The child in the picture is not me, but I’ve gone through experiences exactly like this due to attempts by my mother and a misguided beautician when I was pretty young, maybe four or five or even earlier. So when I saw this photograph on a wall outside my soninlaw’s office couldn’t resist taking a digital shot of it, which helps explain the poor quality. It must have been originally taken sometime in the late 1940s or very early 1950s.
I don’t know about you, but it brought back vivid memories of various failed attempts to give me beautiful hair my mother could be proud of at church, and surprised me as well because I couldn’t believe there had been other little girls who had to go through this agony as well. I thought I was the only one! I’m pretty sure the laws concerning cruelty to children were enacted around that time due to scenes like this.
I had (and continue to have) baby fine hair with absolutely no body. And when I was four or five, this is what the adults in my life subjected me to in the name of beauty. This little girl doesn’t appear to be too unhappy, but in my case my neck muscles were so weak that my head would plop over so Mama had to sit behind me and hold my head up. The stench was awful, and I distinctly remember what burning hair smells like!
When the ordeal was all over, and that’s what it was for me–an ordeal, the beauty operator would dry my hair and brush it and my previously silky blonde hair would then be a mass of singhed, tightly crimped curls it was almost impossible to brush or comb through. After a few weeks, the “curls” would soften a little but the ends still looked dried out and burnt. The new hair growing in would still be baby fine and straight. I was a fine example of American child beauty, let me tell you.
For some, this may bring back memories as it does for me. For others who were born with “naturally” curly or beautiful hair, it will be a revelation, and I hope you appreciate your hair now that you know what others of us had to endure to be a great American beauty at church on Sundays.