Photo: Alex Beauchesne
By Suzan Colón
Other people have bad hair days; I thought I was going to have a bad hair life. In every other respect, my Irish-French–Puerto Rican heritage had been very good to me. I got big hazel eyes and skin that doesn't automatically burn in the sun. I was exposed to both corned beef and cabbage and pernil and platanos, and both cultures were forgiving of the hips I developed as a result of my family's multicultural cuisine.
But my appreciation for my little United Nations ran out when it came to my hair. My mother's fine blonde coif perfectly complements her blue eyes and pink glow; my biological father has thick, dark, Latino waves. I ended up with a brownish, kind-of-wavy-sort-of-curly-but-not-quite-either mop, and both sides contributed a propensity to frizz on even the driest days.
As a teenager, I didn't like to brush it; a hundred strokes every night may have worked for Marcia Brady, but it took my hair from a vaguely triangular shape to a full-on pyramid. I was in my 20s in the '80s, the era of straight, spiky hair; new wave meant no wave, and I was stuck with a classic rock shag. Since a trendy style was out of the question, I had it chopped off into a short back and sides, long bangs look. It wasn't great, but I didn't know what else to do with it.
Neither, it turned out, did any of the stylists I went to. For years they cut my hair as though it were straight and blew it out that way, as if they were correcting a mistake. A hairdresser in Miami gave me a Louise Brooks bob and sent me out into the humidity with a jar of pomade and a prayer (neither of which prevented my hair from frizzing into the shape of an orange slice). When I went to a woman who later became famous for her expertise with curls, she just sheared all my hair off and gave me a pixie cut.
It was incredibly chic and easy. Dazzled by this new hair perfection, I forgot about the rest of me—specifically, my hips—until I realized that, with my close-cropped hairdo, I was shaped like a bowling pin.
In an effort to balance my top with my booty, I started growing my hair out. This felt like reuniting with a difficult ex; I expected problems and took precautions. In the case of an ex, it means extra time with the therapist. With my hair, it meant more time with the blow-dryer.
Having a lot of hair is a blessing, except when you're trying to blow it all straight. It took 40 minutes and three different kinds of brushes, and then I would discover I missed a wavy section in the back and had a bump. To avoid frizz and waves brought on by humidity, year-round hats became a necessity. Plus, a woman with a blow-out is the least romantic person on the planet: There's no sex in the shower, and she's always extracting herself from her lover's embrace because he's breathing on her blow-out and making it curl.
It wasn't for any of those reasons that I stopped struggling with my hair. I was tired of all the work, and I calculated the amount of time it took me to blow-dry my hair. It came to almost 70 hours a year! Life, or at least nearly three days a year for the rest of my life, was passing me by as I singed my scalp.
So I put down the blow-dryer. In their natural state, my shortish curls made me look like a half-Irish, half-Spanish poodle. But people said it was cute, and a few months later it was even cuter...almost hot. The pixie I'd been growing out had layers all around; this time, the waves and curls fell gradually, naturally, sexy-shaggily.
When it got long, I found a stylist who kept me in curls with multiple layers and the tricky diagonal slices that keep thick hair pouf at bay. Daily styling is almost as easy as my old pixie cut: Along with a little scrunching, the wind is my blow-dryer. And I discovered a great trick one night: Not wanting to sleep on wet hair, I piled it at the top of my pillow, Bride of Frankenstein–style. When I woke up, I had va-va-va-volume.
Recently, a woman asked who did my perm. "This is what my hair does naturally," I said. Her envy nearly killed me. It felt great.
Suzan Colón is a contributing editor at O.
We Hear You!