Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dorothy Hamill Haircut

Dorothy Hamill, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist in figure skating, and America's Sweetheart for some time after. If you didn't see her on the ice—if you didn't really see her at all—then you saw traces of her image reflected in neighborhood acquaintances who copied her style. In the late 70s and early 80s, everyone knew at least one person with the "Dorothy Hamill 'do," that hairstyle she made incredibly popular: the wedge. Despite the fact that I was dancing, and ballet still mandated long tresses, I made a bold move the summer I was ten and cropped off my hair; it would always grow back. It was the first time I wore my hair that short, and once the shock of being light-headed wore off, I remember thinking that it looked very sophisticated. (Give me a break; as I said, I was only ten!) But since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, this was not exactly a universal opinion. Maybe it was the fact that my wedge may have looked a bit more like a bowl cut than is dignified on a girl. Maybe it was because at this age you could hang ten off my chest; I was flat as a surfboard. Maybe it would have been better if I'd been old enough to wear makeup. As it was, my new haircut lent me an air less "waifish" or "gamine" (which could have been cuter)—less feminine "sweetheart" and more just ambiguous in gender. Of course I wore skirts often, and bows on my shirts, and diminutive jewelry (a thin gold chain with a charm shaped like a pair of ballet shoes was typical), so I didn't really look puerile . . . Except apparently to the tobacco/candy store guy. I guess it was a shorts and T-shirt day. I remember my mom was driving me someplace (to a dance class no doubt), and we were on either Wilshire or Santa Monica or Pico—some main thoroughfare in the heart of Los Angeles. Mom pulled up to the curb so that I could run into the shop and buy some candy, I think. I recall something artificially colored, overly sweet in any case, maybe Jolly Ranchers. I paid, and on my way out I heard the man behind the counter call, "Take care, sonny." I was climbing back into the car by the time I fully registered what he'd said. I remember being upset by this. I remember that I told my mom, and I think maybe I brooded over it until we got to our destination. Wherever that was, it was sufficiently absorbing for me to then forget about being mistaken for a boy. Since that time, I've grown wiser. The idea of androgyny does not bother me, though there's no longer a question of it being an issue for me—not since my body took on unmistakably female lines. By now, I've had many short haircuts. In fact, I've relished growing my hair out at times for the sole pleasure of having a stylist chop it all off at once. But thankfully, I learned one lesson well: wedges may look great on many ladies, young and old alike, but not on me! Now I prefer vintage Mia Farrow or Jean Seberg. Neither figure skaters, and neither—not really—America's Sweethearts.

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