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The Skinny By Elaine Langlois

Hair Today and Gone Tomorrow: Notes from the World of Hair

Now finishing its summer tour: HAIRevolution-"A multi-media, sensory experience that explores the impact of music, movies and pop culture" on hair. Here you could revisit hairstyles of the past-like the Afro, bouffant, mullet, and wedge-and get predictions by famous stylists of what they will inflict on us in the future. Apparently the coming looks are going to require us to don a puffy pink clown's wig, swirl our heads around in a cotton candy machine, or stick our fingers in a socket.

You could also sing along with the cast of Hair on Karaoke, "try on" hairstyles virtually, and-here is something I've always yearned for-visit the "fan" room and have your hair blown around, like a supermodel on a fashion shoot.

Of course, you do not have to visit HAIRevolution to see hairstyles of the past. You have only to go to a mall or, even better, a bowling alley. I mean a real bowling alley, one that is devoid of children, dimly lit, hazy with cigarette smoke, and redolent of stale beer. The kind of place where all the male bowlers bear a vague resemblance to Elvis, and the waitresses sport beehives so tall that, for all you know, they could be hiding their own bowling balls in them for use after hours, beehives whose main structural ingredient is hairspray, so you are wary of lighting a match within three meters.

I have to admit that decades of trendy hairstyles have washed over me with little impact. But that's true of most of us, anyway. We go through magazines, find something promising, and head to the salon, like the dowdy middle-aged woman in Educating Rita with her picture of Princess Di: "I want to look like that."

But lacking time, an inexhaustible supply of mousse, and a personal hairstylist on 24-hour call, we have to settle for something that works.

Right now, straight hair is in. In fact, one fashion expert calls it "the uniform of 21st century beauty." Tousled hair, too. You know, like you rolled out of bed and schlepped to work with one eye open and without glancing in the mirror. At last, my time has come.

My hair is satisfactory, or would be, if it hadn't been for my grandmother, who was otherwise a very likable person but started going white at 25. But it doesn't do anything. I have tried reams of hair care products such as volumizing tonic or foam that would cause a normal person's hair to harden into a rigid mass that you could almost take on and off, like the hair on one of those little Lego figures. Nope. Flat.

I also have no talent for styling it. My hairstylist, Kim, classes me charitably as "among the hair-impaired." Kim's so talented, she probably could make that woman from Educating Rita look like Princess Di. If she had lived in the 1600s, she would have been made to wear a scarlet "H" and burned at the stake by a lot of guilt-ridden Puritans with great hair.

When I was young, whatever time I spent on my hair was usually in an effort to make it act or look like someone else's. Like my sister's, thick and softly curling and easy to style, or so it seemed to me. Or my friend Donna's, streaked with blonde from spending so much time at the beach, back in those carefree days when we had an ozone layer.

Of course, we didn't have all the hair care products then that we have today. Collectively, we probably purchase enough shampoos, conditioners, gels, sprays, glosses, mists, spritzes, and shines to rival the gross domestic product of some countries. After a few years of this, you can sympathize with Danny DeVito in Tin Men when he is throwing all his wife's possessions out the windows and has a sudden inspiration for what will go next: "Toiletries!"

I had something like a shag for a while in high school, but for the most part, I wore my hair long, which you can do when you're young without people thinking it's because you don't have enough imagination to do anything else. This continued in college, when I was too busy to be bothered with unimportant things like haircuts and eating. Not that the dorm food made skipping meals such a sacrifice. There's a weight-loss program for you: the Dorm-Food Diet.

Nowadays, the things I do to my hair are not to make it look like it never was but to make it look like it used to be, which I think was a sort of mousy brown. Every once in a while I pull the lock of baby hair my mother saved out of my jewelry box, just to check. Kim always sends me off with something a little enthusiastic-perhaps to encourage me, like those credit-card ads, to "master the possibilities"-so it takes me a while to figure out how to style it so it looks passable. Terrific, the way she had it, is clearly beyond me. Right now I could pass for one of the Thurmian women in Galaxy Quest. Check back later.

©2002 Elaine Langlois

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