So I Got a Spiral Perm. What’s Your Hair Horror Story?

When I was 16 I got a spiral perm. A big, Twisted Sister, spiral perm that screeched out of my head like a car wreck.  What hair calamity have you had?

17-year-old Karen Bertelsen lying in bed with swollen cheeks after having her wisdom teeth removed. Her recently permed hair covers her white pillow. Wallpaper featuring a small floral pattern can be seen in the background.


How do I know you’ve had a hairtastrophy? Because even if you only have one hair, you’ve had a hairtastrophy.  Either it curled, or fell out or kept pointing at someone sitting beside you on the subway. I’ve have several hair disasters, but for today I’ll focus on this one. The spiral perm.

I was 17 years old and in high school.  My room was still in the decorating style of Holly Hobby that my mother surprised me with when I came home from school one day in grade 6.  I wanted a white and green room with spider plants. I had told her this. We discussed it. She screwed it up.

She decided a mini floral (not even a big, cool Laura Ashley one) in dusty rose and grey was a very similar look to the contemporary white and green theme my 12-year-old self had envisioned. I lived with that Holly Hobby chintz until I started University. I hated it. But not as much as the spiral perm.

I’m thinking back trying to imagine who I was trying to emulate with this spiral perm. I mean, I know it wasn’t Dee Snider. Madonna? Julia Roberts? Molly Ringwald? I have no idea. All I know is I got a spiral perm, I did in fact look like Dee Snider, I attempted to straighten my hair with a drug store hair relaxer meant for not only people of colour, but also people who knew what they were doing.

And then I got my wisdom teeth taken out.  Then I barfed.  Here’s how that went down.

A few days after the perm and the debacle of trying to wash it out and then applying a straightener (which turned my hair into candy floss) I had all 4 of my wisdom teeth removed.  I barfed the moment I got home from the surgery, went to bed and woke up a day later with an abscess.

So now, not only did I have a spiral perm exploding out of my head, my face had swollen up like a watermelon going into renal failure. From this swollen head I had a mass of straight/curly/fuzzy hair not unlike Animal from the Muppets. I was winning.

I could have had all my hair cut off. It would have been less of an assault on the eyes to be bald, but I kept my hair.  Because a) I, like most 17-year-old girls, spent more time with my hair than any of my other friends, b) I deluded myself into thinking it wasn’t that noticeable and c) maybe it really did give me just an “essence” of Julia Roberts. Slightly disheveled Julia Roberts. Julia Roberts who’d been into the whiskey cabinet.

Years went by before my hair texture was normal from top to bottom. Let this act as a warning to you since perms have made a resurgence. No. Just no.

My sister Pink Tool Belt had a similar perm in the 80’s. Her 5-year-old son looked at her newly twirling hair, burst into tears and told her it looked like a bunch of swear words on her head.

My family doctor – proving being school smart doesn’t mean that you’re hair smart – also opted for a perm when she was a young mother. Immediately realizing her mistake, she also figured she was smart enough to straighten her own hair. What she ended up with was (and these are her exact words) “A head full of pubic hair that stuck straight out from my scalp.”  She sheepishly went back to the stylist who gave her the perm and said she thought she’d like it cut. She said this while staring at her feet.

I imagine poor Dr. Woods standing in her hairstylists shop, with a halo of cotton candy surrounding her face, a small child constantly asking her to spin around while he sticks a paper cone into it. 

I never tried to perm my hair again. I don’t think that should come as a surprise to you. In fact, I didn’t try to curl it again until a few months ago when I, again, inspired by one of the world’s most beautiful women, Charlize Theron, thought with the twist of a lock, I could look exactly like her.

A photo of Karen, who is wearing a purple and gray checked shirt, after curling her short, blonde hair to emulate Charlize Theron.

As I’ve mentioned, I ended up looking like Barbara Bush on crack at a hoe down.

What about you?  What is YOUR hair disaster story?  I know you have one. Don’t be embarrassed.  We’ve all been there. In fact, I’ve been there a few times. 

Have a good weekend!


