Letter V is for vanity’s many faces.
A to Z entries: My post for each letter of the alphabet will be anecdotes or musings based on an element from the previous letter’s post. Names always changed, events always real.
~ Letter U was for Unreality, and now for fake hair color and…vanity. ~
While most of us go out of our way to control how people perceive us, some of us go to extremes. Me and scissors, for example. Some people can’t stay away from booze, others from men or women. I can’t stay away from scissors. It’s a hate-hate relationship.
Friends regularly eye me with suspicion and ask, “Did you cut your own hair?”
It’s the reverse issue of people who complain their hairdos go unnoticed.
I stare back with a wide-eyed, “Hmm, what?”
With all the lightening, darkening, adding and removing, nothing is subject to more image-manupilation than hair. I might even have an explanation for the tendency to hack mine.
See, there are those who claim they don’t like attention. I’m not one of them. (My opinion about them? They’re full of it. Like the rest of us, they author the kind of attention they receive, but perhaps aim for something less in-your-face.)
One day, instead of cutting my hair, I bleached it. My natural hair color was darker than espresso and I was often accused of dyeing it. This was a point of pride, the same as when a club girl in the bathroom asked me if my natural breasts were real. But when I took the pieces of foil out and washed my hair to reveal pale yellow, I didn’t mind. It was fun to wear different skin.
As long as it was for a day, it turned out.
It was no different than that sexy-husky voice coming out of my throat when I had a cold. It would start out thrilling, but soon I’d miss my own girlish voice. As a blonde, it took two days for me to miss the stark contrast between my dark hair and pale skin. I’d have been a complete inversion of myself if I’d gotten a tan. But it was because of the Toothpick Kid that I didn’t make it even as the most temporary of blondes.
My boyfriend at the time was playing a gig with his band in the East Village. I stepped outside for air and some guy I could imagine walking around with a toothpick in his mouth, followed. Usually, a cold, stern look on my part was enough to send guys on their way. But this time, no matter how monosyllabic and unsmiling I was, he wouldn’t let up about how I should “ditch the long-haired hippy with the guitar” for him. It took Toothpick Kid and one more day as a blonde to confirm that men were approaching me with more familiarity – and smarm – than usual. There was something missing from their demeanor – fear.
I found this so alarming that I poured the next bottle of black dye on my head.
It wasn’t that I got more attention as a blonde. It was different attention. Most women probably don’t want men to be afraid of them. But with my darker-than-espresso hair, I was used to men emanating an air of caution when approaching me. With my hair pale as if blood-drained, somehow all their caution vanished. Without their tentativeness acting like my protective salve, I felt unshelled. It was like Joan of Arc without armor.
While I don’t mind catching the eye of the surly guy in the corner who disdains flash, to my sensibilities, the other, boob-centric kind of attention is disrespectful. Sure, boobs are fun. But my personal vanity is satisfied less through others’ drool and more through their admiration.
I’ve heard the opposite, of course – blondes newly gone brunette who don’t make it through the weekend with dark hair because they can’t handle the different way they‘re treated. Maybe to them, what I perceive as “smarmy” in certain guys, is simply friendly.
Either way, in part, we present an image to cultivate in others how we think they should behave toward us. It has nothing to do with one presentation being better or worse, but a matter of personal taste.
Now that I live in image-conscious Los Angeles, my personal taste is put to the test daily. I have girlfriends who look airbrushed in real life. They wait on line at the DMV as if styled for a magazine cover. They have to-die-for flowy hair, puffy lips, impossible eyelashes and bubblegum toenails. In the realm of hotness, they are scalding. Head-turners. Drool magnets. I tend to hold my own, but as we’ve covered, I choose not to be of the flowy-hair variety. So it’s often an entertaining sociological experiment to pair up with one on a night out. Think Marcia Brady and the Beetlejuice girl (except you know, decades older) at a nightclub together.
At a rooftop record release party held in a posh hotel, Lorena of baby-doll voice and Botticelli Venus cascading hair was the quintessential drool magnet. Meanwhile, I was expert with a terse smile to divert drooling duos from including me in their maneuver. As such, the night progressed to each of our liking. Lorena received ample attention, and I sipped my cocktail in peace.
Then something shifted.
I’d had a couple of drinks and laughed merrily with Lorena. She was Sexy Temptress and I was Dangerous Brainiac, we joked. My lack of interest in being chatted up remained exactly the same as earlier, but my alcohol-induced aura seemed to loosen others toward me. With my delicious buzz, I probably seemed animated and sparkling. It soon felt like the whole room was descending on me in the context of normal, insipid pick-up games.
Buy you a drink?
You look like you’re having fun.
You from LA?
You really pull off that short hair.
It sounds harmless and probably was, but it dripped of too much lechery for my taste. Low-brow boy after boy finding it okay to feed me lines was…not okay.
Lorena didn’t comprehend this collective attitude shift, so I looked at her with my own dumbfounded brows and shrugged.
“The alcohol must be making me seem easy,” I said with great horror. She threw back her head and laughed. We understood each other.
Indeed, I’d say having the ability to strike mild reverence in others is more the calling of my vanity.
~ Part of the A to Z Challenge ~
A post a day except Sunday for the month of April to cover topics beginning with each letter of the alphabet.
Cathartic Monkeyism returns in May.
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