Hair is the curse of the Iranian woman. From the top of her head to the tip of her toes. Now you will probably sigh to yourself “Another woman having a bad hair day, why should I read this?” But don't touch that mouse! What I am about to reveal to you is much more than your run of the mill “the grass is always greener on the other side” woman's hair dilemma. It is a long history of an unending battle between the forces of good and evil that has pitted the Iranian woman against her genetic curse for agonizing centuries.
Let's start at the top: The hair on your head. Now, a lot of my non-Iranian friends compliment me on my hair: “It is so full, it has such volume, you are so lucky,” as they run their fingers through their own silky soft cascade of golden follicles. I just smile at them and leave them in their delusions. If they only knew…
My own mother kept my hair short like a boy's until I was eleven. I was mistaken for a boy so often, I finally rebelled one summer and decided enough was enough, I wanted to look like the other girls in my class. Now I understand my mother was only trying to shield me for as long as she could from the horrors of Iranian hair texture.
I happily started growing my hair, thinking I was going to be the next spokesperson for Clairol ads… and I woke up one day with what can only be described as an unruly, tangled, unkept, vezvezee bird's nest. Like a Medusa, I looked at myself in the mirror and turned MYSELF to stone. I tried brushing the mess out. The more I brushed, the more it vezzed out, until finally I had left the Medusa stage and entered the 1970s blaxploitation Foxy Brown Humongous Afro stage.
My khaaleh tried to help me by using much gel and hairspray and mousse. She finally succeeded in making me look like a cross between a mafia hitman and an old black-and-white Count Dracula, with my hair all slicked back and glistening. When I woke up in the morning, there was a puddle of toxic goo left on my pillow, the residue of all those hair care products. I think some new life form had begun to develop in my little Darwinian experiment, until I decided this was not the solution for me either.
My ammeh's contribution to the hair saga was to introduce me to an ancient Persian tradition: Henna! I thought that's right! This is the solution. Our hair, just like our history, is rich in tradition and dates back to thousands of years ago. Of course, modern Western products designed for Barbie hair will not be appropriate for us. EUREKA! I screamed out as my ammeh began to boil some water.
The age-old ritual was so magical, I really felt I was getting in touch with my roots (pardon the pun). But all I got instead was some smelly hot sticky substance dumped on my head, and for the next 6 weeks, my head smelled of rotten eggs. This experiment in Iranian culture caused a major rift between my dad and my ammeh (“Bacheye 13 saaleh ro vardaashti moohaasho rang kardi?!”) Not that any color had taken of course, since my hair is so pitch black.
Finally one day, my mom came to the rescue. I had heard ancient legends whispered around the homes of my relatives like a big state secret about “oottooing your hair” though I could not imagine for the life of me what a clothes iron and human hair could ever have in common. “What?” I asked my mom laughingly, “Like you're gonna lay my hair on the ironing board and go at it full steam, haha?”. When my mom kept staring at me silently, I stopped laughing.
Of course, it wasn't even going to be as simple as that. The process had to start first with a cleansing, just like any other religious endeavor. I was to wash and condition my hair thoroughly. Then, as soon as I jumped out of the shower, I had to bend while my mom applied an anti-frizz spray gel from my roots to my tips.
Once that was done, an excruciatingly painful process of combing out the hair while still wet, dividing it up into dozens of small sections, brushing again, applying giant red, blue, and yellow bigoudis of various sizes and rolling the hair very tightly around it, then securing the bigoudi to my scalp with menacing steel pins (ouch! some of them actually poked through the skin!).
I had to wear that contraption to my head, looking like a Martian, scaring my dad almost into a heart attack when he innocently poked his head into my room. After the hair had dried out inside the rollers, my mom proceeded to blowdry out every single bigoudi, and she succeeded in giving me third degree burns on the back of my neck and ears at the same time. When all this was done, my hair was carefully wrapped in bedsheets and I bent yet again, while my mom started ACTUALLY ironing my hair onto the ironing board.
Torture session: Three hours
Injuries: Open wounds on scalp, barbecued ears and neck, migraine from all the pulling of the hair, one half-dead daddy, one mom with shooting pains through her forearms, two burnt out electrical outlets, one neighbourhood black-out
Result: When I looked at myself in the mirror, I felt like the luckiest, happiest human being alive! I finally had beautiful, long, luscious hair, straight and bouncy at the same time :o)
Yeaaahhhh, I only have to do this twice a week, eight times a month, 96 times a year, for the rest of my life!
Of course I have learned since then, that this torture can be transformed into a very pleasant experience: Spending the day at the beauty salon, gossiping and laughing and catching up with all the Iranian ladies, my fellow Sister-Warriors!
Just the other day, as my hairdresser was pulling my hair out with a red hot blowdryer, I had another revelation: Hair was God's way of preventing Iranian women from ruling the earth. Think about it: All that tenacity, stubbornness, passion, conviction, ambition, struggle and time! What would happen if they were all put to some other use?
Coming up next: Iranian Women's Hair, Part II: The Battle of the Eyebrow…
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