Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 July 2000
Issue No. 490
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Goldilocks and the three hairs

By Fayza Hassan

Fayza HassanBetween 1962, when we married, and 1967, when we finally left for Australia, my husband and I gradually forfeited all our foreign friends as well as our lifestyle. As he battled with Egyptian bureaucracy to get our documents together for emigration, my husband took refuge in dreams of faraway lands. We would first tour Europe, he would say, poring over maps; we could stay in Paris, and maybe London for a while. One of his best friends and associates had settled recently in Milan. We could surprise him with a call and also go to Rome for a couple of days.

I was born with a full head of hair, my mother tells me. By the time I was three, I had tight curls, hanging down to my shoulders and growing fast. I don't know at which point exactly the curls turned into something much uglier, akin to steel wool and which could only be controlled by tight braiding. Childhood photos show me with brother and sister: he crowned with a mop of coarse hair very similar to mine, she, the baby, having been spared the indignity by some more favourable combination of genes, unselfconsciously flaunting a perfectly straight mane. I, on the other hand, sport a silly part in the middle and two huge tresses hanging over my ears. Several barrettes and small ribbons meant to contain the flow complete the dumb Bécassine look. For as long as I can remember, I wished my sister's fashionably short, straight black strands were upon my head. Having prayed hard for a miracle at night, I used to run to the mirror first thing in the morning to look expectantly for signs of divine intervention. Never were the mousy brown corkscrews touched by any magic wand.

By the time I was ten, my plaits reached below my waist and combing them every morning was a daunting task, performed grouchily by my mother or grandmother. They tugged and pulled in a desperate attempt to tame the frizzy tentacles. I was not allowed to wince, lest they turn their backs on me. For a long time, punishment for bad behaviour consisted in threatening to abandon me to deal alone with the frightful bush. I remember once sobbing so hard that my father, disturbed by the noise, suddenly appeared in the room. Told what the cause of the commotion was, he sat on the bed and tried to help me out. My father had never shown more than perfunctory interest in my life and this gesture duly impressed me, but when both the steel brush and a couple of broken combs became desperately tangled in my hair, he sighed, hung his head and called my mother to the rescue.

In my teens, beset by doubts as to supernatural assistance, I begged to be allowed to consult a hairdresser. My mother eventually relented and I was taken to a chic salon on Qasr Al-Nil Street, where Monsieur Taki congratulated us on our luck. No longer did hair need to be straightened by painfully pulling it and tying it upwards; a new product had just been invented which, applied normally for half an hour, would yield the desired results. I submitted to the experiment with a beating heart and high expectations. For once, I was not to be disappointed. After the treatment, my hair flowed as straight as a mermaid's and I was overwhelmed by joy and gratitude. Monsieur Taki piled the silky outpouring high on my head in a complicated chignon that made me look like someone's mother, but, as someone's mother with straight hair, I really did not care -- not even when my boyfriend dumped me because he was asked at the party we attended that evening if he had brought his school teacher along.

This was the beginning of a long and costly relationship with the hairdressers of the world. I never visited a country without trying out their salons. From Zurich to Sydney, Madrid to Tampa, I have had my hair curled and uncurled, trimmed or shorn, treated with herbs, oils and harsh chemicals, burned to the roots, dyed ripe aubergine, simply black, bright red or platinum blond, but never did I feel as happy with the unfortunate growth as that very first time when I looked at myself in the mirror after Monsieur Taki's expert ministrations.

Now my hair is no longer frizzy, just damaged by the endless treatments it has been submitted to over the years. Recently, however, I discovered a couple of bald patches and panicked. The problem had suddenly taken on a new dimension. It is one thing to have poor quality hair, it is another altogether to have none at all. Consulted, my sister shrugged and confided that several of her friends suffered from the same plight. HRT, or yearly injections of a mysterious vitamin cocktail, improved the condition somewhat, she had heard; a more detached attitude toward the signs of ageing was more to the point, however. I wanted none of the above and decided to blame my woes on my current hairdresser. He had cut my hair too short, used too harsh a dye, too hot a dryer. I bought loads of hair products and alternative remedies guaranteed to produce fuzz on an egg, and proceeded to treat myself. Proteins and vitamins galore were introduced to my diet. My general health improved considerably but my home-styled locks remained distressing. My family looked on disapprovingly, and suggested a visit to their own coiffeurs, forgetting that I had tried them all. I threatened to shave my head and they eventually gave up. I should not have despaired, however. Miracles happen when one expects them the least. Unable to stand my looks anymore, I gave in last week, deciding to try just one more charlatan, rumoured to be "very different." Lo and behold, when I walked out of his salon, I was for once at peace with my hair and the world.

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