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Lainey, For Real: The Prettiest Hair in the Room

FLARE columnist Elaine Lui has the nicest, healthiest, prettiest hair in the room—and those are her own words. But there’s heartbreak behind the boasting

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(Illustration: Spiros Halaris)

I’m conceited about my hair. It’s my one thing. I have ordinary eyes. My nose is kinda hooked. My tits are lopsided. But I have really great hair. It’s thick. It’s shiny. It’s stick straight, but it’ll hold a curl when I want it to. My hair is so awesome that people often ask our stylist on The Social whether it’s fake—if I have extra pieces woven in. When she tells them I don’t, they refuse to believe her. But it’s the truth. It’s all mine. And I love it. I love that 99 percent of the time, it’s the nicest, healthiest, prettiest hair in the room. In fact, I often walk into a room, survey the follicular situation and smugly congratulate myself on winning the hair game.

Haircuts give me anxiety. I had a terrible experience years ago, flattered by a hairstylist I met during a cigarette break at a hockey game. He told me he owned his own salon and that my hair was a stylist’s fantasy. A few weeks later, I showed up at his “shoppe” only to realize he barely remembered me. Before I knew it, he’d cut off an entire foot. Then the phone rang, and he disappeared for 15 minutes while I cried, holding my amputated locks in my hand. For weeks afterwards, I couldn’t function. I was Samson. My spirit had been stolen. This happened six months before my wedding. I spent the entire summer figuring out how to grow it back as fast as possible so that I could wear my hair down on my wedding day (spoiler: I wore it up). At the time, I was working on a complicated project at my day job, which took a lot longer than I hoped, partly because I no longer had the confidence to make a case for my own ideas.

Perhaps this is why I’ve convinced myself that my career would go to hell if I decided to go pixie or bob—like Keri Russell’s infamous chop, back when she was on Felicity. The other day, when my husband was bitching about my hair clogging up our bathtub, I told him it was essential to our business and if I cut it, the struggle would be real. “Nobody who reads the blog gives a shit about your hair,” he countered. “As long as you can tell them the real reason Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner got divorced, you could shave your head and they wouldn’t care.”

Fine. I may be attaching more significance to my hair than it deserves. And now that you’ve heard me bragging about it, maybe you’re so turned off by my pride that you don’t think it deserves any love at all. Six months ago, I might have agreed with you. But that was before my Ma lost all of her hair.

I have Ma’s hair genes. She always tells me that while I got my stumpy legs and weird body type from my father’s side of the family, it’s a blessing that my hair took after hers— although she maintains that her hair was nicer than mine, fuller than mine, smoother than mine. I will forever remember her signature style: parted in the middle, fastened on both sides with exquisite combs, and curled inwards so that it looked like silky black tubes were undulating down her shoulders. Ma’s hair was the envy of all women. It was so accommodating, it didn’t even start greying until she was almost 60.

But Ma’s hair is gone now. She started chemotherapy in May. When her hair started coming out in clumps, I convinced her to shave her head. There were no tears; she wasn’t sentimental. In her typical crusty voice, she ordered Dad to bring her his clippers, and they proceeded to buzz it all off. When it was done, she helped him sweep it into a garbage bag. Then she tried on the turbans I’d brought for her and matched them to her outfits.

I was the one who was emotional, as I watched her hair float down to the floor, falling onto the tiles like a pile of snapshots, memories of all the times I’d sit behind her as a child while she brushed it, lovingly, and then mine afterwards.

They say after chemo that hair never grows back the same. That it could come back finer or more coarse, but that the integrity of the hair is changed forever. Sometimes when I’m sitting across from her in the hospital, I find her watching me as I run my fingers through my hair or gather it into a topknot—she likes it most when I wear it back, off my face.

“If your hair doesn’t come back, I could cut mine off and have it made into a wig for you. Would you like that?” I ask her. She shakes her head. She makes a face.

“No. I don’t want it. My hair was always better anyway. My hair was the best.”

Elaine Lui is the founder of Lainey Gossip and the author of Listen to the Squawking Chicken.

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