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Beauty Hurts
By Melanie Hutsell

I think it's hard for parents to see their kids getting older, metamorphosing into adults way before they are ready. I often wish that I could go back to being that little girl with Buffys, red Keds, blue jean cut-offs, and my hot dog t-shirt, hopping in the front of my dad's red Ford pick-up truck, standing right beside him with my arm around his neck, drinking a grape Ne-hi with not a care in the world. Safe.

Not too long after my Tennessee non-retreat, I moved to L.A. (minus the Buffys) and found the man I would marry within a few days. It was a pretty crazy time.

Next thing I knew, I was pregnant with my first baby, and the doctor gave me lots of do's and don'ts, one being to stop highlighting my hair. It was the first time I had seen my natural hair color since I was twelve years old, when my mom put a plastic cap on my head and pulled strand after strand of my dulling blonde hair through with a crochet needle. I thought the pink foam rollers were bad! I had known that beauty involved pain, but blood? Good Lord!

About six months into the pregnancy, my husband Fred and I went to Tennessee for Christmas. Now keep in mind, there was not as much as a half a strand of blonde left. MY-DAD-COULD-NOT-EVEN-LOOK-AT-ME. Granted, I did look a little like an Elvis Presley Weeble Wobble, but my own father!

The moment came right before church services on Christmas Eve. I had picked out a special outfit. Black was good. I was excited to wear all of the new shades of lipstick and eye shadow my mom had so painstakingly picked out to go with my natural hair color. She was working for Lancome at the time, and just saw it as a fun challenge! As long as I can remember, my dad and I would always look at each other right before going to church:"You look pretty," he'd say.

"Thanks Dad. You look nice."

But on this night, a cold, crisp snowy night in 1998 -- silence. Nothing. He couldn't look at me. Later that evening at my Aunt Debbie's house, as Dad and I hovered by the spinach dip and Pretzel Jello Salad (every pregnant girl's dream!), he put his arm around me and said in his low, tender voice, "Hey Mel, I know you're doing it for the baby. It's for the baby."

When my daughter Carly was born, as soon as I was able, Fred and I headed to Tennessee for a visit. We had just gotten there when my 65-year-old Aunt Buddy D (originally Barbara Dean), who will be blonde until she dies if she has anything to do with it, stopped by. This is the same Aunt who remarked during the O.J. trials, "Oh no, oh I don't think he did it, no, oh he's innocent...oh he's a pretty nigger." That's Aunt Buddy D. But the look of concern that she got on her face as she laid her eyes on Carly for the first time made my heart drop. What was she seeing that I hadn't? A rash? A mole? Uh...third nipple?

"Oh. Carly's a brunette. I couldn't tell from the pictures. Oh, her hair is dark, it is, yeah she's going to be a little brunette. She's going to be brown-headed."

"And she's going to be a beautiful brunette, Aunt Bud!"

"Oh Melanie, now come on, that's nothing a little 'ol bottle of bleach won't take care of!"

She just cracked herself up with her comment and, as she continued to cackle for what seemed like an eternity, I had a vision of myself sneaking into the viewing room at the funeral home when she dies and placing one of my nappy old wigs from my sketch days, preferably a dark brown one, on her head just for kicks. Then I imagined her raising up, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror behind me, and with a high pitch tone saying, "Oh no, oh that won't do, oh that's awful, oh that color is just about to make me sick to my stomach. I'd just as soon be dead and buried than to have this color of ha…oh shit, I am dead. Lo' I said Lo' I tell you what's the truth."

Lo' is short for Lord and pronounced law, as not to take the Lord's name in vain. "Shit, God! They are just going to have to close this casket. Will somebody close this casket…somebody?"

Carly's hair went from brown to red to blonde in her first year of life, and when she turned four, it turned dark again. Being married to a Jewish guy from Chicago, I thought for sure this reaction that my family had when she was a baby was just a Southern thing. But when Fred's mom saw the course nature had taken with Carly's hair, she just about lost her dang teeth! In the thickest Midwestern accent you can imagine, she exploded, "Oy Gutunu! Her hair got so dark, when did that happen?" As she wiped off the piece of noodle she had spit onto her blouse because her new set of false teeth didn't fit, she continued, "I mean the color is just sooo…nothing."

Then I thought well maybe it's a Midwestern, Southern thing. But even one of my cool, hip Hollywood friends said in a monotone voice, "Wow. Carly's hair got dark. That's weird." And then! My friend Supriya's mom came in from India, and said, "Oh my God, Carly's hair got so dark, vhen did it happen?"

I wish I could tell you that I stood up to defend Carly from this shallow attitude coming from every direction, but I can't. I wanted her to stay blonde, too. I even resorted to a kid's highlighting product that didn't do crap. "Add a touch of natural looking highlights to your child's hair." Yeah right, my ass! I'm just as bad as my family. I'm worse! I'm like a pageant mom walking around looking shabby while my daughter is perfection. My husband will say, "I'm sorry honey, is your hair wet or is that grease?" What am I teaching Carly, anyway? That color of your skin doesn't matter, but the color of your hair does? "Carly, people come in all shapes and sizes, but honey sit still while I put this lemon juice in your hair, I don't want to get it in your eyes -- oh shoot, honey, I'm sorry. I know. It hurts. I'm sorry. Oh honeeey."

Just a few weeks ago I went for a walk in Palisades Park, and found myself mesmerized by this homeless man sitting on the ground eating someone's California Pizza Kitchen leftovers. His hair was neatly styled into curly Buffys. He was tan and good looking. Perhaps he once had his own Hollywood dreams. As I walked closer, I noticed that his hair was beautifully streaked from all of his days in the sun, and it was parted down the back of his head in a perfect straight line. He couldn't have done that himself, could he? Friend? Maybe a girlfriend? Boyfriend? As I watched him shaking his head as if to say, "No, no, no, no," all the while rocking back and forth, back and forth, staring out at the vast, wide open Pacific Ocean, I could only hope that he likes his hair that way, and that whoever did his Buffys for him is someone who loves him.

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