Got Perm, Will Travel

I couldn’t think of a better title, sorry. Hey, if you have one let me know and I’ll change it! Moving on.

Well the three or four of you that read here regularly know I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a perm for awhile now. About a year, in fact. I love curly hair, and I like my hair curly when I can get it to actually curl without falling out halfway through the day. Recently I bought this styling tool called a ‘bubble wand’ that can create lovely beach waves in the hair – when it works. As with all things heat-styling, my ability to consistently create the same result from it each time was sketchy at best; sometimes it came out great as in the photo below:


And sometimes it just looked unbrushed and sloppy (for obvious reasons, I do not have photographic evidence of this). When it looked great, I loved it to death – enough to bother with the 15-20 minutes or so it took to style it each morning (and in spite of my concerns over what all that heat-styling was doing to my hair). Well, after two days of attempting to use the bubble wand and having it turn to mush almost immediately and being ticked off at losing twenty minutes of my time only to end up with it in a ponytail at the end  of all that, I decided to go for a consultation to get a perm. I’d been reading and researching and debating about this for some time, so I knew the risks as well as the flat-out truth that I was going to be frying my hair, it would need time to recover, and I was most likely going to hate it the first week or so. I was also prepared for it not to look anything like the photo above, because perms rather do their own thing depending on the hair of the person who’s getting one. I felt ready to take the risk.

I also knew you needed to go to someone who does perms regularly, even if that person is not your regular stylist. I knew my regular stylist did not give perms, and I also knew, based on an article about perms that came out in the newspaper two years ago, that the salon where I get my nails done has a few stylists that do them (the article was on how perms are “coming back,” which I have been reading about for a years or so, ever since I started to get the desire to try one) so while I was out running errands Thursday I called the salon and set up an appointment for a consultation. We met, I showed him the above photo, he told me my  hair would work fine with a perm, and we got down to it. I won’t keep you in suspense any longer:


Yyyyyeah, not exactly like the big waves of the previous picture. But I expected that. Everything I’d read in the past year said I’d have to wait at least a week to get the curls I wanted, and that my hair would look like a frizzball at first while I waited for that to happen. But it was still a huge jolt when I put on my glasses for the first time and saw it (one thing about getting anything done to my hair – I have to take my glasses off so the stylist can work. which means I never know what is happening to my hair until it’s over and I can put my glasses back on). The whole experience at that point became quite odd – I was in shock and just trying to process (no pun intended) what was going on with my hair and stay calm, while also trying to get a read for what other people were thinking about it. And, get this – it was July 3rd, around 5:30 PM at this point, and I was literally the only client in the salon. I guess everyone else was already heading out of town for the holiday instead of getting their hair done. This salon is quite nice and incredibly big (a  huge two-story building) and none of  the other stylists or technicians appeared to have clients, so, there were loads of people standing around while I was trying to remain calm and get out of there, and not one of them looked at or said anything to me while I was at the register.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time reading people in my years of wig-wearing, going out in some fake hair and trying to get a sense of whether or not others are noticing what’s on my head, so I immediately shifted into that mode, and the lack of reaction felt ominous – this was a hair salon after all, so it’s pretty typical for the receptionists to at least comment on whatever it is you just had done to your hair, especially when it’s something drastic. But then again, I don’t normally get my hair done there, just my nails, so maybe I’m wrong about that. For my part, I was still shaking a little bit, and the only thought that was going through my head was “oh my God, I’ve ruined my hair.” I finally asked the woman checking me out why none of them were looking at me, and if that meant it was as bad as I thought. She just said no, it looked fine, and some ramble about how she used to get perms a long time ago and it always looked like that, but the whole experience was terribly uncomfortable, and the guy who’d permed me had also disappeared, so I feared the worst – that somehow the perm had gone horrible awry and everyone was waiting for me to leave so they could stop holding their breath and pretending like I looked OK and talk about how terrible it turned out. Awkward.


Instead of heading home right away after I checked out, I went down to the Marriott hotel that is a part of the town square center where the salon is and headed straight for their guest bathrooms to get a private gander at it and think. And well, it was pretty bad. Super-frizzy, tight, 80’s-perm curls, no doubt about it. But. Everything I’d read over the year I’d been researching the subject told me to expect this and that it took days if not weeks for the curls to relax (and the stylist said the same), so that kept me from going into complete shock. I’d had no delusions going in that I was doing anything other than damaging my hair with chemicals; I’d just weighed the short-term negatives of that against the ongoing heat damage I’d get from the various methods I used to wear my natural hair either straight or curly (I was either using the bubble wand to get decent  curl from my air-dried hair or blowing it dry straight) and figured in the long run it would come out to be the same, since with the perm I could just air it dry and be done (not to mention the time I could save with the day-to-day styling). So I knew the first few days were going to be tough, but wow – I was still stunned, let me tell you.

And, I had to go home and face my husband. I don’t mind sounding a bit like a Stepford wife here and telling you I was terrified he was going to hate it – and I’m someone who has worn her hair in a manner for most of her marriage that her husband hated. I just knew he was going to take one look at it and we’d be back to that ‘we’ll just agree not to talk about your hair’ arrangement we had for twelve years, and I really did not want to go back there (fortunately I’d told him I was having the process done, so at least he wasn’t going to be totally thrown). I decided to take some time and “test run” my new hair as I often did when trying out a new wig – wander into some shops and pretend to look around while really monitoring other people’s reactions to me instead. What I noticed was that while no one was going out of their way to compliment my hair by  any stretch of the imagination, no one was reacting to my hair negatively either; I was being more or less ignored, which for anyone who wears supplemental hair will tell you is exactly what you want. If it’s not what you want, it is at least perfectly OK and way preferable to people staring at your head and smirking or scrutinizing. In short, while my hair clearly did not look amazing, it also clearly did not look horrifying, so I started to calm down.


By this time it was about 7:15 PM and I figured I had to go home sometime, so I put on my best and brightest happy face, snapped a selfie in the Marriott bathroom, and sent it to my husband with a text that read “I look amazing!”  – which I saying to myself as much as to him, in that Stuart Smalley sort of way. Then I got in the car and headed home. By the time I got close, he’d already responded by saying that he thought it looked cute, but that it would “look even better if it was longer,” which is so typical of him it’s hilarious. I reassured him that no length had been cut and that it was just the curl shortening it up a bit, and that yes I was still growing it out and the frizz would die down in a few days and then it would look better. And by the time I walked through the door I was in the lemonade-out-of-lemons mode I can go into quite quickly when it comes to my hair, wherein I know I can deal with it and make it work as long as it doesn’t fall out – the loads of hair fiascos I’ve had over the course of my life have trained me well. It’s definitely going to help as I get through the 48-hour period here where I cannot wash or do anything to this new adventure I’ve got going on top of my head. Because right now it’s wait and see for sure.


So it’s Friday morning now, and although it still looks like a frizzy puffball, it doesn’t feel nearly as dry as it did yesterday, so that’s a good start. And I don’t have much to do the next two days so I can hide out until it calms down, or at least until I can wash it on Sunday. I will keep you all alerted of my progress, but please, keep the comments gentle. My hair and my ego are a little delicate right now – although I think in the long run I am going to like it. If not, I’ll make it work. I always do. And I am glad I finally took the plunge and gave this a shot, since I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time and at least now can say I’ve done it and get it off the to-do-someday list. If nothing else, it will take interesting pictures!

You can read an update to the perm adventure here.