Curls, Perms

Who: Caroline Jefferson
Age: 50s
City: New York, NY
Profession: Retiree

Caroline has the longest head of hair, a mix of dark brown and grey peppering. She wore it out for the first time today. I share the surprise on my face; I never knew what hid under that quiet bun. I also find myself noticing how much her ears stick out even with the mane flowing behind her. She drinks up my compliments like the driest of deserts to the bounteous sun. I mean, I get it.

Caroline survived breast cancer in 2001. Imagine all that hair burned off like a forest, the sun this time playing the role of chemo. And yet she does seem emotionally resolved from the trauma. She laughs about it. “I actually got compliments on my daffy hairdo.” I’m assuming “daffy” means the short and stubby look now pregnant with duplications from women her age. “Ew. I can’t stand it,” she tightens as she squeals. I totally agree. I compliment her again. My instincts tell me she deserves more verbal warmth. “Thank you, you know, it’s not favorable in the 50s generation, I tell ya.” That surprises me. I don’t get it, I say. “Most women my age brand it as cheap or in denial of one’s age or hair down and wild like that looks mischievous, and so forth.” What? I get it now. (Is the look on my face). She continues, “Yes, women my age frown upon a woman with long, flowing hair.”

Wait a minute: Caroline survived breast cancer. All her hair fell out of her head. And yet she has this to deal with this from the same gender? Jeez. I don’t even want to go there. But what’s fascinating is the science behind hair burned off/hair grown back. What happened was that her hair actually grew back thicker, stronger and more radiant. Caroline laughs, “I have a curl going through my hair now. I never use to. I mean, yeah, I may’ve had a wave – and I mean one – when I was 17 years old, but now I have curls! It’s pretty amazing.” After so much shock to the system, the body is bound to heal by walking a different path.

“I tell people, I got myself a very expensive perm.”