“What Should I Do with My Hair?”

This is what she’s been asking me for days now, she being Epp, my wife of nearly eight years. It really sounds like a stupid question, doesn’t it, the answer to which can only be, “Do whatever you feel like.” That’s what I usually tell her at first, but we both know it’s not good enough.

When I met her she had a huge mane of curly dirty blond locks and she looked like a lion. I was fixated on it, I just kept looking at the jungle bush growing on her head, it burned me up, it lured me in. Over the years, the wilderness has been tamed and domesticated. It’s been long, medium, and short, straight and curled, bangs, no bangs, brown, blond, red, pink.

Through most of the experimentation, I’ve encouraged her to find her way on her own. “What do you think? Listen to yourself.” The problem is in the listening. Sometimes the voice is faint. Other times there are too many voices. And all the time the hair appointment time is approaching. It cannot be postponed again. The drama builds. “What should I do with my hair? What do you think I should do?”

I usually suggest a reversion to natural. Why not? I imagine that it is easier to maintain your own hair color over time. No need for special shampoos to maintain an artificial color. But the dilemma for a lot of women seems to be that they left their natural hair color behind in their teens, and they aren’t quite sure what it is anymore.It’s a question for historians. There is the photographic evidence; a few scattered memoirs have been collected. Pieced together it is something, but, the pensive historians warn us, don’t expect any kind of historical truth. It doesn’t exist!

Her childhood photos reveal a small pygmy with a crown of yellow, but somewhere around adolescence, the dark set in, a color common to Estonians, known as ‘potato brown.’ It was the last time nature ruled. After that came the dyeing, the experimenting; the ‘disco haircut’ that left her looking a little too much like one the guys in Duran Duran; the flowing perms that earned her the college nickname ‘Koidula.’ Like a tormented actor, her hair has been through so many incarnations, its lost its true sense self. “Who the hell am I?” it seems to cry in the mirror. And there is no turning back. Is there?

According to American comedian Chris Rock, women are “masters of the visual lie,” the biggest liars of them all, because of their changing appearances. “You’ve got on heels, but you’re not that tall,” Rock says. “You’ve got on makeup, but your face doesn’t look like that. You’ve got on a Wonderbra, but your breasts aren’t that big!”

When it comes to hair, all I see around me are visual lies. My mother continues to insist that she is natural blonde, but I remember her roots used to be dark before the gray set in. But one cannot argue with it. Natural blonde! It’s the official policy. My grandmother was a boisterous Irish red until one day her hair turned tundra white.When I asked my mother how Grandma had aged so fast, almost overnight, she said that Grandma had simply been dyeing it red before she started dyeing it white. So Grandma wasn’t really red or white. She was something else, something that nobody knew. What is Grandma’s true hair color? It’s a question for Egyptologists.

So there is no going back. But what is the way forward? The appointment at the salon looms. The minutes are ticking away. The situation calls for decisiveness. “What should I do with my hair?” she asks again. Why does always she ask me? Does she really want to know? Do women really expect their men to say, ‘Listen honey, I want it wavy and shoulder length this time, with blonde highlights,’ like they were ordering a dish at a restaurant? Wouldn’t any man who responded like that warrant a good smack in the face with a woman’s magazine? Maybe a spritz in the eyes with some detangling spray?

“Never interfere when it comes to a woman and her hair,” I have been advised. It’s the eleventh commandment. I agree. Who wants to take the blame for a salon catastrophe? But what about equality? My wife makes suggestions to me all the time and I listen intently, because to men, women really are like civilization in the flesh. If it weren’t for the women in our lives, most of us would probably never change our socks.

But here is the difference: women are more nuanced in their approach.She won’t tell you that you should change your socks outright, no, she might just happen to buy you some more and wash them. “They were on sale,” she’ll say, “And look, they are just your size!”

Likewise, she won’t tell you she prefers your hair long, she’ll just happen to run her fingers through it and say, “mmm, you look good today.” The message will be delivered, but in that soft, compelling, blameless, feminine way, the approach that seems to work. And when it’s your time to get your own haircut, you’ll remember those warm fingers running through your hair, and think twice about cutting it short, let alone getting a perm.

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