Don’t you just detest your hair? Endless hours under the dryer. A fortune on highlights. And as for stray whiskers! NORA EPHRON spent a lifetime wrestling with her rollers
In the final part of our gloriously uplifting series celebrating the wit and wisdom of Hollywood screenwriter Nora Ephron, who died last week, she turns her attention to the daily battles women wage in a bid to stay looking youthful …
For weeks now, I have been trying to write about maintenance, but it hasn’t been easy, and for a simple reason: maintenance takes up so much of my life that I barely have time to sit down at the computer.
There are two types of maintenance, of course. There’s Status Quo Maintenance — the things you have to do daily, or weekly, or monthly, just to stay more or less even.
High maintenance: Nora Ephron believed that blow drys are much better for you than therapy
And then there’s the maintenance you have to do monthly, or yearly, or every couple of years or so — maintenance I think of as Pathetic Attempts to Turn Back the Clock.
Into this category fall such things as facelifts, liposuction, Botox, major dental work, and Removal of Unsightly Things — of varicose veins, for instance, and skin tags, and those irritating little red spots that crop up on your torso after a certain age.
I’m not going to discuss such issues here. For now, I’m concentrating only on the routine, everyday things required just to keep you from looking like someone who no longer cares.
We begin, I’m sorry to say, with hair. I’m sorry to say it, because the amount of maintenance involving hair is genuinely overwhelming. Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair any more is the secret upside of death.
Tell the truth. Aren’t you sick of your hair? Aren’t you tired of washing and drying it? I know people who wash their hair every day, and I don’t get it.
Your hair doesn’t need to be washed every day, any more than your black trousers have to be dry-cleaned every time you wear them. But no one listens to me.
It takes some of my friends an hour a day, seven days a week, just to wash and blow-dry their hair. How they manage to have any sort of life at all is a mystery. I mean, we’re talking about 365 hours a year! Nine working weeks!
Maybe this made sense when we were young, when the amount of time we spent making ourselves look good bore some correlation to the number of hours we spent having sex (which was, after all, one of the reasons for our spending so much time on grooming). But now that we’re older, whom are we kidding?
Words of wisdom: Hollywood screenwriter Nora Ephron died last week
On top of which, have you tried buying shampoo lately? I mean, good luck to you. Good luck finding anything that says on the label, simply, shampoo.
There are shampoos for dry but oily hair and shampoos for coarse but fine hair, and then there are the conditioners and the straighteners and the volumisers.
How damaged does your hair have to be to qualify as ‘damaged’? Why are some shampoos for blondes? Do the blondes get better shampoos than the rest of us? It’s totally dizzying, shelf after shelf of products, not one of them capable of doing the job alone.
I deal with all this confusion by taking draconian measures to reduce the amount of time I spend on my hair. I never do my own hair if I can help it, and I try my best to avoid situations that would require me to.
Every so often a rich friend asks me if I’d like to go on a trip involving a boat, and all I can think about is the misery of five days in a small cabin struggling with a blow-dryer.
And I am never going back to Africa; the last time I was there, in 1972, there were no hairdressers out in the bush, and, as far as I was concerned, that was the end of that place.
I’m in awe of the women I know who have magical haircuts that require next to no maintenance. I once read an interview with a well-known actress who said that the thing she was proudest of was that she could blow-dry her own hair, and I was depressed for days afterward.
I’m completely inept at blow-drying my own hair. I have the equipment and the products, I assure you. I own blow-dryers with special attachments, and hot rollers and Velcro rollers, and gel and mousse and spray, but my hair looks absolutely awful if I do it myself.
So, twice a week, I go to a beauty salon and have my hair blown dry. It’s cheaper by far than psychoanalysis, and much more uplifting.
What’s more, it takes much less time than washing and drying your own hair every single day, especially if, like me, you live in a large city where a good and reasonably priced hairdresser is just around the corner.
Still, at the end of the year, I’ve spent at least 80 hours just keeping my hair clean and pressed. That’s two work weeks. There’s no telling what I could be doing with all that time. I could be on eBay, for instance, buying something that will turn out to be worth much less than I bid for it. I could be reading good books.
Of course, I could be reading good books while having my hair done — but I don’t. I always mean to. I always take one with me when I go to the salon. But instead I end up reading the fashion magazines that are lying around, and I mostly concentrate on articles about cosmetic and surgical procedures.
Hollywood heavyweight: Nora Ephron (pictured with actresses Meryl Streep and Amy Adams) struggled with the pressure of looking youthful
Once I picked up a copy of Vogue while having my hair done, and it cost me $20,000. But you should see my teeth. Many years ago, when Gloria Steinem turned 40, someone complimented her on how remarkably young she looked, and she replied,
‘This is what 40 looks like.’ It was a great line, and I wish I’d said it.
‘This is what 40 looks like’ led, inevitably, to its most significant corollary, ‘40 is the new 30,’ which led to many other corollaries: ‘50 is the new 40,’ ‘60 is the new 50,’ and even ‘Restaurants are the new theatre,’ ‘Focaccia is the new quiche,’ et cetera.
Anyway, here’s the point: There’s a reason why 40, 50, and 60 don’t look the way they used to, and it’s not because of feminism, or better living through exercise. It’s because of hair dye.
In the Fifties, only 7 per cent of American women dyed their hair; today there are parts of Manhattan and Los Angeles where there are no grey-haired women at all.
