Beauty: less than one hair extension away |

Beauty: less than one hair extension away

Alison Berkley
Aspen CO, Colorado

A few months ago I was sitting around hitting the “send and receive” button on my e-mail incessantly, hoping for a distraction.

I knew as soon as the subject line came through that my prayers had been answered.

“Hair extensions now available at The Salon!” it read. “Come in this weekend and get $200 off!”

Of course, I know it’s going to be insanely expensive if that’s the discount, but that didn’t stop me. I’ve wanted long hair ever since I can remember but my hair just won’t grow. I’m sure all that bleaching and coloring and hair drying and straightening doesn’t help, but still. I want long hair and I want it now!

I was the first one to show up and was greeted by the reps from Grow It Long Baby (or whatever the hair extension company was called), who were there to train the ladies at the Salon on how to put them in.

The stylist was a nervous wreck and it became immediately apparent I was being used as a guinea pig ” thus the “discount.” With the help of the Grow It lady she started to apply the extensions, which are basically applied with tape adhesive. All she had to do was throw a little bit of glue on it and stick it right in there.

“Damnit!” the stylist screamed suddenly, pointing at the back of my head where apparently, she’d spilled some glue. She bit her lip so hard I thought it might bleed.

“No problem, you just wipe it right off with a little bit of our solvent,” Grow It said. She sounded exactly like one of those infomercials on QVC, or maybe even a carpet cleaner ad. I tried to block it out.

Still, I loved the look of the hair right away. It was long, straight, thick, and exactly the color I’d always wanted, sort of porn-star-meets-cheerleader blonde.

“Now cut her ends with a razor blade,” Grow It said.

“I don’t usually do it that way, but okay,” the stylist said. She was shaking still as she literally shaved the ends of my hair that hadn’t blended with the extensions.

The process took about 45 minutes and in the end I had probably 25 strips of somebody else’s hair in my head.

“They probably cut it off the head of some poor Indian woman who was totally exploited just so you could have long hair,” my friend Bonnie said.

There were so many pieces of tape holding the fake hair in that I couldn’t run my fingers through it. If I tried to move it at all, say to put it up in a ponytail or something, it felt like someone was pulling on it. Hard. But I looked good and that’s always worth the pain.

All the men in my life loved it.

“You look like a Playboy model,” one said.

“You look hot. Did you straighten your hair?” asked another.

Even my brother, who makes fun of me at every possible opportunity, conceded: “It does look good. Just don’t tell anyone you did it because it makes you look like a superficial freak.”

Everything was great until the first time I washed my hair and noticed that the extensions are straight and my hair is curly so you could see how much shorter my natural hair was. And this is only the beginning of my problems.

Every girl I see notices right away.

“Oh my god, your hair is sooo long! Are those extensions?” they’d scream before I had a chance to kick them in the shins.

After a few weeks pieces start falling out, so I have to have them redone. When they are taken out, my hair looks like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. I look half bald with thin, uneven strands and inexplicably short pieces that stick out in random places, a combination of the razor blade “trim” I got when they were first applied, and the damage the glue did to my hair.

I spend six months and well over $1,000 on the upkeep and maintenance until one day I decide I’ve had enough.

“I want you to cut these things out of my head,” I told Amanda, my yoga friend who is the epitome of natural beauty and grace. She loved the idea and came over that evening with a small pair of sewing scissors.

I was a nervous wreck all day. I was terrified to cut the hair out, like I was afraid of who I’d be without it. I was afraid I’d look ugly, that my guy wouldn’t be attracted to me anymore. This stupid hair seemed to represent so much more than just hair ” it was as if my whole identity hung in the balance, waiting to either be saved or castrated. I just wasn’t sure which. It felt like I was playing Russian roulette with my ego.

I sat at Amanda’s feet in front of the couch as she meticulously snipped away, chatting the whole time so I wouldn’t think about what she was doing. When she finally finished, after an hour of neck-stiffening work, I was shocked by what I saw in the mirror. My own hair was relatively thick, healthy and long. In fact, there wasn’t much of a difference at all. All this time I’d been wearing a mask that was identical to the face hidden behind it.

I was so happy I danced around the living room for hours after Amanda had gone. I laughed and jumped up and down and smiled so hard my cheeks hurt. I can’t even explain why.

I guess what I realized is the only thing I really need to change about myself is my perception. True beauty isn’t something you can buy, add on, or alter. It’s always there, you just have to learn how to see it.