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Splitting Hairs—Rochelle Udell Will Never Surrender

Splitting Hairs — Rochelle Udell Will Never Surrender

During the pandemic, like many other women, I embraced my grey hair. So much so, that when the crisis was over, I went to my colorist and had more grey put in. Cool. A few months later, I realized that the hair that wasn’t really grey had black roots. Duh? This also raised the ongoing question, who’s in charge here, me or my hair? We have a long (and sometimes short) history.

Every day, more often than not, my hair and I go to battle. When I was a child, my father, the baker, often braided my hair. My thick curls were plaited into two giant challahs on either side of my head — an early Princess Leia. At thirteen, I cut my hair to look like Gale Storm in My Little Margie, because my family loved the television show. I liked Gale Storm, but I hated my new My Little Margie haircut. The look was open-faced, girlish, innocent, safe not seductive, easy to like. On top of my chubby body, I thought that short haircut made me look like a pinhead. Like Samson, I had lost my hair and my mythical powers. Panicked, I grew my hair back. In high school, I spent hours under a bonnet hair dryer with enormous, can-sized rollers in my hair to straighten my curls. If I didn’t, my hair would walk into the room before I did. This was fine during that short window of time during Broadway’s 1970s Hair rebellion, and I surrendered to my curls.

That didn’t last. When droves of women armed with blow dryers, bigger brushes and curling irons wanted to look like Farah Fawcett or Dorothy Hamill, I wanted more. I wanted to be the Breck Girl with my thick, straight hair blowing in the wind, even indoors. Wella Balsam promised me hair that would come alive. Alberto VO5 would make it shine. Clairol’s Great Body Conditioning Shampoo promised even more — body, strength, texture, bounce and holding power. 

There was a day, not so long ago, when shampoo and conditioner became product. Shampoo was relegated to a verb and product was an object of transformation. Yes, my hair had and would always be an extension of me, part of my identity, but now I had new hair technology, and it seemed like salvation. Suddenly, I had more powerful shampoos, conditioners, styling gels, mousses, pomades, straighteners, flat irons and dryers to take on my hair and show it who was the boss of me.

Both the beauty industry and Hollywood invested in and got great returns on the emotionally resonant subject of hair. Remember Alan Rickman in Blow Dry, Adam Sandler in You Don’t Mess With A Zohan, The Louisiana beauty shop in Steel Magnolias, Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair, Warren Beatty in Shampoo, Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands, all the aerosol cans in Hairspray, Grease with its famous Beauty School Dropout” number and John Travolta as Tony styling his hair while he gets ready to go to the Odyssey discotheque in Saturday Night Fever?

As I moved through many life stages, my hair came along with me and sometimes led. As an older, new mother, I started wearing an age defying ponytail for convenience and spunk. It was my signature accessory of choice, complementing the eyeglasses that I needed to wear as well.

Every now and then, I still have a breakout moment, trying to go natural,” but in the process, become ever more grateful to the almost 17 billion dollar haircare industry for its advances. I surrender to the products because it is easier to deal with my hair than what’s in my head.