Lessons Learned from Hair Extensions

“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries or the way she combs her hair.” — Audrey Hepburn, The Beauty of A Woman 

True. But we still want to feel great about our tresses.

I had my hair cut last week by my friend, June, who I hadn’t seen in years. (Yeah, we month names attract. ;)) “Your hair is so long and healthy!” she yelped when I arrived. “What happened?”  I laughed and told her I’d swapped acting and modeling for writing. That truthful answer never really struck me until then. Since taking on writing full-time, I think less about my hair—perhaps less than ever.

As a kid, when someone asked me what I liked about myself, I’d reference my hair. I remember walking down the long hallways at Chelsea Heights Elementary, swishing my long blonde hair on purpose. Air catching my locks while swinging was one of my most beloved sensations. And styling one another’s hair provided endless entertainment for me and my friends.

By the time I discovered boys, that changed—not because they desired it, or even noticed. I just wanted to feel pretty. I wanted curly hair. Strawberry hair. My best friend Jill’s hair. Anything but my plain, straight, holds-a-curl-as-well-as-paper hair. But I never had a hair complex until I became an actress.

I was standing in the dressing room, about to go on the Tonight Show when a fellow actress approached and gave me unsolicited advice. “I used to have hair just like yours,” she said. “Then I tried _____.” She went on to describe the hair therapy she’d received in Beverly Hills and the fancy follicle stimulator that induced the lusciousness of her tresses—the lusciousness my “thin, scraggly” hair lacked. Part of me found the ordeal hilarious, another wondered if she was trying to damage my performance. I laughed it off, but later that night stood before the mirror, wondering if she had a point.

By that time in my life, I’d already overcome some deep-rooted insecurities. So while the woman’s insinuations didn’t make me feel less valuable or send me bolting to the Hair Therapy ER, they got me thinking. I started researching hair extension extensions. Noting the hefty price, I stashed the tactic in my mind’s “hopefully someday” file.

As chance or fate would have it, one of my next modeling jobs involved hair extensions. I’d had extensions at previous shoots. (In case you aren’t aware: That silky “stepped out of a salon” hair in shampoo commercials and magazines? Not real.) This time, the stylist asked if I’d like to keep them. (Would I?!?) I paid her a modest fee and she swapped the clips for glue.

Within an hour I had Barbie hair. Hours after that, I felt sorry for Barbie.

“If I hold my arms out, I won’t fall over.”
— Heavy Hair Barbie

The little glue-y things securing the extensions felt like itchy cling-ons to my scalp. By night, they became aggravating rocks on my pillow. And I learned a harsh truth: You can’t just get up, brush your hair and go with hair extensions. They require TLC. A lot of it. If I didn’t use a hairdryer, they kinked up and mismatched the texture of my real hair. Even with a hairdryer, I had poor luck. Drying and styling took what seemed like forever, and never once did they turn out remotely salon-esque. Close friends didn’t notice I had them—partly because I surrendered to ponytails.

Weeks later I had the extensions removed, and left the salon as though walking on air. I’d never felt more grateful for my fine, light-weight, glue-and-pebble-free hair. I teared up driving home, spouting mental love and apologies to my hair for not appreciating it sooner.

In my 10-plus years of modeling, crazy things were done to my hair. It’s just hair, right? That’s what I figured. And styling was part of the job. In Paris, an artist turned it into a tall, ratted sculpture. In New York, a designer glued human hair to my eyelids. (Not my hair, thank goodness.) I’ve had thousands of bobby pins poked in odd ways and places, including accidentally, my scalp. And my hair’s been exposed to more hot irons—flat, kinking and curling—than I’d like to count. All in the sake of beauty, artistry and paychecks.

Not until visiting June did I realize how much healthier my hair has grown lately, or the damage that over-styling and fussing had done over the years. The experience reminded me that the more we fixate on our “flaws” by stepping away from our authentic selves, the more likely we are to suffer. The happier we are, the more beautiful we feel and appear. To make matters even brighter, I have yet another reason to cherish my writing life. It’s dang good for my hair.

What has your hair taught you? Has a drastic change helped you appreciate your natural locks? Any “hairy” or hil-hair-ious experiences to share?