The Language of Beauty

The other day I realized that it’d been more than a year since I dyed my hair. Though I don’t hate how the natural color complements my complexion, I’m going to streak the grey with a Kim Novack blond the minute I land a new commentating gig. (Notice I say when, not if; a positive step.) The whole business makes me think of my mom, Mary who renamed herself Sari. For decades, no matter how cross we were with each other, whenever my roots got too dark, she’d look at me contemplatively and say, “Maybe we should brighten your hair up.” And we would.

I can’t remember a time when hair wasn’t my central language with my mother—beauty overall, really. All through her twenties and into the first few years of my life, my mother had long hair carefully dyed a lemon honey color. It was, like everything I treasure most about mid-1960s style, gorgeously artificial, and it imprinted on me so completely that I couldn’t wait until I was grownup enough to dye my hair pale blond as well. Like Sari—like most women of Scottish descent, I fear—I had dark blond hair that, by the time I was eight or so, darkened into a dishwater brown that looked dirty even on the rare occasions on which it was clean. Sari never bothered herself with the more pedestrian aspects of her children’s grooming; nagging us into showers and shampoos was never really her bag. Still, when I was very small, I insisted on wearing my hair up—which really meant that I insisted my mother put it up–and she always obliged me. She loved to play with hair and makeup, and admired beauty with the coolly appraising eye that my father Bernie reserved for an elegant solution to a computer program bug. But though my mother didn’t mind—and in general regarded the exacting nature of my vanities with her characteristic heavy-lidded bemusement–it must have been quite a thing, squiring around a four-year-old child decked out in an elaborative blond beehive and hand-me-down overalls or smocks. Bernie never saw the point in budgeting for new clothes when Sari’s sister had three older daughters.

In this picture, my favorite of the ones taken of me before my sister’s birth, I’m at left typing on a Royal with pencils and bows jabbed into my beehive, presumably for emphasis. I had learned to read only a few months before so could not have been typing anything especially groundbreaking. Maybe monikers for the soon-to-be baby sister whom my parents had said I could name, a task I took very seriously. You can see that even at that age, I was caught in the cyclical glamour of creation—of trying to look gorgeous as you make something gorgeous, a trap into which nearly all the heroines of my youth fell at one point or another. Especially my mother. And always me.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy