if it would just be easier to convert to Orthodox Judaism and wear a sheitel?
Which brings me to last month when my mom sent me for the keratin treatment. I walked in the salon a Jew. Two hours later I walked out Japanese, or Swedish, or Irish, or really whatever ethnicity that typically has the absolute pin-straightest stick hair on the planet. My boys stared at me that first day with a look of sheer puzzlement on their faces. It was like a keratin bomb exploded on my head. I mean I couldn’t get my hair to bend no matter what I tried! For once in my life I could actually relate to friends who have opined at how nice it must be to be able to bend their hair.
But then the color (my brownish/grayish hair with the blondish highlights) turned orangish/brassy. Apparently I was supposed to get the keratin first and the color two weeks later.
So I made an appointment for color. The stylist strongly recommended to dye my hair brown and run the color through to the ends. No highlights yet as the sun “should” pull out my highlights. I walked out with a flattering haircut but with dark brown hair. That night my 7-year-old said to me, “Mom, what is with your BLACK hair?” True, I had asked for brown. Last time it was black, I was a newborn.
I went back to the salon a few days ago and got pretty highlights applied that mask the darkness of the “brown” color. I’ve got it made now—straight and smooth, cute cut and pretty color. Hallelujah! I can run my fingers through my hair. It bends a bit. No itchy scalp. And it takes half the amount of time to blow dry. I am finally in hair heaven. We’ll just see how long this lasts.
Rachel Barkin is a Cornell graduate who has worked for the last 20 years in project and product management. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two mensches-in-training.
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