  1. pat barford says:

    I let a friend trim my bangs the summer I was fifteen and heading into grade 11. Big mistake. Not only could she not get them straight, but she just kept trying, so… bangs. Then there was more trying to make the rest of my hair suit the bangs bacause it all ended up being out of sync with the bangs. Bad, bad, bad. And as a teeneger and never knowing when to stop…more fixing followed. The solution, the aforementioned Sun In, of course. The result – crooked bangs, totally lopsided short cut in a fabulous brassy, Sun In yellow. That haircut is still proudly on display in my grade 11 school photo. Only years later did other friends confess that it was totally the worst ever.

  2. Sarah Padron says:

    Miss Karen! I had beautiful long wavy brown hair that went done to my waste most of my childhood. In the fifth grade before I switched schools, I wanted to look older and get my hair cut to shoulder length. I thought it would make me look older. What ended up happening is the stylist cut my hair to my ears and my hair went from wavy to an Afro reminiscent of Whitney Houston but nowhere near as nice! I felt I looked like Albert Einstein but with brown hair. Needless to say I cried everyday until I went to school and put on a brave face. I have photographic evidence not uploaded on my phone as I’m trying my best to block that horrible experience but now, I tolerate my hair and just leave it alone. I also tried relaxing it but I gave up on that a long time ago. I’ll keep the crazy hair and make the best of it. Thanks for posting this and I understand

  3. Jacquie Gariano says:

    As a very young girl, my Mom put my hair up in rag curls at night for curly hair the next day. I still remember the pain of trying to find a comfortable way to sleep. But my real hair disaster was when I was about 35 (old enough to know better…LOL) I, on the suggestion of my husband, I died by hair blonde. ( I had been dying my own hair an ash blonde for several years with OK results) Anyway, he though my hair should be blonder, so no paying attention to the directions on the box, I dyed it again within 6-8 hours. It became a awful white and orange. It also fell out in clumps. (Needless to say I divorced the guy) Anyway, I went to a “real” hairdresser and it took many, many visits to her and treatments to fix it. It took over a year of care. Needless to say I never did my own hair myself again……..not even to trim my own bangs….LOL

  4. Dana says:

    Mine was also a spiral perm in the 90s. My mother had basically given me a complex with so many comments about my hair being “stringy” (still not sure what exactly that meant—but she suggested the perm?!??). The hairdresser who applied it may have left it on too long or maybe it wasn’t right for my hair and it broke my bangs off at the root. I had little spikes at the front of my head for months. It was mortifying. And my hair texture has never been the same since.

  5. Lydia Martinez says:

    I have had many a hair- tastrophy in my 66 years of life. I have thick, wavy hair. Why would I want a perm? It was 1979 and for some reason, I wanted loose bouncy curls. My hairdresser used the largest perm rods she had. My hair really “grabbed” the curl! Yikes! My hair was identical to Little Orphan Annie! Yes, indeed it was a “hard knock life” until my hair grew long enough to get all the curls (which, btw, never relaxed at all!) cut off. There have been so many self inflicted assaults on my hair, it is amazing it is still so thick and wavy.
    The worst was when I decided to see what I would look like with red hair, just temporarily. I bought a wash out color, and put it on my bleach blonde hair. It turned my hair “Ronald McDonald Red!” I must have shampooed my hair at least 10 times with no success.
    I will never forget the shocked look on my kids’ faces when they woke up and saw me. My 6 year old son and his 8 year old sister pleaded with me to let them walk to school that day! They didn’t want their peeps to see their crazy mom with the Ronald McDonald hair.
    I had to call my Mom to come watch my 3 year old while I went to my hairdresser to “fix” me.
    It took 8 hours! He had to strip out all the color. I told him I wanted him to tint my hair a golden blonde. Well, lets just say I came in with bright red hair and left with canary yellow hair! I had to live with it for about a week before he could fix the fix. To this day, my “kids”, who are now all in their 30’s, will not let me live that one down!!

