Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Magic of Toni Perms

When I was in middle school, in the 1970s, my mom used to give me Toni permanents.

They came in a box just like this and inside was a pamphlet that displayed photos of different hairdos. All of these, it promised could be magically achieved if you rolled your hair a certain way.

I would take the pamphlet to my orange-flowered bedroom with its amazing orange, avocado green and gold shag carpeting and carefully study the photos of the pretty models. My favorite, I remember, was a lady with gently waving curls and a flower tucked behind one ear - very Hawaiian chic. In my mind, I imagined that I was that woman - a flower in my hair - the hit of Wolcott Junior High School.

My mom would lay out all of the necessary supplies and carefully wind each bit of my thick dark brown hair around the spindly pastel colored rollers. Then, she'd squirt each roller with a noxious smelling liquid that would make my head feel icy cold.

And, then, we'd wait. And wait some more.

The bathroom, attached to my parents room on one side and the kitchen on the other, was my incubation room. I would wait as the minutes ticked by slowly and the fumes made me just a bit dizzy. The whole house was soon invaded by that weird plasticky egg smell of permanent wave solution.

I would sit on the toilet stool, carefully wiping the dripping solution off of my face with cotton balls, and study the photo. This time, I thought, I'm going to look amazing....exactly like that Hawaiian lady. Glamorous!

Finally, the kitchen timer would ding, and my mom would return. She would unwrap each soggy roller and toss them into the sink, leaving me light-headed and free with delicate ringlets all over my skinny head.

The trouble was, that every Toni perm turned out exactly the same. It didn't really matter how you rolled the rollers, you were left with extremely tight, frizzy, uncontrollable curls.

My hair trauma continued when I decided it would be a smart idea to cut off my long hair so I could look exactly like Dorothy Hammill of ice-skating fame. She had this amazing bob that would swing out behind her in a an arc when she performed the Hammill Camel. I wanted that hair do.

Armed with another photo (my downfall, you see), I walked to the neighborhood salon, my pocket full of babysitting money, and showed the middle-aged hairdresser my picture. "Well," she muttered. "I don't know. You have a lot of collicks."

The results were not very memorable. But, my hair was definitely shorter.

Looking back, I can't help but laugh at some of my attempts at hair-glamour. After Dorothy, I think my next role model was Toni Tenille (of Captain and Tenille) with her cute, perky, rolled under hair cut. I cringe when I remember trying the shag. In the 80s, I had voluminous spiral permed hair that reached below my shoulders. Now, I'm back to a simple bob - much easier to style when I'm up at 5 am.

For girls of all ages, your hair style is important. Owning your first curling iron or blow dryer is a rite of passage. Whether it is a disaster or not, your hair is a part of the joy and dismay of being a woman. The task is never quite done - the results are never exactly what you want - but it definitely contributes to the way you feel about yourself.

Who were your hair inspirations?

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