Dear Daughter: About hair straighteners
I’ve been busy sewing up a few blocks for your Dear Daughter quilt. I’m enjoying the new selection of fabrics that we found over the summer. Still sticking to the general colour theme. I’m trying to mix the existing fabrics in with the new additions.
The subject for the letter to go with each block has been longer to ponder. We have so many great conversations, which one do I want to expand on. Then it came to me, as I wondered why this block is called butterfly at the crossroads. Hair straighteners used by teen girls.
OK. I realise that on first glance, probably second and third, there is no connection, but believe me, it was one of those moments when the penny dropped. The final jigsaw piece fell into place. Let me try to explain. It has to do with the connection between fashion and the economy. Fashion and psychological effect.
To start with there is a well known correlation between the prosperity of a nation and the length of skirts in fashion at the time. In the 60s they were short and tight. In the eighties, they were long and flowing.
Makes sense, if you think about it. When money is tight, a skirt can be manufactured for less if less fabric is used. It can be offered at a lower price, which fits with most household budgets during a recession. The skirt will sell. When money is more abundant, then a full skirt with lots of swishing fabric is a way of showing you have money to spare and gives a feel good factor. More expensive to produce, but that’s OK as household budgets can afford it.
So where do hair straighteners come into it? A strange choice of subject, especially as you don’t have any. You are blessed with naturally straight hair. Like your mother. There seems to be a difference between naturally straight and the effect achieved by hair straighteners. One has the hint of a wave to it, while the other is as straight as a pin. It all comes down to control.
When I was a teen in the late 80s, hair straighteners were not part of my vocab. Hair was big, curled and swished. Sometimes all at the same time. It needed to be big, to match the proportions of the shoulder pads that were in all clothes at the time. We were going to conquor the world. We kicked off our boots and danced foot loose.
We were going to conquor the world.
Those without waves, added waves to our hair. (I went to an international school – I need to add that in somewhere.) We had curling tongs. We mastered the art of casually flicking the top section of our long hair in a way that added body to it. This movement would be repeated every few minutes. Even more when agitated. It was all about big hair, like a mane. Thinking back I can’t imagine what it was like to teach a class full of girls constantly flicking their hair. Distracting, maybe intimidating.
No one had straight, straight hair. It was all about volume and tousled hair. Slightly out of control. Big and impressive.
Roll forward to now. Hair seems to be controlled and kept in line. Literally in line, when it comes to straighteners.
Why the change?
I think partly, it comes down to the fact that current teens have more stress, and pressure to achieve, put on them than I remember as a teen. I spent last night reviewing the national curriculum for year 5 and brushing up on the new curriculum for maths GCSE. There is a lot.
Don’t get me wrong. Back in the 80s, we were stressed by the pressure of exams and the desire to achieve. We had dreams. Big dreams. Nothing was going to stop us. We were all going to get good grades.
I know the decades in between have gifted me with rose-tinted glasses, but we didn’t have 24/7 social media lives and we didn’t have easy access to information, as you do now. (Yes, I passed my A Levels without the help of Google) The latter should make it easier, but at the same time this means it is assumed that you can do more. More concepts. Raising the bar. You feel the stress. Teen mental health is discussed more readily in the media and by professionals. With stress comes the feeling that you lack control.
With stress comes the feeling that you lack control.
So what do teens do? They can take control of their hair. Straighten it. Leave no hair out of place. Having big carefree hair would not fit with your mindset. It needs to be sleek and point down. Fortunately, shoulder pads are no longer a thing. The hair tousling flick of my youth has been replaced by hair-checking and simultaneous smoothing of the front section of hair between the thumb and index finger. Maybe less dramatic and less distracting in class. Where we flicked up, you pull down. Up-lift as opposed to sinking. The psychological affect of this movement is interesting. Are they trying to pull their hair out? This is the part that interests me the most but you probably guessed that.
I have so many theories I’d like to explore.
I could go on. I have so many theories I’d like to explore. Tying up the relative dreamy, carefree butterfly to the controlling hair straightener. I could be wrong. There may be no link.
I am by no means damning hair straighteners. They are just the method used to achieve the style, not a cause of the mindset. Nor am I saying that straightening hair causes stress. I am suggesting that it is more of a reflection/reinforcement of the mood/mindset/mind.
Oh my goodness. I know that this is a long letter. Thank you for seeing it to the end. I’ll leave you with just one final thought. Maybe just occasionally every teen girl should try the hair flick movement of the 80s. I’d prescribe it to be repeated at least a hundred times for a day. You never know, they may just like it.
Your loving mother
p.s. Apologies that this is aimed at girls and not boys. I’m sure as my tween boy becomes a teen boy, my perspective will change. I did have friends that gave Paul Young and Limahl a run for their money. Another who grew his hair, ready for a school holiday and his chance to perfect his mohican. Big, up and out hair was not just for the girls.
To see more of the “my Dear Daughter” quilt blocks and other letters, click here.