On Hair

Over the summer, my friend Lauren invited us to an annual crawfish boil. It was weird and wonderful and, because we have a baby, we had to leave before any crawfish was consumed (but not before meeting a fair number of them).

At the boil, Lauren did one of those “you totally should be friends with this woman” things with someone named Ellen Butler Lawson. We had a pleasant conversation with her and her husband; we became facebook friends; today, we talk about our hair.

Dear Ellen,

Over the weekend, we had dinner with friends. The subject of hair came up, which the ladies in the group sparked to instantly. My friend said something along the lines of: “Don’t get me started on my hair. I could go on FOREVER,” and I had to agree. What is it with women and their hair? (My mother, by the way, can dive into a pool without getting her hair wet, which has amazed me for my ENTIRE life.)

Two weeks ago, I got my annual haircut. It was a humbling experience. I wanted a trim and some “shape.” When the stylist asked what I usually do with my hair, I said, “I wear it in a bun-type thing.” And he asked how often, and I had to say, “Um…every…day. Every day.” And then he asked why I wanted it to be shaped if I was just going to wear it in a bun every day. It was a good question.

Mom hair is different than Not Mom hair, literally and otherwise. Little hands like to grab hair and pull it out, so a bun makes sense. I just want it out of my face. But there’s something about Mom hair that no one told me about until about my third trimester. When you are pregnant, you stop shedding hair, and your hair gets thick and lustrous. But, after you have a baby, your hair falls out. In clumps, Ellen. In clumps. Every time I wash my hair, there’s a drowned rat in the drain. Every time I brush my hair, I have to clean out the brush. I have developed a hatred of walking around our apartment barefoot because there is hair all over our carpet, no matter how often we vacuum.

I GET the Mom Haircut now. Because: 1) part of the problem with the hair everywhere is that it’s so LONG, and 2) the hair falls out, and then — guess what — it grows back. So about a half inch of the circumference of my head is maybe an inch long. It is GOOFY looking. That said, I have vowed not to ACTUALLY GET a Mom Haircut. I’m stubborn, so this will probably stand.

I admit it: I’m vain about my hair. It’s a vanity I’ve developed over time. I spent my teens and twenties dyeing the crap out of it, cutting it often (sometimes with kitchen scissors), and mistreating it. Around thirty I grew out the color, and I realized: DAMN, I have nice hair! (File under: Your Thirties: So Much Easier Than Everything Before It.) It’s soft and there are lots of reds and browns and blondes in there; I’ve never found a gray hair (although I have found some white ones). It’s not the boring “mousy” brown the teen in me loathed so much.

As begin so many sentences in mom-hood, THEN I HAD A BABY. My hair fell out. Its texture changed. I lost the desire to perform ANY amount of maintenance. And then I went and got it trimmed, and the hairstylist did THIS to it:


Jason calls this my Author Photo shot.

Ellen, I literally took like twenty pictures of myself that day. My hair was GLORIOUS, there is no other word for it. But IT TOOK TWO MEN WITH BRUSHES AND BLOW DRIERS AN ENTIRE HOUR TO DO THAT TO MY HAIR. Which is like, my hair’s cruel joke on me. Do you know what it’s like to know that you have THAT on your head, and yet, every day, you walk around with THIS:

Photo on 2012-10-31 at 10.41

It’s got…wings?

It’s like, having a closet full of beautiful dresses you never wear. (OMG this is happening too.) It’s like, um, having a Ferrari covered in mud and and and you can’t clean it off, or you could, but it would take all day for some reason (maybe you only have a bucket and a toothbrush?) and so you never drive it. It’s like a bunch of other clever and witty metaphors that I can’t think of right now because ALSO I’M TIRED THE BABY IS TEETHING.*

Ellen, how’s your hair?


* The baby has been “teething” for, like, six months.

Dear Amy,

It seems cruel and unfair that the universe would say, “Hey, you, take care of this tiny creature—give your whole self to her, ensure her development and happiness. Great, thanks, good work! Oh, and also, you’re going to have to lose your hair.”

Not cool.

I, like you, also went through a recent hair renaissance: I stopped dyeing it (a painful process that is a testament to strong will), and, after mostly having it short since I was about six years old, I’ve started to grow it out. Now, this is an endeavor I’ve tried before, which usually ends with me running out of patience and heading straight to the salon chair, where I watch the pathetically not-long pieces fall to the ground as the stylist chops away. At times like these (and yes, there have been multiple), I simultaneously think, “This is the BEST,” and “Oh, Ellen, you did it again.”

Here’s the thing: the majority of guys don’t understand short hair on women. They just…don’t get it. Nor do they seem to like it—at all. This reality I don’t understand. “Hello! I look awesome! Have you seen how this bob accentuates my cheekbones? DUH.” And then you ask around and realize that guys aren’t really that into cheekbones. Perhaps this would explain my rather dismal dating history in college with short hair, as compared to my more successful dating history in college with long hair. I’m not claiming causation here, of course (my Psychology professors are twitching as I write this), but the correlation is definitely there. My hair, amongst other things, wreaked havoc on my college mind, the one that thinks both, “Screw men, who needs them?” and “Dear god, why don’t any of them find me attractive?!”

