The Yes Woman: daily stresses of my newly long tresses

As part of my undertaking to try new things for a year, I agree to get hair extensions. Men are nicer and more patronising, whereas women are less friendly towards me

Laura Kennedy: ‘I looked distinctly less intellectual. I was shocked by the fact that people treated me differently. Seeing a photo on Facebook, an ex emailed.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Laura Kennedy: ‘I looked distinctly less intellectual. I was shocked by the fact that people treated me differently. Seeing a photo on Facebook, an ex emailed.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The late Maya Angelou declared that a woman’s hair is her glory. If she was right, then I’ve been wearing another woman’s glory all over Dublin. When I was offered the chance to change my appearance with hair extensions, I thought about it. I have nothing against artificial enhancements: trousers are an artificial enhancement.

This all sounds very nice. Or at least it would, if I didn’t know myself to be secretly prejudiced against hair extensions. I know they are used to great effect on those with medical conditions that cause hair- thinning and loss. Let’s be honest, though, the average woman on the street sporting “supplementary” hair is not sick. She has paid to have another person’s hair clippings glued to her pate for reasons of vanity, and vanity is a good thing.

As my face scrunches up in an entirely hypocritical expression of judgment, I endeavour to remember that lack of vanity is a social ill. You know that guy, the one to be found on every train you’ll ever board, the one who sits near you in a stained mac, smelling inexplicably of goulash and breathing in a laboured way that makes you distinctly uncomfortable? That guy’s problem, among a myriad of others, is a lack of healthy vanity. Vanity is what motivates us to wash and put on clean clothes. All good things.

It’s just that, when I think of hair extensions, I think of exiguous girls in hot pants lolloping about under the increased weight of their voluminous new hair and saying things such as “totes”.

Of course this isn’t entirely correct. Some such women are indeed tottering about the streets of Dublin with small dogs jammed fussily into their designer handbags, but still more spend their disposable income on a spot of subtly enhanced hair, just because they like to. They do this without ever uttering the word “totes”.

 

Ethically sourced hair 

It was with this in mind that I acquiesced when I was offered hair extensions. As per the rules of my year’s experiment in being alive, in which I say yes to trying new things, I would have needed a good reason to say no. Upon consideration, “I’m creeped out by the idea of someone else’s hair being glued to my head” didn’t seem all that good a reason. The hair was ethically

sourced. I would definitely have said no to something like this in the past, so I said yes, all the while reassuring myself that it would be an interesting experience. After five hours in a chair in a Dublin salon, I left with a totally transformed head. I had walked in with shoulder-length hair and walked out wearing an exercise in blonde extroversion that stopped at the small of my back.

I have spent the past seven years in a university, working in a department full of men. The few women I had dealings with counteracted their femininity by masculinising themselves, or at the very least, defeminising themselves slightly. I was the only person I encountered who ever wore make-up. I once attended a staff meeting in red lipstick and felt like the whore of Babylon.

Although I like to be feminine, I don’t like drawing attention to myself while going about my daily business. The hair did not help with this. I walked out of the hair salon and within 40 seconds received a wolf whistle from a passing yob. Those aren’t flattering; they’re the equivalent of shouting out “sex” on the street. Congratulations, sex is a thing you have heard of and think about. Well done for knowing a noun and pointing your noun at me. Since he was of an older vintage, I thought the best thing to do would be to approach him, ask kindly if he was confused and if he needed help getting back to his retirement home. He slunk away, deflated, and I went about my day with a big head of Disney princess/sex doll hybrid hair, getting a bit of a fright at every reflective surface I passed.

Put it this way: I looked distinctly less intellectual. I was shocked by the fact that people treated me differently. Seeing a photo on Facebook, an ex emailed me after a long silence. Men were nicer to me, and more patronising. Women were generally less friendly, and everyone seemed to presume that I was less intelligent than I am. I stuck with it for three months but, ultimately, had it removed. It just didn’t feel like me. You can indeed be an academic with the equivalent of Dolly Parton hair, but I don’t have the patience for the judgment of others or the fact that I kept shutting my hair in the wardrobe door.

 

The Yes Woman says yes to . . . stealing another woman’s glory, but no to . . . catching your fake hair in the wardrobe door

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