As is the case with most of my deeply held insecurities, I blame my hair obsession on Marcia Brady.
The oldest daughter and resident femme fatale of The Brady Bunch, Marcia was the personification of mid-1970s grooviness; she was also a constant reminder of my own physical shortcomings. Marcia was graceful and perky with big blue eyes and clear skin, but the most obvious difference between us was the stick-straight golden hair that fell past her shoulders in a mocking curtain of silky blonde perfection. My own hair, at the time, was an unpredictable cloud of chaos – an ethnic riot of mousey brown frizz and unruly curls, an unflattering, hard-to-groom mess.
Like other coiffure-challenged girls of my generation, I was at war with my hair and tried everything I could think of to beat it into submission. I ironed it, oiled it and wrapped it around my head (a look my brother referred to as “nature’s turban.”) I slathered on a fruity pink gel called “Dippity Do” and set my hair with orange juice cans. At one point I experimented with a home straightening kit called Dark and Lovely, although I was neither of the two.
It took many years but I finally reached an uneasy truce with my hair – it may be charred and somewhat exhausted now, but it is also relatively straight and well-behaved, thanks to my slavish dependence on flatirons and silicone gels. I have also developed a mild case of hair-dependent agoraphobia, which means that I seldom go outside during periods of high humidity.
All of which has led me to consider the latest trend in hair straightening – the Brazillian Keratin process. This salon treatment relies on formaldehyde, a substance that up until now was best known for stopping decay in human cadavers. While technically an organic compound, formaldehyde can hardly be called “green,” since it is a known pollutant and respiratory irritant. It is widely thought to be a carcinogen, and is commonly found in cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, and smog.
I am at a point in my life where I am newly committed to keeping toxins out of my body and the world at large, yet I am seriously considering dousing myself in embalming fluid as a last-ditch effort to have pretty, shiny hair that won’t kink up in the rain or heat.
The foolishness of this is not lost on me, especially since I was not raised to be a shallow girl. My grandmother, who had a big influence on me, was a no-nonsense Russian immigrant, a natural beauty who taught me early on that the only cosmetic a girl really needed was a little Vaseline applied sparingly to the lips. Of course, that was easy for her to say – my grandmother grew up in late 19th century Minsk. She may have had famines and Cossacks to deal with, but at least she didn’t have to live up to Marcia Brady.