Tuesday 15 October 2019

Bairbre Power: Do blondes have more fun? Absolutely! But I can’t complain about being a redhead in the 90s and Noughties

Bairbre Power. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

I've a thick head of hair, and hairdressers meeting me for the first time have been known to exclaim "oh, you've a lot of hair!" (which is shorthand for "this is going to take so long, I'll be expecting a big tip").

I'll admit I get tetchy when I go to strange salons out of town and you sit there after requesting a bouncy blow-dry with root lift and watch this flat-as-a-pancake disaster unfolding. I mean, what do they not understand about root lift?

In New York, I paid a shocking amount for a blow-dry and I don't know what shocked me more - the lack of root lift or the collegiate manner in which they hustled for tips for each other. I will happily admit that bad hair days really annoy me, which is why I'm getting self sufficient. I have the barrel styling brushes (my favourite are Mairead Ronan's Faro brushes) and I love the volumising shampoo they use at Brown Sugar. If only my cowlick would behave itself, I'd be satisfied.

I only have myself to blame on that front because, as a child, after trimming my doll's hair with a nail scissors, I then took to my own.

"Have you cut your hair?" my normally calm mum enquired in a shrill tone. Sensing I was in trouble, I did what every terrified child does on reflex - I lied, denied it all. But one look at the sad, shorn locks told a different story. I'd cut into my hair at the front of my parting, close to my forehead and cut it tight like an enthusiastic chef might cut chives. Right to the very root!

My hair eventually grew back in a haphazard way and in the interim, I wore thick hair bands to school to hide my enterprise. I've always had something of a fixation with dolls and their hair. I remember hassling my late dad, Billie, until he brought me into Gearys, the toy shop at the corner of Grafton Street and bought me a Tressy doll. A rival to the Sindy doll, Tressy had the most amazing hair and when you pressed a button on her body, her pony tail would miraculously grow out of the top of her hair. Tressy felt my pain and she too got scissored and her uneven fringe matched mine.

As childhood memories go of days out with my mum, I loved walking around the Botanic Gardens and shopping at Switzers and Newells where she bought my Communion dress, but my outright favourite was the whole perfumed ambience of the hair salon my mum went to over the ESB shop on St Stephen's Green.

I was fascinated at how her regular stylist, 'Mr O'Neill' created her bouffant hairdo with big rollers, which he squired with long pins and corralled it all under the giant hair net. The manicurist would come along with her trolley of Revlon nail products and I'd watch with wonder as she painted her nails while Mum's hair was baked under the curious, dome-shaped hair dryers with a contraption on her lap to adjust the heat as required. I busied myself watching the fish tank and loving it when wafts of hair lacquer drifted across in my direction, which is hilarious really because now I hate the smell of lacquer.

Our neighbourhood of Terenure was famous for big bouffant hairdos, way bigger than my mum's. A lot of the ladies attending the local synagogue on a Saturday morning favoured big hair and midweek, you'd see them ducking down low in order to get into their cars because their hair was so tall.

Teenagers rarely like the attributes they are born with and I hated my naturally brown hair. Of course I would kill now to be a brunette with the deep glossy brown hair I had as a child, but back then, I hated being told I had black hair and would immediately correct them that it was "dark sable brown".

The signs were there from early on that I would be a rebel in the hair department and in my mid teens, I became an enthusiastic DIY devotee of henna, the natural plant-based hair dye which I bought in Indian shops for 10p for a small scoop. At home, the transformation would begin and I'd boil it up with lemon juice, and sometimes cold tea, in the thick-bottomed saucepan reserved for making porridge.

On Saturday mornings, when the coast was clear, I'd boil up my henna concoction and paint it on lovingly with an old toothbrush for extra accuracy. My mum wasn't too impressed with my reddish hair, but it could have been so much worse and it passed muster with the eagle-eyed Loreto nuns who were on war-footing about make-up. Later, when I read Quentin Crisp's The Naked Civil Servant, I saluted his enterprise because when war was declared, he went out and bought himself two pounds of henna to ensure his signature look would survive in spite of rationing.

I loved my hippy hair and during college years, I railed against my dead straight hair and got a 'poodle perm' in the Dandelion market. It was horrible at first, but as it grew out, I loved the 'hybrid' stage of having straight hair with curls at the end. Myself and my mother now had something in common in the hair department... we both ran whenever it rained for fear we'd end up going curly.

Over the years, I've oscillated between brown dye and brighter colours to cover those greys which sprang up at 21. I didn't inherit my dad's hair colour because he was jet black on his 60th birthday. I've explored phases of having red hair and at its best, it wasn't unlike Miranda Hobbes' choppy red hair in Sex and the City, but the downside was it required too much maintenance and those greys showed up like 'mean girls' after 10 days. Eventually, it was goodbye Titian hair and I moved on to blonde simply because you can't see those greys quite so easily. I'm liking this blonde phase. It's the closest to the real, fifty-something me, but I'll confess to having a madcap ambition of going to Australia and New Zealand for six months and coming back au naturel. However, for the moment, I'm staying blonde because, yes, blondes really do have more fun.

Irish Independent

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