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Alice Smith: The long, long road to a better head of hair

When I was a teenager, I looked around at my family and discovered a pattern emerging – some members were going bald. This wasn’t your typical male-pattern baldness you see in many families; these were my female relatives. I noticed one aunt had started to wear long bangs, combed forward from her mid-crown area and another had created her version of a girlie comb-over. One relative gave up completely and started wearing hats and scarves.

What was going on? Well, I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. I had a reasonable amount of mousey brown hair, but I yearned for that “Breck Girl” look advertised in magazines.

So off I went to attend beauty school, where I hoped to learn the secret of having long, thick hair. At first I thought getting a perm was the answer. I got one and I was thrilled with the results. My curls stayed in for days, I had body, it was wonderful. It lasted only three months. So I got another perm. This time I got some breakage and my hair looked more like sheep wool on a rainy day.

So no more perms. I let my hair grow out, getting it cut repeatedly until once again I had unprocessed, virgin hair. This time I tried color. Color penetrates the hair shaft, puffing out the cuticles, enlarging the diameter of each hair. My thin, mousey brown hair turned into thick, blond locks. My boyfriend loved it, my mother hated the look, my grandmother, who spoke only Polish, gave a one-word opinion. My mother said it was the Polish word for streetwalker.

Three weeks later, I saw brown hair. Yikes – it was regrowth, time to color my hair again, then again and then again. It turns out you repeat the process until your hair looks like a bale of straw.

Back in the ’60s when I was a beautician, going to a salon wasn’t always a pleasant experience. Let’s face it, we tortured people. We set hair on brush rollers that pinched your scalp in a hundred different places. Then we put women under the dryer on high heat for 30 to 45 minutes. We backcombed or teased the hair into what looked like a rat’s nest and smoothed the top hair down over the ratted hair. Finally, we sprayed and sprayed until the customer went into a coughing fit. And after all that, we expected a good tip!

My early hairdressing days ended as they had begun – me with mousey brown hair and no closer to the secret of long, glossy tresses.

After both my children started school, I took a refresher course and re-entered the profession. However, this wasn’t a beauty school – no, I was enrolled in a college of cosmetology – things were looking up. This time no more demure Breck girl image. I was after the big prize; I wanted Farrah Fawcett hair.

The products had all changed. Dangerous chemicals like ammonia and formaldehyde were no longer used. Bleaching services weren’t requested much any more because women favored frosting or highlighting to achieve a blonde look; this is kinder to the hair. There were so many mousses, gels and spritzes that claimed to make hair thicker.

I enthusiastically tried every one of them, and lo and behold, I discovered they didn’t work.

But I did finally learn the secret to a full head of hair. Go to a wig store, as I did, and purchase one or more beautiful creations because if you weren’t born with the hair you want, you’ll have to buy the hair you want.

Alice Smith is a retiree who lives in Niagara Falls.