“I finally understood what my grandmother meant. If I wasn’t comfortable with myself, I would never be comfortable.”
― Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
We all have a sense of identity.
It can be expressed in a variety of ways, through language, clothing and social status. When I had my 18 metre fall offstage, my sense of identity was knocked for a complete loop. I was unable to communicate and was reduced to the status of a mere child. Gradually as I improved so my identity was able to re-establish itself.
One of the ways in which we express our identity is in our physical appearance. In the 80’s, my friend Marloe Scott Wilson, the singer and actress, had a head of vibrant pink hair. This was before coloured hair was the ‘in’ thing. She carried it with aplomb and it made a definite statement to the world. It said: ‘This is ME! I am a fun, gregarious individual but at the same time, I am not to be messed with!’
At the moment I wear different coloured velskoen (desert boots!!!) and socks on my feet. Blue, red and green vie for a place on each foot. It is my little laugh at the world!
Last week I looked in the mirror at my hair.
It did not look good. It had no ‘identity’ at all. In actual fact, it looked drek!!! I was trying to grow my hair into one of those chic little bobs that swing lusciously from side to side. My hair had not got there yet. In fact, it was anywhere but there! It needed another three months before my bob could shinily shimmer in the sunlight as it bounced happily against my neck. That was the identity I was aiming for. At the moment, I looked like a shaggy, bedraggled sheep without the curls. I continued looking in the mirror as I brushed my teeth. By the time my last molar had been scrubbed, an item in Gaynor’s world had changed. No fresh, perky little bob would grace her shoulders. This sheep would be shorn!
As I walked to the hairdresser, I thought a little despondently: ‘Face it, Gaynor, I don’t think you will ever have a long-ish bob. You don’t have the perseverance to go through the gruck stage of growing your hair. But…what about the colour? Why don’t you have it highlighted?’
I spoke to my hairdresser and at one o’clock the next day, my transformation would begin!
The one thing I love about any hairdresser is having my hair washed. I lay there, my feet cushioned on a flat, padded stool, my head back and gloried in the warm water flowing on my scalp and those delicious fingers rubbing, kneading and massaging my skull. Then I sat in front of the mirror while Moyra’s scissors began their work. I looked at the long tedious weeks of growth falling with easy snips to the floor. It’s amazing how something that takes weeks to cultivate can be done away with so easily. Snip – and its gone. It’s like that with life. You can give up smoking for years and yet in one easy instant that abdication can be done away with. I digress! Back to the snipping and the re-emergence of my cheekbones. When Moyra had finished I looked with appreciation at the outcome. Gone were the different length rat tails. I looked like me. My identity had re-surfaced once more!
Then the highlighting began.
I have only had my hair highlighted once before. At last year’s Naledi Awards, I was due to receive The Lesedi Spirit of Courage Award. That definitely called for something to be done to my hair. I had my hair lightly streaked with flashes of auburn and on that night it looked great.
So here I was once more. “Okay, Moyra, over to you!” I said placing myself in her hands.
For those that have no idea what is involved in highlighting, portions of your hair have this paste coated on it and then they are wrapped in silver paper. One finally sits there with a silver hedgehogged head and waits for the colour to take. After three quarters of an hour, you have your hair pleasurably washed once more. Then the hairdresser dries it and hey presto – beautifully highlighted hair!
Moyra and I looked at the finished product.
“Yes…” I said, “It looks…nice.”
“I think it needs bolder streaks. Let me do it again”
Once more the silver papered hedgehog appeared and three quarters of an hour later, I was again indulging in my favourite pursuit – having my hair washed! Moyra dried it and it looked great. There were these lighter brown streaks shimmering amongst my dark brow hair.
“Oh, Moyra, I really like it!” I shook my head and the shimmers swirled.
“Would you also like some auburn in?”
“For the same price? You wouldn’t increase the price?” I asked hesitantly.
Moyra laughed. “Same price. I want you happy with your hair.”
I pictured auburn streaks next to the light brown and thought: “Ravishing!”
“Go for it, Moyra!”
Once more the prickly hedgehog appeared and the blissful wash followed three quarters of an hour later. As Moyra dried my hair, I stared at myself in the mirror. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Moyra hadn’t put auburn streaks next to my light brown ones. No, she had put the auburn on top of my light brown. I had misunderstood her. I now had this…this orange streaked hair.
I am not an in your face ‘orange streaked’ person. This was not the identity I chose to portray to the world. As far as my hair goes, I am a relatively timid person. I couldn’t help myself. My eyes began to well and sure enough, the tears started to fall. Moyra was distraught at my reaction. She said something but not having my Cochlear Implants on, the tears did away with all lip reading. She began mixing another mixture and soon appeared with the paste and silver paper at her side.
“What…are you…doing now?” I gulped out.
She said something and gently ran her hand down my cheek. The hedgehog appeared for the fourth time. I could have done with some red wine. I made do with some coffee! Once the three quarters of an hour were up, the washing of hair routine followed. Whereas before I had sat back and indulged in this luxury, now there was an open eyed, distressed Gaynor who was praying the orange streaks would disappear. I thought back to my early acting days, when I had shared a house with the beautiful, exotic dancer, Tossie van Tonder. Tossie had shaved her hair off and this bald woman had looked dynamic. Maybe I should go the same route, I pondered. No, Tossie was a woman who carried a different identity to me. No, that wouldn’t work.
The washing over, I was escorted back to my seat in front of that dratted mirror. I didn’t dare look up. My hair was combed out and then Moyra began drying it. Eventually she stopped and touched my shoulder. I dragged my eyes up to meet the image gazing fearfully back at me. The orange had gone! Instead my dark hair featured a fun mix of auburn, light brown and dark. I wanted to collapse in sheer relief. Yes, this Gaynor is presentable, I thought.
Isn’t it strange how much the physical appearance I project to the world means so much to me? And it shouldn’t! It is the inner identity that is important. I know that and I do try to concentrate on that. Things like patience, tolerance, good humour, understanding and most of all love are things of prime importance. Not getting into a state over the colour of your hair! I guess though, it is the knowledge that I am disabled and spastic, that make the things that I can control like the colour of my hair so stupidly consequential.
One’s self identity is made up of beliefs, personality, looks and expressions. I walked out of that hairdresser, four highlights later, with a physical identity that I was content with.
Four different highlights all given for the price of one to make Gaynor happy.
Thank you, Moyra!
I was the last one to leave the hairdresser at 5.30. I had been there since one o’clock! I hate to admit it but basically I am a vain person. I know it shouldn’t be but my appearance is important to me. I found that afternoon of dealing with my appearance, my identity, fairly stressful.
Arriving home, I made myself some hot chocolate strewn with cream. I put my pyjamas on at six o’clock and together with Perdita, my dog, and Spencer, my cockatiel in his cage next to me, I climbed into bed and indulged in my recipe for stress.
I watched my DVD of The Sound of Music !!!