Next year I turn 50. In preparation for this depressing celebration of one’s scum line on the bathtub of life I have been looking through old photos. It’s like a retrospective of the world’s worst haircuts. How can one woman have so many tragic looks?
Of course, it’s clear by my facial expression that I am oblivious to the hairy hellscape on my head. I seem to always think I look good. I have always had a self-esteem problem. I’ve have slightly too much. There isn’t a bad haircut I haven’t had. It started with Mum’s cutting my fringe. You’d think having a hairdresser for a mum would mean that as a kid my coif would be a cut above the rest. And it was. About three inches above to be precise. I had an asymmetrical fringe at least a decade before it was on trend. I mean it’s not like Mum was going to fix it. After all, I didn’t pay. And hey, it’s great to have that sad child of a single mum look immortalised forever in my school photo. Nothing makes a kid look more neglected than an unfixed I-did-it-myself haircut. Except I didn’t do it myself. Mum did it.
Mum liked keeping my hair short. It meant less hassle in the morning routine, so from about the age of seven I had the Mia Farrow Rosemary’s Baby look, minus the spiritual possession. Being taller than everyone in my class by at least a head, I really do appreciate Mum’s going that extra mile to also make me look like a boy. I was rocking the gender boat back when LGBTI was just affectionately known as ‘what are ya, a poofta?’ Those years of being asked ‘What are ya? A boy or a girl?’ really helped me develop my rock-solid resilience. Primary school marked the years when my mother made choices about my haircut. Adolescence was when I was handed the driver’s seat on decision making. That should have made it better.
That was when the horror show really began. By about 13 I had grown my hair to my shoulders into a pretty impressive mullet. I liked it really short on top with a few flicks on the side. Long at the back. We used to fashion the flicks with a fine-toothed black comb. I had just decided this was my finest moment to date when nature played a cruel trick. My hair went curly. But not all my hair. Just the top. The bottom stayed dead straight. For a moment I was the only girl in my street with a curly-top mullet. Fortunately this coincided with the curly-perm-on-top look and other people started actually paying to get this very unattractive style. Everyone loved my hair. Somehow it sat at an angle that seemed to defy gravity. You had to brush up from the ear. I never got asked for ID. The pensioner haircut got me into pubs from the age of 14, no questions asked. Then came the new romantic period. A two-toned asymmetrical cut that featured burgundy underneath with a long white fringe. This was great if you wanted to go to a fancy dress as a Cherry Ripe or if you only liked to use one eye at a time. By the mid eighties I’d gone back to blonde with a Cybil Shepherd-styled curly bob. This really showed off the giant orange plastic disc earrings I used to wear with my bandana and Come-on-Eileen overalls. And it was easy to do. You put your head upside down, packed it with mousse and did the ‘scrunch’ blow-dry. When you put your head back up you had BIG hair. It was all about big hair. And mine was fricking massive.
But then I went alternative. Big blonde hair had to go. So I peroxided the whole thing and shaved the back of my head into a pineapple. I was from Queensland after all. But that wasn’t enough. I knew I could make it uglier. I had it in me. So I dyed it black and wore a floppy mohawk with bright blue or green undercuts. Once I even dyed my armpits. I had one blue and one green. It was like I’d smuggled two budgies under there. There was a moment of dreadlocks. And a moment when I created perhaps one of the most unflattering hairstyles I’ve ever seen. I dyed five inches of my hair from the roots white with long black tips. I actually looked like a skunk. Just when you thought I couldn’t make it worse, I cut a one-inch fringe.
Then I cut it short and went yellow. Inspired by Cheap Trick it actually cost me $300 so there was nothing cheap about it. For at least two decades my hair clearly had an identity issue. It didn’t know who it was. I was laughing at one of my hideous 80s pics with my husband and remarked, ‘Can you believe men actually found this attractive on a woman back then?’ And he said quietly, ‘Oh we didn’t. We just never said anything.’