Thursday, March 05, 2009

Reflection and Self-Reinvention Part 3: In Which I Do Something About My Hair

Meet the reason for all the hair and self image issues I've ever had: The (vintage) Herbal Essence hippie girl and her flowing gold locks. She haunted my childhood and pre-teen years, mocking me from the bottle with her perfect hair, skin and long fingers. To add insult to injury, the shampoo dried my hair into an unmanageable frizzy straw the size of a small continent and irritated my scalp to make it a miserable, dandruffy mess (years later I learned I'm extremely allergic to each and every one of the Herbal Essence products). Looking at her, I decided that my hair was hopelessly ugly.

It's been about 25 years since I've last had to deal with the green stuff and the girl on its label. My hair has been short, super-short, long and longer. I now know it might be my best feature and treat it accordingly, with love and products. But I don't do much with it. It's too long to be styled, and that's the whole point: it's curly/wavy (depending on the weather), thick and very healthy. I keep my hair clean and moisturized and let it be. It works for all involved.

But every once in a while I look at a photo of Jennifer Aniston and her $56,000 hair and wonder if I'm not missing on something. A few months ago I was especially antsy to try something new. It was probably a case of the birthday fever (which sparked this little series of posts) that caused me to take advantage of Sephora's friends & family sale and buy myself the ghd (another one of those companies who insist on lower case. I hate it) style iron.

The first thing I did was watch the DVD that came in the package.

I learned that the iron is a versatile tool and should be able to make my hair straight, wavy or create perfectly styled big curls (a feature I found oddly appealing, because my own curls can be a bit unpredictable and/or frizzy). The second thing I learned was how little I know about hair styling.

Apparently, before you attempt to use the ghd iron, you're supposed to fully blow dry your hair. I was sitting there staring at my computer's screen, thinking "you've gotta be kidding me". I don't even own a hair dryer, because using one on my hair is an exercise in futility. It dries when it dries, that's it. And I admit that on occasion I get to wash it again before the inside has fully dried from the last time.

So, blow dry, ha. Who would have thought?

The model in the DVD had her hair blow dried straight, to the point I didn't see why she even needed the styling iron. More straightening and you'd look like Pete Wentz. But I watched faithfully, taking note that the curling action is just like curling paper ribbons, the wave creation didn't do much to entice me and the part about volumizing made me and my follicles laugh. I've spent the last three decades fighting volume in my hair (see Herbal Essence girl above) and I was not about to stop now. Still, straight hair or big, shiny curls are more than enough incentive.

Since my hair was dry, I decided there was no better time to try. I plugged the ghd in, sat in front of the mirror and started working, to the complete astonishment of the cats who gathered around me for the chance to paw at hair strands and an electric cord.

My biggest concern was that the amount and length of hair I'm sporting would make the ordeal excruciatingly tedious. While I no doubt take a lot more time to sort out than the aforementioned Pete Wentz, the process was addictively simple and relatively quick. Strand by strand, starting at the left side, went through the plates and emerged miraculously flat. I got the hang of it in no time, which meant figuring out the perfect amount of hair for each iteration to make it efficient. No, I didn't end up looking like Jen Aniston, and I didn't put all that much effort into getting the ends stick straight because I'm too scared of burning them. But for the first time in years, my hair was straight and didn't require two hours of endless combing and blow drying (that was the last time a stylist had a go at my hair, full of courage and good intentions). I loved it.

My next attempt at styling was not that successful. I tried to create those beautiful open curls I saw in the DVD, but apparently, the iron was not designed to deal with 3 feet of hair. It looks so simple, and as I said, just like curling paper ribbons, but my hair did not cooperate and I started getting that toasted hair smell, which meant "stop, now!". So I did. Subsequent efforts didn't show any improvement, so as far as I'm concerned, the ghd is just a flat iron. But as such, it performs very well.

I like the straight hair, though my husband isn't convinced and the my mom flat out (ha!) hated the picture I sent her. Then again, she wears her hair long and curly. I don't iron my hair too often, both out of laziness and because I'm worried of damaging it. After all, I take pride in having a healthy, shiny hair that was never chemically treated in any way. But I like straightening the parts near my face to make them more ruly, and I especially like the option to have a sleek look when I'm pulling it all back in a bun and not feeling like it's messy.

Variety is good.


  1. i've recently started semi-straightening my hair, too. i have wavy/curly hair (not as thick though) and a few months ago i got side-swoopy bangs that unfortunately did *not* work with my hair in it's natural state. so i had to start experimenting with actual hair styling...

    i've finally got it all down in a way that works for me: i straighten the section of hair once, then go back to the top and clamp, then turn the straightener 90 degrees in the direction of my curl, and smooth it down quickly - this give me one big 'C' or 'S' shaped wave, probably similar to the "ribbon" method. then i twist the section, and go back over the twist. this step sounds weird but i highly recommend it. you get a really long, loose, pretty curls (once you shake your head a bit to break up them all up) that's smoother on the top and curlier at the bottom. i have no idea if this is a common technique or not, i just was experimenting and liked the results. you should try it!

  2. Your blog is such a revelation for me. :) I thought I was strange because I spend so much time thinking about my hair and went through a period where I hated the fact that it's not straight and never will be. Everyone around me thinks I'm a bit strange for concerning myself so much with hair (It's only hair after all! - I can't understand that philosophy, but ok)- so at the moment I happily wear it quite short and look forward to trying Fekkai products on it for the first time. :)

  3. Looking at the Herbal Essence label...I never realized that the subject's right (viewer's left) eye is way, way off to one side! The artist must've been high while drawing it.

    I used that stuff too. It turned hair to straw (but smelled great).

    Being a few years, ahem, older than you, I can tell you that you are all lucky you never had to compare yourselves to Michelle Philips, hippie superstar at 17, or pre-heroin Marianne Faithfull,or Pattie Boyd, or any of the other heartbreakingly beautiful blondes of the era, all with innocent, childlike faces and stick-straight hair. Mine was curly and light brown; the horror!

    Watch that flatiron though. If you color your hair at all it will fry the ends before you know it. Fekkai makes a great conditioner for colored hair. Redken makes a spray leave-in called "Clear Moisture" that I spray on the ends before I flatiron or use any kind of heat. It seems to work, and smells like osmanthus, too.

    Good luck --

  4. I have naturally stick straight hair. Of course, I love curly hair and wish I had it. That's always how it works right? But I do like that I can grow it quite long if I want, or keep it shorter like it is now. And I like that it is healthy and not chemically processed.

    I think it's fun to have options for your hair. Normally I embrace the straightness but every now and then I like to whip out the curling iron. As for the fried hair smell, it might help if you find a heat protectant- I know they help me a lot when I am curling my hair, because it takes quite a bit of heat for me to do so.


  5. Kamo, I'll have to try your method, because the results you're describing are exactly what I'm after. I wonder if it's going to work with my length.

  6. Ines, I always though hair was a lot more than "just hair". It has always played a big part in the way I see myself, so you're not alone :)

  7. P., looking at old photos or videos of Michelle Philips is enough to make me insanely jealous, even in this day and age, so I can only imagine what it was back then.

    I have never colored my hair and still have at least a decade (if my mom is a valid precedence) until I need to start thinking about it, but I'm pretty sure I should be careful even now not to over fry it. I'm beginning to explore heat-activated products.

  8. Amanda, it's always like that, isn't it? The girls with the straigt hair are after the curls, while I'd be willing to pay a fortune for a non-damaging and permanent process that would straighten my hair forever and ever...


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