Thursday, September 18, 2008

A 100 Strokes

I was watching, once again, that fabulously catty 1939 movie, "The Women," the other night, directed by the legendary George Cukor -- said to be the only director in Hollywood who could have managed an all -female cast made up of all those ruthlessly ambitious extraordinary personalities -- Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell, just to name a few -- when the sight of a women in an elegantly simple negligee and peignoir sitting in from of her vanity, brushing her hair, caught my attention. And I started laughing. 

Girlfriends, do you remember hearing that crock, oops, I mean 'adage' growing up in the 50's? The #1 rule of having glamorously beautiful, thick, shiny, long hair was to BRUSH YOUR HAIR 100 STROKES EVERY NIGHT BEFORE YOU GO TO BED.  And we all bought into it. Or at least a lot of us did.

The word 'wispy' didn't even begin to describe my own hair. Permed to death before I was 5 -- just to get it to do SOMETHING  - my hair wasn't curly and it wasn't just kind of 'floated' 'out there' (or more often flattened and frizzed), determined to not cooperate in any way that would move its owner up a notch on the attractive scale. 

Platinum white until I was ten, and hair so fine a hand running through it couldn't feel anything, I was a sucker for Breck ads with the 'take-away your breath' Breck Girls -- oh how I longed to BE one -- or Prell (with a model who looked like Rita Hayworth), "[its] thick, rich lather gently lifts away daily build-up like residue, dirt, oil and perspiration (eeewwww!) and leaves your hair looking healthy and shiny." And then, for the most fabulous hold once you achieved the perfect look, AquaNet -- industrial strength hairspray - my aunts and cousins bought it by the case. We had veritable helmets by the time we trooped off to church each week.

But the subtext flowing under all this girl 'fun' was the principle of personal responsibility in achieving admirable results -- which, translated into action, meant brushing the requisite 100 strokes every night, without fail. So, for two years I brushed religiously, even fanatically (that's 73,000 freakin' strokes!), always believing that, surely, the accumulation of all those strokes would provoke a miracle. But all I got for my commitment was oilier, lankier hair (if that was possible), split-ends and broken hair. Oh, and a very sore scalp. 

It strikes me that maybe, just maybe, this early urban myth was how we gals were conditioned to repeat the same set of actions over and over, even if the promised outcome always disappointed -- we knew it would be better the next time because WEREN'T WE DOING ALL THE RIGHT THINGS?  At least until, one day, we learned better and we could finally say, "yeah, been there, done that, bought THAT t-shirt." Time to move on...

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