  6. Kipper says:

    1. The Tonette perm at age 11. Mom saying I looked like Shirley Temple which would have been a compliment if I’d been six and it was 1940, but it was not.
    2. I trimmed my bangs at age 7, angled about 40 degrees. The hairdresser had difficulty trimming it so it looked good. The little girl who lives next door to me now has trimmed her bangs TWICE like that.
    3. Self applied Sun In at age 18, lived with an orange circle on the back of my head for quite a few months, the rest of my hair was light brown. Blending SunIn evenly appears to be important.
    4. I still remember a fourth grade classmate whose mother gave her the most ghastly short uneven lengths haircut..shorter than any of the boy classmates. She was a tough kid but cried the first few days of school. No one ridiculed her, we all felt sorry for her. We all figured out that her mother had a drinking problem and her home life wasn’t the best.

    • Jan in Waterdown says:

      I remember spraying Sun In on my forearms in attempt to lighten what I thought were the hairiest arms on the planet. I guess teen girls have raging hormones and lots of body hair growth….. now? Not so much.

  7. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Betty is a very brave lady. In that photo, you look like you want to get up and rip her face off, if you only had the strength. And those cute pudgy cheeks. Oh my!
    My mom was very thrifty aka cheap and gave me Toni home perms back in the 1950’s. Her idea of wringing every last bit of value from a product was to leave it on my hair waaay longer than the instructions. Thankfully for some reason, she didn’t perm my crooked too short (cut by her of course) half moon bangs. I ended up with a super frizzy brown halo around my wee head. We have home movies of my sister and I in our Easter suits and white gloves with our Sunday-go-to-meeting hats perched precariously on those hideous now hilarious perms. To this day, I wear my bangs below my eye brows and nobody cuts them but me!

  8. Beth Kolle says:

    I always wished for straight hair, since short hair gave me that Harpo Marx look and long hair scared the wildlife. My hairdresser blew it out once with a roller brush to straighten it temporarily, I set off to pick up the kids at school and hang a bit with my mom friends there – and no one recognized me!
    Back to curls, yes, blond spiral ones whether I like them or not, turning to wild frizz on misty days. It turns out people know me by my hair.
    Aside: a woman asked me once where I got my perm. I said I’d never had a perm in my life. She looked affronted and snapped, ‘You can tell me, it’s not some big fat secret, is it?’

    • Penny says:

      Hi Beth
      your story reminded me of the time when I went shopping with my mum. Her hair was short and had gone very grey at the front, almost white, while the top, sides and back were a dark, steely grey. A woman came and asked mum, sotto voce, “Who does your hair, it’s just the look I’ve been after?”
      Mum’s reply? “Father Time.”
      Needless to say, the woman didn’t believe her and stomped off in a major huff.

  9. Ei Con says:

    Right after I graduated high school, I was going to visit my father in Florida for three weeks. After my mother left for work, (she would not have approved) and before I left for the airport, I decided to put some Sun-In in my hair. This was the early 70s. I had medium brown hair to my waist. Boy did it turn red! I was convinced my Dad would have exploded and called my mother but no, he didn’t even seem to notice.
    Two days before flying home I bought a box of permanent dark brown dye and ruined my fathers bathroom rug.
    Mom was not fooled. The upside was that the dark brown dye slowly faded to the perfect shade of honey blond. My mom’s best friend was a hair dresser and suggested mixing a capful of hydrogen peroxide with my shampoo every other time I washed my hair and I did that for years. Worked like a charm.

  10. Eileen says:

    I have thick heavy hair that has a mind of its own. As a teenager with hair past shoulder length I decided I needed a perm. I went to the beauty school I used for hair cuts – had a first thing in the morning appointment because I had to go to work in the afternoon. They pulled up the perm cart and started putting my hair on the rods. And ran out. Got another cart…and ran out again. Had to wait for another client’s perm to finish to get more rods – twice. This was taking a looooooong time. Finally had to call my mother and have her call me in sick. Eventually got my hair all done and lo! Roseanne Roseannadanna to the max. My hair stood up around my head in inverted pyramidal glory….now to explain to my boss/co-workers how my sickness had made my hair go all weird….

  11. Shelly says:

    I was afraid from the headline that your spiral perm was new… And wondered if you’d lost your mind.

