From hair to eternity: My life is a story of a thousand cuts

Wanita Bates has tried many, many styles for her uncooperative hair over the years, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. (Submitted by Wanita Bates)

“To have curls or not to have curls: that is the question.”

Oh, yes, yes, in my dreams, a hundred times yes. I cajoled, cajoled, threatened and almost set my hair on fire so that my straight spaghetti-like hair held a curl.

I don’t take it for an answer. I’m a Dippity Do type.

I’ve been trying to teach my follicles new tricks all my life. Slight exaggeration: it’s only been 59 years.

Until I was three years old, my mom would style big, soft curls around my cute little face, and they would stick. My curls once ran Shirley Temple’s mop all the way to her crying mom!

When I was three, Mom decided it was time to get my hair cut. Yes, the first cut is the deepest.

A young girl smiles with short hair.
Bates in 1968. Please note the serious cowlicks. (Submitted by Wanita Bates)

I call this event magical. Imagine tiny evil-haired fairies running their little evil-haired fairies through my curls to defeat them on a curly-haired planet in the hair galaxy.

A tip on the hair

These sprites messed with my brain playing a trick on my hair.

Let’s call hair what it is: dead cell matter!

Hair is not an empty superficial concern. OK, maybe it’s a vain superficial concern, but I’m not alone on the vain train. During her lifetime, an average woman spends 14,000 hours caring for her hair.

Let me tease you with some facts about this protein called keratin: 95% of our skin is covered in hair. Hair grows almost everywhere except on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, lips and eyelids.

On average, we have 100,000 to 150,000 strands of hair, we lose about 50 to 150 strands of hair per day, and a single hair has a lifespan of about five years.

Women’s and men’s hair has an identical structure, and hair is the most important forensic evidence.

On average, men spend five months of their lives shaving. I’ve read that women spend 40-55 minutes a day on their hair. (What? Could this be true?)

A stylized black and white photo shows a panting woman with her hair tied to oversized clothespins on a clothesline.
While writing for the Ottawa Citizen, Bates had this photo taken for a fashion article titled Clothesline. Her hair was up for the challenge. (Submitted by Wanita Bates)

Think of the hair words you know, like perm, braid, tease, shave, scrunch, chop, curl, perm, part, cut, freeze, tease, bangs, kiss curl, straighten, razor, rag roll, dye, bangs , feather, layer, flip, freeze, brush, lather, lighten, condition, style and brush (and brush and brush our hair).

In our lifetime, we spend over a year and a half trying to get our hair to do what we want it to. In my case, it’s 7.34 years of curling exclusively with another 5.25 years trying to train my four cowlicks to stay on the ground.

I keep telling them that no one will be hurt.

They don’t listen.

They were like mosquitoes. But not the mosquitoes

In 1973 when I was a teenager, something happened involving stuff creating curls that still give me goosebumps.

We were moving, and I was storing boxes above a garage. I wanted to go to the baseball diamond that night. Not for the game, but for the boys. If they were looking at the bleachers, I wanted my hair to be fabulously curly!

I had packed my curlers in storage. To the garage I go. Up and over the ladder, I look for the box. There they are, a “hair trick” scribbled on a box.

I lean over to start opening the shutters, and… “SHOUT, SHOUT, BRUSH, SHOUT, NO MORE BRUSH!”

Thirty baby mice flew out of the box towards my face. It was like being swarmed by mosquitoes. That is, if the mosquitoes were big and hairy. I tried to get them away from my face and not tangle my hair. I panicked.

Flight or fight. In my case, urinating in my pants or jumping on the floor. I don’t know what happened next. I remember walking my poker straight hair on the ball diamond that night in Pakenham, Ontario. I always wonder, were those mice wearing pink foam curlers?

The fight is real. Outside, fucking straight hair. I try all my tricks to lasso my four cowlicks into surrender.

I wet them and tape them, hairpins and barrettes, glue them with styling gel. Trying to master my cowlicks is like playing Whack-A-Mole. One settles and another arises.

Guess what? Cowlicks on people with straight hair are more noticeable. Thank you Sherlock Combs! The old story of cutting baby hair curls is fake news. Curls start in the follicle, at the root, so cutting baby hair won’t cause straight hair to grow.

I got it. I’m sick and tired, and I’m not going to take straight hair and highlights anymore. It’s finish. I refuse to play this game. You have to go! No, really, cowlicks, “Buzz off!”

What else could I do but get a buzzcut.

A smiling woman with cropped gray hair, dressed in a purple coat.
Turns out, a buzzcut was just what Bates needed for this stage of his life. (Submitted by Wanita Bates)

It was so powerful. I came home, looked in the mirror at my quarter inch long hair, “I warned you not to act like that. But you didn’t listen! Are you happy now? “

I don’t care what my hair says. I am delighted with my decision. It seems like my problems have disappeared into, well, fine hair.

Anyone need hot rollers, a curling iron, or some highlights?

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