Then, I met my husband. He is in the .00001 percent of men who love love love that short hair. Boy howdy. One of my first “gifts” to him was showing up with about three inches of hair chopped off from what I considered long at the time (aka not even touching my shoulders) to about chin-length. But somewhere along the way, I decided it was time to grow it out. Long hair has always fascinated me. I’ve constantly marveled at female friends with long hair: How do they get it to do such fancy things? How do they…keep it all together like that? How do they wrangle that wild mane? As with other things in my life, I decided not to ask anyone for answers, but rather figured I may as well dive right in and find out for myself.

Here I am, a little over two years after setting out on my “hair journey,” we’ll call it. At last measure, it was about an inch or two past my shoulders. This is a milestone. And in lots of ways, it’s been revelatory. That bun-type thing you describe? It’s a saving grace for moms and not moms alike, I’d say. I implement the bun-type thing about 70 percent of the time, and it’s the best. With short hair, no dice. If your cowlicks are being all wacky—and trust me, I know, I have plenty of them—the whole world is going to know about it (and mock you quietly, of course). But with long hair, you can mask these atrocities with your OWN HAIR. Fix your hair problems with your hair!

I think what really helped me stay on track with this growing out process is having a goal: I plan to donate my hair once it’s long enough. If you back out on donating hair to cancer patients, you are officially a terrible person. I’m not a terrible person, Amy, and I’ll be damned if someone can go through cancer and I can’t wait for protein strands to grow on my head.

I officially volunteer myself to serve as someone you can lean on when the mom haircut starts to look like a good option. Don’t do it. Please, don’t. I’m from Iowa, perhaps one of the best states around, but also a state where about 80 percent of the women are stricken with mom hair. It seems to be associated with white capri pants and necklaces with flip flop and/or martini glass charms dangling from them. It’s almost a borderline mullet, but you’re more likely to be distracted by the streaks of highlights that can in no way be naturally occurring. Trust me: having never had long hair before, really, I can attest to its annoyances. I wish I’d never known how much it hurts to shut one teeny tiny strand of hair in a car door, or how obnoxious it is to have static-y hair clinging to your face and mouth. Whenever I scoop my dog’s poop, upon righting myself after picking it up, hair always—ALWAYS—gets in my mouth. There’s something about holding poop in a bag in one hand and having hair in your mouth that is just…unsettling. Sorry, was that TMI? I digress. Long hair = annoying. Mom hair = catastrophe. Stick with the bun-type thing. If you want to play it like you know what you’re doing (which is how I roll most of the time), call it a “top knot.” All of the blogger girls will think you’re the coolest.


Dear Ellen,

We don’t know each other well, but I think our mutual friend Lauren is right: We should be friends. A few thoughts on your thoughts:

  1. Men also do not understand BANGS, which is a source of almost constant sadness for me.
  2. My hair has two states of being: Just Cut Off and Growing It Out. JCO has a honeymoon period of between thirty seconds and two weeks. Then I start GIO. My goal FIVE YEARS ago when I started GIO was bra-strap. It’s there now, so my new goal is…waist? I don’t know. I just know that I need to have a goal, and once it’s met, I need to have a different goal.
  3. Growing out hair dye? The WORST, although I imagine the hombre craze has made it a bit easier.
  4. Good for you for donating your hair. It’s not that I’m not a good person, it’s just that I haven’t met my goal yet. But dear lord I respect people who do it. (Props to my friend Dannielle who donates her totally gorgeous hair…REGULARLY.) That said, IF I opt to chop it, I WILL donate it, so maybe I’m not THAT awful.
  5. Hair in your mouth, I think, is ALMOST as gross as hair wrapped around your toes.

Let’s have dinner.


Ellen Butler Lawson shuns hyphens and embraces semi-colons. As the daughter of an editor mother and an English Major father, she gets excited about the opportunity to write. She is Accounts Manager at Quack!Media, a yoga teacher at Sun Moon Yoga, owner of a tiny sweet dog named Juniper, and wife of a sweet man named Kyle. The quickest way to her heart is through hot fudge sundaes from Dairy Queen.

3 thoughts on “On Hair

  1. Amy Wilson says:

    I love this entry! Let’s all talk about hair a LOT! (And also, Amy, plz never feel like a bad person for not donating your hair. It’s YOUR hair, you grew it fair and square, and you get Good Person points in many many other arenas.)

  2. Rhonda Martin says:

    Was a natural blonde till my late thirties. I remember sitting in a restaurant in Sydney when I was about 22, and a man approached me (he was some big wig at l’oreal Paris) and said I had the most beautiful colored hair he had seen and asked what dye I used. When I told him it was natural he refused to believe me – sayng he wanted to use me in one of their commercials – but it would have to be dyed (!?!?) Then it decided to turn into that “dishwater” color – delightful. So, naturally, for the next 15 years or so I spent a small fortune highlighting to achieve my natural, albeit nurtured color. A couple of years ago, I gave up and decided to return to whatever was really there. Now my natural color is grey, naturally. Trying to decide whether to nuture again as some people say it AGES me. Well, aging I absolutely am, as I turn 57 this week. So nature or nuture? All the past nuturing is gone now, and in growing that out it is shoulder length, but EVERY SINGLE MOMENT it is up in a clip and I don’t have any babies 🙂

  3. Kathy says:

    Okay please do this one again, but write it to me. It can be the same on your end, and since we are related, so is our hair (proof — I too have white hair, not gray) so I would have some stuff to add. Like how before kids, my hair was stick straight and though I had a lot of it, it felt really thin. Then I had kids. I never experienced the shed thing; in fact… well, if you do another hair topic, please pick me as your guest Older Cousin Mom. Love you.

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