    Thankfully I have fairly compliant hair that I put thru the usual paces over the years: The pixie, shag, Dorothy Hamel, frizzy perm, Farrah Fawcett, and mullet all made their appearances in the appropriate decade. And I’ve always colored my own hair. The only disaster came when in an attempt to darken my frosted hair, I applied an Ash shade and ended up gray with a lavender hue. My husband hated my hair when it was short and said I looked like Mama from that old Carol Burnett sketch. Thankfully I was due at the salon the next day for a trim and my stylist (bless her heart) said she could fix it. I told her not to bother since she had only booked me with enough time for the trim and that would wreck her schedule. She insisted saying “I’m not letting you walk out of my salon looking like that. People will think I did that to you!”

  12. Emily says:

    Well, my hair is naturally blonde and… in natural tight spiral curls. I’m the only one in the family with curly hair, so my mother was always after me to do something about it, preferably have it chemically straightened. Fortunately I didn’t listen to her, because I thought ahead to what it would look like growing out with straight ends and curly roots. (If it wasn’t a disaster from the beginning.) This was when all the other girls had their hair cut in “wings” to look like Farrah. My disaster story happened on the day of Grad Night at Disney, Sr. Year. I’d gotten up the nerve to ask a guy to go with me for the all night party for graduating Srs at Disney World, and to make the event more special, I agreed to go to my mom’s hairdresser for a set. I doubt the woman knew anything about curly hair, and decided teasing my hair and loads of hairspray were the answer. I held back the tears until I got in the car, knowing I barely had enough time to rush home, wash the mess out and get ready before my date arrived. I also decided there was no way I’d stop for the gasoline I needed looking such a fright, now with red puffy eyes. Of course I ran out of gas, and just a few blocks from where my best friend lived. My best friend who was a guy. I gave him a call, and when he kindly interrupted his preparation for Grad Night to come help me out, I preempted any possible hair comments by being strategically mean to him. It was only 35+ yrs later I explained what had happened and apologized. Sometime in college I got the attitude, “I’m tall, I’ve got curly hair, I’m pale, I’m good at math, deal with it” and that made all the difference. That and products specifically for curls. As for my mother, the time she saw me with straight hair due to a flat iron, she spent the whole time saying, “Oooh, you look so strange with straight hair, don’t you think Emily looks strange with straight hair?!”

  13. Jodi T. says:

    I lived with my grandmother and her hobby was doing crazy stuff to my hair. It’s a point of entertainment when my family gets together, actually. It started with cutting my bangs in 1st grade so short they almost didnt exist, and cutting the rest up to my ears in 3rd grade, then spiral perming it into a resemblance of “the cone of shame” in 6th. I got made fun of by my classmates so bad, I took to wearing the hood of my jacket inside for a week and was constantly called “Buffy” and asked to play tennis at least once a day. (Kids are dumb.) I finally got so sick of it, my aunt took me and allowed me to chop it off into a pixie cut. Mind you my ears stick out and pixie cuts were not popular at that time. Growing it out was a B**** and one kid in particular commented on my “wig” every chance he got. It finally grew out and looked normal in high school. Needless to say, I don’t do anything to my daughter’s hair except trim it. She doesnt get to be tender headed though. If she has long hair she has to take care of it (she is 11) and she does.

  14. Noreen McKechnie says:

    Bad hair stories.
    How about the perm that was supposed to give me big loose curls, next morning my 5 year old daughter asked her father who was in bed with him! That became headscarf head till it grew out enough for me to go to another hairdresser and get it fixed. Next was when in advance of chemo I had it dyed navy blue, loved it but it faded to a mix of pale greens and aquas, got that fixed but I don’t think the salon had ever tried so hard to fix it, turned out it was my fault for washing with really hot water. There are lots more because “ it’s only hair” seems to be my motto.

  15. Donna says:

    Dying! Hahaha!!!
    Perm mishap stories… anyone alive who doesn’t have at least one? Made that mistake. Walk of shame home with what had been shoulder length hair permed within an inch of it’s life, literally-it curled up to completely surround my scalp. I immediately sobbed out loud the minute I was safely behind closed doors. I still would like to throttle that rock and roll playing male hairdresser.

