1987 – I’m ten, and my tiny country school has sent the Grade 5 and 6 class (all 15 of us) 550kms/370 miles to Sydney. We tour the harbour, a historic site, and lunchtime has us sitting on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. Frankly, we’re all overwhelmed. Our town doesn’t even have three hundred people living there, only enough for one pub, a library the size of two parking spaces, and the nearest restaurant or cinema is two hours’ drive away. To be under the hot sun in Sydney, where it looks like the entire world has come for lunch, with different languages and smells and weird looking people whirling around us – I try to absorb every detail and not freak out at the same time.
My teacher, also the school principal, comes over. “Kellie, I have a favour to ask of you.” I look at him, bewildered. “See that lady over there?” he points quickly to where his wife (another teacher) is standing next to a lady with smiling eyes, both of whom are watching me. “She’s a tour guide, and her group” another vague wave another ten paces to the left “- would like to have their photo taken with you.”
“My photo?” I repeat, confused. I’m never asked to be IN a photo. I’m the odd looking one, with Band-Aids always on both knees, freshly grown front teeth finally descended, a wonky donkey amongst the fillies and thoroughbreds in my class. “Yes, your photo” he repeats. “Would you mind? They would really appreciate it.”
I stand, obedient, and he walks me over to the ladies, where the one with smiling eyes kind of nods at me then walks backwards, nodding and gesturing to me all the way. Then, I’m surrounded. By a shifting group of adults barely taller than I am – FLASH a camera shouts – another set of people gather around me, while in front at least ten more take their own photos while the tour guide nods between dazzling me with her monster flash. After several minutes the (Chinese? Japanese?) group murmurs something to me, nod and are led off towards the building, a bobbing sea of dark hair and smiling eyes. I’m sure that in every photo, at least one person was touching me.
No, not touching me. They wanted to touch and photograph my hair.
Skip forward two years and I’m in high school. My knees are usually free of Band-Aids now, not regularly up a tree, though I am almost always in possession of a book. I’ve now heard every known nickname for a redhead, and have developed the temper to match. Class is dismissed; I stand and then sprawl clumsily to sit back down. The boys sitting behind me erupt into hoots and sniggers – they’ve tied my hair to my chair, in an impressive bow tie. I didn’t feel a thing. My hair is somewhere between my backside and knees in length, and I’ve been getting headaches from the impressive weight of it all. I go to the office, ask them to ring my Mum – I’ve got another headache and have reached my limit. Half an hour later Mum arrives to collect me, and as soon as we’re home I see my neighbour to organise a haircut. An hour later my hair swings around my shoulder blades while my neck feels impossibly long and light. That night my Dad takes one look at me and walks out of the house. He doesn’t speak to me for two days, my Mum for a week. “You shouldn’t have cut your hair.” he coldly states. “It’s your crowning glory.”
Jump ahead to this past Sunday. Relief Society ends and I feel a tap on my shoulder. “I was just sitting here – your hair is amazing!” sighs the younger sister. “It’s just the colour, the different hues, the waves in it… amazing.” She smiles, and I smile back. “Well, it won’t be for long,” I confide “I’m getting it cut short.”
“Oooooh!” she squeaks, excited. “How short?” We discuss hair lengths, and preferences, particularly with the hot and humid summer we’re having. Then an older sister approaches. “Kel, I was sitting three rows back and I have to say – your hair is GLOR-I-OUS”. The word curls out of her mouth, the drama, length and longing in it reminding me for an instant of Rupunzel’s long twirling tresses. I smile, knowing she has commented positively on and touched my hair nearly every week for the past year. “Well, enjoy it,” I smile again “’cause it’s all getting chopped off.”
I can’t help it – I enjoy the sudden drop of her jaw in total disbelief. “NO!” she groans, and slaps my arm in disapproval. “You can’t! How short? No!” Her husband wanders up and she pokes me as she tells him “GUESS what’s she’s doing! CUTTING HER HAIR!”
I look at him, amused, and am rewarded with another impressive jaw drop. “No!” he says, “Really?”
“Yep,” I grin, enjoying it all immensely. “Sure am.”
He sighs, then shrugs. “You know, back in high school we’d all talk about girls. Some would prefer blondes, others brunettes, but EVERYONE loves a redhead.” He smiled dreamily, gazing happily up at the ceiling. I feel my own jaw start to drop, then laugh quietly at his blissed out expression.
His wife softly pouted as she looked at me, and tucked a loose twist of curl back over my shoulder. “Really? Why?” she asked me quietly. “Really,” I explain. “It’s too hot, I’m outside all day for work, and I don’t have the time or inclination to look after it.” I shrugged.
She patted my shoulder – or rather, my hair – again and shrugged herself.
“It’s okay,” she said, comforting one of us. “It’ll grow back.”
What is your relationship like with your hair? Do you love it, hate it, hide behind it or wear it loud and proud? Is there a hair style or colour you’ve always wanted? Do you think men see women’s hair as more than just hair?