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This fuss about hair

Alegria A. Imperial / Peregrine Notes

Blessed are the many who don’t wage a daily battle with their hair, but more blessed would be those who have won with grace, a crown that has weathered the seasons. Woe to those who haven’t, or worse, carry on with nonchalance yet in secret, plot conspiracies beyond hair; the saying, “bad-hair day,” proves to be not just an idiom of speech.

Until the mirror stares through a stranger that you’ve turned into, it’s when the fuss begins. And so, hair care and adornment, especially in our times, apparently generates one of the most lucrative businesses in the narcissistic field, with an unimaginable range of worldwide products, making possible hairstyles that cut across age and even gender.

The swarm of hair salons for both sexes has erased historical delineations in social class, significantly as well; browse sculptures of Roman times, or paintings of Victorian and Edwardian eras, and find some proofs. Even hair dyes, apparently practiced in ancient Rome and Greece, but with increasing hues, including peacock blends of blues, greens and violets, do not indicate class and race these days—like among Filipinos, whose black luscious hair used to stand out in beauty contests, one could count more blondes and brunettes among us today; though still, the risk of looking like an albino seems great.

We know that pomades in the past, or San Miguel beer for an overnight setting on hair curlers for Filipinos, the spray net that glued hair strands into a weeks-long beehive, and recently jells, or aerosol sprays, make a perfect sculpt or styled look, guess what Romans used: clay, for one. Reading through what sounds ridiculous today, one wonders how and when and with what they washed their hair.

While the history of cosmetology dates from ancient civilizations (from the Greek cosmos, to put in order, later kosmetikos, to adorn), according to archival readings, shampoo, as we know it today, appeared only in the 1950s. Before then, women, especially, suffered through a month-long thickened scalp with self-generated oil, layered over by dust and debris, hence, a breeding ground for lice. Cleaned with the same caustic soap used to scrub the skin, hair came out dull and flat among the working class, like in Europe. Upper-class women lathered their hair with soaked scrapes of the oil-based Castile soap, known to have been brought home by the Crusaders, and later made in Europe.

Obviously from colonial times, some Filipinos might be familiar with Castile soap, though we had used beaten and soaked bark of gugo, stalks of Aloe Vera, which our grandmothers planted in discarded chamber pots, but especially what has since proliferated shelves here in Canada, the claimed-fresh coconut oil (also for cooking) from the Philippines. Indeed, compared to the far-fetched beginnings of hair care in world history, ours has been fairly within reach of its roots.

Consider what I recall of my grandmother’s hair-wash day using these: organic shampoo lather from soaked rice-straw ashes and gugo bark, for conditioner, caburao (lime) juice, and for moisturizer, freshly cooked coconut oil. Prepped by mid-morning, one of my grandmother’s live-out maids, from a culture of the much-maligned cacique class, came to bathe and shampoo her hair, which turned out but a sugar plum-sized knot. I did use all that in my youth, but today, only coconut oil as pre-shampoo moisturizer.

Something we do know, but like me, often wish to forget: no matter the wide-range of products to thicken, keep from falling, or from graying, genes apparently foreshadow what crown we’ll wear as the seasons roll. Blessed, indeed, are those whose ancestors gifted them well. Still, woe to them, who in spite of pretense at calmness betray a “bad-hair day,” like blaming others or finding scapegoats, when external forces that defy genes or any kind of hair care shatter their inner mirror.


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