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Bad-Hair Week Generates Much Attention

Sun., March 8, 1998

It was the day from hell, I discovered by the dawn’s early light. An old, dry contact lens scraped my left eyeball. My blow-dryer exploded.

So I slapped on eyeglasses, circa 1980, let my hair dry, flat and helmet-like to my skull, and avoided peering into the mirror. I drove to work, satisfied with my Cousin It vibe, and remained content until I hit the workplace.

There I quickly realized with frightening clarity that you don’t even own your own image; everyone around you does, or at least seem to believe it’s in your best interest that they do.

The inquiries came fast and furious. Some arrived in the form of curious, head-whipping doubletakes. Others were more circumspect. Concerned reporters from the other side of the building dispatched one of their own to the Features Department to investigate.

“Are you OK?” my friend Virginia gently asked. “You just look so …”

Scary? Uncoifed by human hands? Unhip and uncool?

The possibilities seemed endless, but I held my tongue and the unfinished sentence hung there awkwardly, like an ambivalent hippy chick at an electrolysis clinic.

Some of the menfolk in my work world were less, shall we say, soft-spoken.

“What’s with the hair?” one of them demanded.

“Bad eye day. Bad hair day,” another one pronounced, after learning of the marred eye and a pending appointment at an eye doctor’s office.

It has been forever thus, this running commentary about personal appearance, and it goes both ways between the sexes. I’ve watched as male friends try wearing sexy buzz cuts, then quickly return to a more hirsute state after enduring ribbing from buddies. I once found myself in the strange position of consoling my dear friend Mike after hacking off my all-one-length long and lovely locks, which he had enjoyed brushing. “Your hair!” he wailed, upon viewing what I thought was a smart-looking post-college bob. Somehow, it seemed to be a personal affront, this change in appearance.

I have forever wondered what, exactly, compels friends, close and distant — but especially male friends — to put in their two cents on how people put themselves together. Or don’t, in the case of my weeklong lapse.

You see, it became sort of a game, an experiment, living with a head of “don’t notice me” hair, and a different form of visual aids. I felt strangely invisible and protected. My posture took on an “it’s casual” slump; my attitude quickly followed. I kind of liked this feeling, truth be told, and felt an odd sort of kinship with people who adopted a minimalist approach to dressing and living, way before it was en vogue.

I suppose we need to keep up appearances and keep our standards high. After all, the slippery slope would probably take over, and then what? Today, nerdy glasses and product-heavy, unstyled hair. Tomorrow, what? Bunny slippers? Holey sweatpants? Flip-flops in the summer?

What we wear and how we wear it becomes our shield, our statement to the world, and, I suppose, it helps us figure out who fits into our personal circles, and how they fit.

Once, a man I love dropped by my house after I’d had a trying day. I greeted him at the door in glasses, my brother’s high school football jersey, and some stretchy old shorts.

“You’re beautiful,” he said, with no hint of irony in his voice. He kissed me.

I kissed him back. And felt more at home with who I am than I ever have.

, DataTimes MEMO: Kathleen Gilligan is Lifestyles and Trends Editor of the Spokesman-Review. Contact her at 459-5481 or

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Kathleen Gilligan The Spokesman-Review

Kathleen Gilligan is Lifestyles and Trends Editor of the Spokesman-Review. Contact her at 459-5481 or

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Kathleen Gilligan The Spokesman-Review


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