You should know that my hair is also half-Jewish. If I were a proper Jew rather that just a semi-shiksa, maybe I’d have lovely thick curls. I’d have to moan and say I wish I had straight hair (that’s what women do, I’ve no idea why) but secretly I would love it.
When I was little, if my drawing turned out badly, I’d scribble over the top of it in frustration. That’s what my hair is like: basically scribble. It’s not remotely straight but nor do I have bouncy waves or shiny ringlets or even a wild mass of charmingly wayward curls. There’s just frizz, as if I’ve been standing next to a bunch of statically-charged balloons. It’s worse when the weather’s damp. No need for a barometer; simply glance at my head. Frizz more frenzied than usual? Rain’s on the way. Just after I wash it, and with the aid of a large amount of what hairdressers annoyingly call “product”, it might have a few cute curls. But unless I sleep bolt upright with my head not touching anything else, in the morning, I look like an Old English Sheepdog that’s been frolicking in and out of hedges all night.
After Ben and I married, for ages I kept returning to my old hairdresser over 70 miles away where I used to live, but eventually I decided to risk trying a salon near us instead.
Ben drops me off and says he’ll collect me afterwards. I settle down to gorge myself on trashy magazines. I never buy them now because I used to work in magazines; it’s one of those things, like eating too many chocolate truffles in one sitting, and you can’t ever look one in the eye again. If I see another feature on couches with the headline “Sofa So Good…”, I may vomit. But I do like a brief guilty binge at the hairdresser, especially Hello, with its endless features on “A Not Very Famous or Talented but Inexplicably Wealthy Person shows us around her Astonishingly Vulgar, Enormous Ranch.”
Anyway, I’m so absorbed in sneering at a set of leopard-skin armchairs and a coffee table supported on four marble lions (you’d be bound to graze your shins every time you went past) that I barely register the stylist blow-drying my hair. After a few minutes, however, I clock that something feels unfamiliar. I look up. She’s brushing my hair out round a brush while drying it, something I never do.
“Oh — what are you doing?”
“No, I mean — with the brush?”
“Straightening it, of course.”
Of course. We’re in a Jewish area, your hair is frizzy/mad — ergo, you must want it straightened. Now one half is straight, the other wet and starting to revert to frizz. I cannot face having her start again. She carries on.
“‘Appy?” she says at the end, nodding at my reflection.
A strange woman stares back at me from the mirror. Not just a strange woman, but a strange, frum woman apparently wearing a sheitel. It not only doesn’t look like my hair, it doesn’t look like hair at all. It looks like Lego hair that has been clicked onto the top of my head.
The purpose of a sheitel is modestly covering one’s hair, which if left on show would presumably cause men to run amok in the streets with lustful cravings. But, given that my own hair is man-repellent, wouldn’t wearing a sheitel be the equivalent of saying, “Come and get it, fellas”?
Do I look better or worse? Or just different? I certainly don’t look like me. Maybe if you wear a sheitel everyday, you get used to having two different reflections, with and without?
I leave the salon and look out for the Husband. He’s parked opposite and he looks up. I wave at him. No response. I cross the road and tap on the window.
“Oh it’s you! I thought you were a strange frum woman coming to tell me off for parking here.”
“Of course it’s me.”
“Have you looked in the mirror?”
“Yes, it’s a hair salon. You can’t escape them.”
“I know - let’s go to my brother’s and pretend you’re my new wife. It’ll be funny.” Ben loves wind-ups but has a tendency to take them too far.
We get there and Ben instructs me to “Hang back a tick”.
The door is answered by Rachel, his brother’s wife, and their youngest daughter, Evie, then only a small thing.
“I’ve brought someone to meet you,” Ben tells Evie. “— I’ve got a new wife!”
On cue, I step forward and she looks confused then starts to cry, somehow failing to understand that it’s incredibly amusing to have your auntie replaced with no warning. It’s not often one spends so much money at the hairdressers only to make small children cry.
The next morning, I get up and look in the mirror. Normal service has been resumed. The frizz is back. I’ve never been so pleased to see my reflection.
Zelda Leon is half-Jewish by birth then did half a conversion course as an adult (half-measures in all things….) to affirm her Jewish status before a Rabbinical Board. She is a member of a Reform synagogue.
Zelda Leon is a pseudonym.