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? 

The Happy Manhood Operator

 ♦  “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” — Zig Ziglar   

Last week I shared how daydreaming helped make my aspirations of moving to Los Angeles come true. I imagined a whole lot, but never that my daydreamy attitude would lead to altitude of…other kinds.

One of my first acting jobs in L.A. was a European energy drink commercial. I played a grad student in a physiology course, studying a cadaver with a group of classmates. We shot it in a functioning morgue.

My scene’s premise: Before “Joe” became a cadaver, he’d consumed a GoFast energy drink. As I bent over the body in the purposely low-cut scrubs, Joe’s manhood gave my chest a firm salute. Yes, friends, GoFast energy drinks keep one excitable—even postmortem.

The star of the set, in my opinion, wasn’t me, the other actors or even Joe’s elevating manhood. It was the manhood operator.

I don’t remember the man’s name, but I recall his attitude. He not only operated but created the remote control penis, precisely for such purposes. He sat off camera, pushing buttons to stimulate the punchline fodder like a professional fisherman—awaiting the next nibble, activating when necessary. He didn’t laugh or blush or show off. He simply did his job, took pride in it but stayed humble, and was happy to answer a curious actress’s questions. (You’d be amazed at just how handy an erectile contraption can be in Tinseltown—and no, I’m not talking projects rated X.) In a word, he seemed grateful.

There were numerous complainers on set—understandable to a point; the place did smell of embalming fluid and who knows what else. And there were actual corpses on the premise. But Mr. Manhood Operator stayed pleasant. I know what some of you are thinking: How could a manhood operator not be happy? Well imagine sitting still in a stinky, weirdly lighted corpse-cooler for hours on end, waiting to push a button then being scolded for being a half-millisecond off. It’s not as sexy as it sounds.

When the day was done, Mr. Manhood Operator smiled, thanked us all and left—probably eager to spend time with his wife and grandkids I learned some about. Arguably the most crucial piece of that commercial’s puzzle gained the least amount of praise or glory. Hopefully he was paid well. I also hope he talks about his job at his grandkids’ school on career day. Regardless, the experience and his character have stuck with me.

As they say in theatrics, there are no small parts. I think the same holds true in our careers. Not all of our work will be glamourous, or even pleasant. But if we do what we love and love what we do, and keep our chins up and hearts open, we can go a long way. More importantly, we’ll better enjoy the journey.

Before writing this post, I hadn’t seen this video—yet another perk of blogging. Thanks to YouTube, I can welcome you to sit back and enjoy the show. Have a giggle and let it be a lesson to all: Do not walk or drive mindlessly. As for stimulant use, I’ll save that for another post. 😉

Who’s YOUR manhood operator?
Let me rephrase. 😉 Have you encountered someone with an odd or unpleasant job who knocks it out of the park positivity-wise? Do you find it easy to stay positive through the grunt work? Any zany invention stories to share?

Mountain Man Willy’s Untimely Advice

Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve found little as post-hectic-week-medicinal as hiking in the mountains. The mighty peaks surrounding the 12 million-plus people can make the endless traffic, big-city sounds and life’s stress seem insignificant. While I enjoy gazing at them from afar, there’s nothing like venturing up into them. And that’s exactly what I was hoping for a couple of weeks ago—a hefty dose of respite, peace and escape.

Unlike my husband, I’m no climber. So when he suggested we venture up Mount Baldy, the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains, I made sure to ask the necessary question: “Can I handle it?”

“Sure,” he said. “It’s more like a long walk than a climb. But it’ll probably be cold and snowy.” I could handle cold, I reminded him; I spent the first 18 years of my life in Minne-snow-da. So we loaded two packs up with winter gear and headed out. Cool, I thought. A pack! I’m going to look like a real climber! Little did I know what that “look” entailed.

Within minutes of donning the pack, I questioned the identity of the 12-year-old child clinging to me piggyback-style, resisting my every move. My heart thudded wildly and my upper-body begged to go back in time and master pull-ups. I can do this, I told myself. Focus. Maybe I’d adjust in time. But every step felt more brutal. Rather than escape stressors, I had new ones. I fought the urge to chuck my pack down the mountain as my inner-pep talk grew silent.

“How are you doing?” Hubby asked as we neared a small clearing.

“Okay,” I said, as in still breathing. In gasps.This pack is heavier than I thought it would be. Makes things…” *gasp* “rather…” *gasp* “…difficult.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Mountain Man Willy told me once that he can take professional athletes out here and they’re fine. But put packs on them and they fall over.” (Did he seriously just say… ) “Your pack is only like 10 pounds, though.”

He turned to look at me, camera phone at the ready. Me? Not so camera ready.

Grrr… “One person’s 10 pounds is another’s 10,000,” I said.

“Is it really that bad?”

“Do the words ‘are we there yet’ mean anything to you?” I dropped the pack on ground in weary surrender.

We locked eyes and burst out laughing. Then he did what any chivalrous mountaineer would do:

Free of the zillion ton—okay, ten pound—cling-on, I felt as light as air. I could’ve run the rest of the way, singing! We took turns with the pack from there on out, laughing repeatedly over my debacle. To my husband’s credit, he had no idea the pack would affect me as it did, and I was honored by his faith in my abilities.

It struck me as we hiked on how easily we can feel paralyzed by the emotional loads we carry—toxic relationships, difficult-to-break habits, jobs we loathe, insecurities we’ve yet to overcome. If we never release these burdens, we’ll never learn what we’re truly capable of. How can we thrive if we’re too busy surviving? This has definitely been the case for me. The only time I felt purposeless and creatively-blocked, I was at my lowest point emotionally. Once I made the difficult decision to face and set free the burdens I carried, the whole world seemed to open up. I don’t know about you, but a wide-open world full of possibilities—intimidating risks and all—seems far better than trudging through murky waters when in our hearts, we know there’s more. We may not learn these lessons as soon as we’d like, but what matters is that we learn them.

What burdens have you carried? Are any holding you back now?