(Once, some years ago, I went to Le Cirque, a well-known New York restaurant, to a lunch in honour of a woman named Jean Harris, who had just that week been released from 12 years in prison for murdering her diet-doctor boyfriend, and she was the only woman in the restaurant with grey hair.)
Hair dye has changed everything, but it almost never gets the credit. It’s the most powerful weapon older women have against the youth culture. I can make a case that it’s at least partly responsible for the number of women entering (and managing to stay in) the job market in middle and late-middle age, as well as for all sorts of fashion trends.
For example, it’s one of the reasons women don’t wear hats any more, and it’s entirely the reason that everyone I know has a closet full of black clothes.
Think about it. Fifty years ago, women of a certain age almost never wore black.If you have grey hair, black makes you look not just older but sadder. But black looks great on older women with dark hair — so great, in fact, that even younger women with dark hair now wear black. Even blondes wear black. Even women in LA wear black.
Grey area: Hair dye has changed everything for older women. Today there are parts of Manhattan and Los Angeles where there are no grey-haired women at all
Almost everyone wears black — except for anchorwomen, U.S. senators, and residents of Texas, and I feel really bad for them. I mean, black makes your life so much simpler. Everything matches black, especially black.
But back to hair dye. I began having my hair dyed about 15 years ago, and for many years, I was categorised by my colourist as a single-process customer — whatever was being done to me (which I honestly have no idea how to describe) did not involve peroxide and therefore took ‘only’ 90 minutes every six weeks or so.
Whenever I complained about how long it took, I was told that I was lucky I wasn’t blonde. Where hair dye is concerned, being blonde is practically a career.
But then, about a year ago, my colourist gave me several highlights as a present. Highlights, you probably know, are little episodes of blondeness that are scattered about your head. They involve peroxide. They extend the length of time involved in hair dyeing from unbearable to unendurable.
As I sat in the chair, waiting for my highlights to sink in, I was bored witless. Hours passed. I couldn’t imagine why I had been conned into agreeing to this free trial. I vowed that I would never ever even be tempted to have highlights again, much less to pay money for them. (They are, in addition to being time-consuming, wildly expensive. Naturally.)
I emerged with four tiny, virtually invisible blondeish streaks in my hair, and was so thrilled and overwhelmed by the change in my appearance that I honestly thought that when I came home, my husband wouldn’t recognise me.
As it happened, he didn’t even notice I’d done anything to myself. But it didn’t matter; from that moment on, I was hooked.
As a result, my hair-dying habit now takes at least three hours every six weeks or so, and because my hair colourist is (in her world) only slightly less famous than Hillary Clinton, it costs more per year than my first car.
I’m sorry to report that I have a moustache. The truth is, I probably always had a moustache, but for years it was sort of dormant, or incipient, or threatening, in the way a cloudy sky threatens to rain.
On a few occasions in my younger years it turned dark and stormy, and when it did, I dealt with it by going to the drug store and buying a much too large jar of something called Jolen creme bleach.
(I always tried to buy a small jar of Jolen creme bleach, but no one stocks it, for the obvious reason that it costs less than the big jar.)
But, then, along came menopause. And with it, my moustache changed: It was no longer dormant, incipient, and threatening; it was now just plain there.
Fortunately, at the time, I was going to a lovely Russian-born hairdresser named Nina on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who, as it turned out, specialised in something called threading, a fantastic and thrilling method of hair removal she had learned in Russia and which, as far as I can tell, is the only thing the Russians managed to outdo us at in 50 years of the Cold War.
Threading involves thread — garden-variety sewing thread — a long strand of which is twisted and manoeuvred in a sort of cat’s cradle configuration so as to remove hair in a way that is quick and painful (although not, I should point out, as painful as, say, labour). The results last about a month.
Unfortunately, though, a couple of years ago, I moved away from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, taking my moustache with me but leaving behind Nina and her compelling geographical convenience. So now I must add the travel time (and cab fare) to the cost of threading.
On the other hand, where unwanted hair is concerned, I’m duty-bound to report that I spend considerably less time having myself waxed than I used to because (and you don’t see a whole lot of this in those cheerful, idiotic books on menopause) at a certain point, you have less hair in all sorts of places you used to have quite a lot.
When I was growing up, I had a friend who was a pioneer in waxing — she first had her legs waxed when she was 15, and this was in 1956, when waxing was really practically unknown.
She assured me that if I didn’t start getting my legs waxed — if I persisted in simply shaving like all the other commoners in the world — the hair would grow in faster and faster and faster and faster and eventually I would look like a bear.
This turns out not to be true. You can shave your legs for many years, and they don’t really get a whole lot hairier than when they started. And then, at a certain age, they get less hairy.
My guess is that by the time I’m 80, I will be able to handle any offending hair on my legs with two plucks of an eyebrow tweezer.
As for waxing what I like to call my bikini, it has become but a brief episode in what the fashion magazines refer to as my beauty regimen, and owing to my ability to avoid wearing a bathing suit except on rare occasions, I rarely need to do it any more.
(In the old days, however, a bikini wax was not just painful — it was truly as painful as labour. I dealt with the pain by using the breathing exercises I learned in Lamaze classes. I recommend them highly, although not for childbirth, for which they are virtually useless.)
I understand that some young women have their pubic hair removed entirely, or shaped, like topiary, into triangles and hearts and the like.
I am too old for this, thank God.
■ Extracted from I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron, published by Black Swan at £7.99.
© 2006 Heartburn Enterprises Inc. To order a copy at £7.49 (p&p free), call 0843 382 0000.