Hairstory: a father-daughter tale

Video

Every year at the Automattic all-company Grand Meetup, we each have to give a short presentation in front of our colleagues. This “flash talk” can be about anything at all – and it can be in any format we like, whether a more traditional talk with slides, a song, video, or interpretive dance: pretty much anything goes.

This year was my fourth Grand Meetup flash talk, and I decided I was finally ready to do something more personal. My past flash talks had been about growing garlic, the peculiarities of Quebec English, and foods from Quebec that everyone should try at least once… but this time would be different — it would be a story about me, my dad, and our hair.

I hope you like it.

Transcript

Last year, my flash talk was on growing garlic. This year, I’m going to talk about growing hair.

Even before my birth, the subject of hair in my family was fraught with anxiety. You see, my dad Bob had an autoimmune condition called alopecia areata. By age six he’d already lost much of his hair.

He wore a hat constantly from 6 to 13 so the other kids wouldn’t bully him. They bullied him anyway; they knew what the hat must be hiding.

By 14 he began wearing a wig.

A pretty bad wig.

What had started out as alopecia areata was becoming alopecia universalis – as in hair loss everywhere. Eyebrows, eyelashes, leg hair, my dad was losing it all.

By his early twenties when he married my mom Ellie, he’d ditched the wig, and was attempting to pencil in the missing patches on his head instead.

Doctors didn’t know very much about alopecia back then – they don’t know much more today – but they thought there MIGHT be a genetic component, so my parents were understandably concerned this condition might be passed on to their kids.

So when their firstborn – me – came out with a small little head of dark hair, my folks were pretty relieved that I appeared to take after my mother in the hair department.

Still, my parents held their breath a bit as I grew older. Watching. Waiting.

The hair grew. And grew.

My dad stopped penciling in his head every day and eventually shaved off the last stubborn locks. They never grew back.

By the time I got to elementary school, it was clear that my thick, curly, unruly, hair was here to stay. My parents were very happy.

Ironically, I decided around that point I hated my frizz and wished I could just have straight hair, like the rest of my friends. My mom would blow-dry it for me in a vain attempt to turn tight curls into the straight hair I’d never have.

After certain really terrible haircuts – by hairdressers who hadn’t the faintest idea how to cut curly hair – I would go home feeling like I looked like Little Orphan Annie – but with MUCH less optimism.

After one particularly horrific haircut I professed to my mother quite earnestly that I needed to become a nun so I could hide my hair every day. Never mind that we were Jewish, that was just a detail. The Catholics needed nuns, surely something could be worked out.

When I got into acting, my hair took on a leading role.

Hair got big.

Hair got short.

I went through my own hat phase.

My yearbook photo was a big disappointment. I detested it so much I covered it up with a retake. This time, with a hat.

I went prematurely grey the summer I was 17. But it was just for a play.

As I got older, I gradually began to hate my hair less and less. Adolescent angst turned to adult apathy. It just didn’t matter so much anymore.

After meeting a cartoonist named Shane, he took a stab at drawing me. My hair had made an impact. You can see how he was trying to get it just right.

Five years later when we got married… he made this for our wedding cake

These days, my dad & I are both pretty accepting of our heads and our hair.

As I get older, grey hairs have come along. Real ones this time. I used to pull them out as they appeared, but in the wise words of a former hairdresser, “That’s probably not a good coping strategy.”

Will I dye my hair? Time will tell.

A few years back, a relative shared this picture of my great-grandmother Rose. I wouldn’t mind rocking the grey frizzy look as well as her someday.

6 thoughts on “Hairstory: a father-daughter tale

  1. Nathalie

    When we were in high school Kathy, I always loved and was envious of your curly hair ….mine was so straight and fine, it needed a bottle of hairspray to have 80s big hair

  2. Hello Kathryn Presner,

    Thank you for sharing your story, and the video.

    I actually like your hair, your hair naturally styles itself so it is like getting free hairstyling (if that made any sense to you, it is a bit hard putting that in words to properly explain what I am trying to say there :D), there are people who have to pay and fight their hair to get their hair like yours; I never really understood the obsession with straight hair really (it is sad seeing people hating and fighting their hair to make it straight), I like to see people embrace their natural hair when possible, and I think that curly/frizzy/et cetera hair looks great and more unique.

    Also I do not understand why so many people do not like their hair turning gray/white, I actually think that is cool and it is like a badge of honor and like getting your hair dyed for free, and I like that as well; and so I say enjoy your nice natural hair, and embrace the graying/whiting process naturally and positively.

    -John Jr

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