  16. BJ says:

    Although I should have known better, (spoken like a true woman explaining a bad hairstyle), I wanted my fine straight hair to have some nice waves that lasted longer than the time it took to clean up my curling iron & brushes. I convinced my Mother to braid it while wet. I’ve forgotten how many 1/2″ braids I had, but there were a LOT! I also misjudged how long it would take to “unweave” those braids the next morning. Running extremely late for work, we both worked as quickly as possible to free my hair. Ahhhhhh, done, now to go look in the mirror. Although Mother had fear in her eyes, I was still anticipating great things because it felt full! Oh it was full – Rosanne Rosannadanna full!! It stuck straight out from my head! No time to rewash, I had to get to work. The “bigwigs” were all gone to a dealer show & I was scheduled to head down later that evening. But alas, emergencies arose that required my immediate “on hand” expertise. They needed me in two hours, barely long enough to drive there, much less pack, and oh yea, wash out Rosanne! I got to the hotel & found most of them had gone to dinner so I had time to shower before seeing the majority of them. Never again have I braided it wet!

  17. Lorraine Helferich says:

    I had a perm, the one with the tiny rods, when I was 19yrs old. I had long blonde hair, hippie style. I told the hair dresser my hair processes FAST. Did she listen to me, NO. She in fast put me under one of those hooded hairdryers, perm rods still in place. As I sat there, reading a magazine…..plop, plop, plop, the top curlers right in the front fell out, hair still attached. I had nubs right above my forehead. I screamed, everyone came running, literally ripping the remaining rods out of my head. No apologies were accepted by me. I was in college and lucky for me everyone was wearing those red handkerchiefs to hold their long hair back. I don’t remember how long I wore one, but it was not cool. Guess you assume I never went back to that salon….even with the promise of free service forever.

  18. Mary W says:

    Honest – I laugh every time I see you as Barbara Bush. It made my day today since I also spilled my coffee. Your first picture made me laugh also but not the coffee spitting laugh. More like laughing but trying to hide it while this poor girl is looking at me – she is really sad. But since your asking about my bad hair days – I will tell you about my one good day – when I was sick and in bed and no one saw me. The rest is all bad. I cut my own short hair which is horrible but I don’t have to pay someone to cut it and still look bad. Enough said. I’m beginning to bald so bad hair days will be ending. Yea! Maybe instead of a wig, I’ll just paint some hair on. Cheaper.

  19. Sarah says:

    The day before my senior portraits (1988) I volunteered to be a hair model for a friends sister in cosmetology school. My hair cut was her final exam. She cut my hair, it was perfect, I loved it. Her instructor ran her hands through my layers and said, “do it again”. When she was done I had 3/4′ length all around. Kind of like Mama from “Mama’s Family”. It was the only time in my life I cried over my hair. In the closet. On the floor.

  20. Heather says:

    Thanks for starting my day with a laugh. Dee Snider indeed! I too got that awful perm. It was raining, a proper deluge, when I left the salon; I stood under a down spout, hoping if I soaked it quickly enough it might relax. No. Once home, I decided that Vaseline might loosen things up. I smeared it all over, really worked it in, and put on a shower cap. I slept in said shower cap, and when I got up in the morning I discovered we were out of shampoo. Regular soap didn’t do much to alleviate the situation, and since I had a test I couldn’t miss, I had to go to school with the greasiest of greasy hair. The nasty comments started the moment I set foot on the bus. The funny thing is, by acting cocky, I managed to convince everyone that it was intentional; I’d just used a little too much of a good thing. Pretty soon, lots of girls were applying a delicate film of Vaseline to their horrid perms to tame them. Including me! :D

  21. NinaMargo says:

    The day before my First Communion my mother decided I needed a Tonette perm! I went from bowl cut to frizzy stinky Shirley Temple-Bride of Frankenstein for the Big Day! All surviving photos show me with a crooked veil and a sour expression – uh, really, I wonder why?! Scarred for …Life…

  22. Jessie Heizer says:

    I was dating in my youth and during my year in hair school was convinced by my instructor to try and get my hair “paper white”. We bleached it 3 times and did indeed achieve “paper white”, but then my scalp fell off and my already short hair turned into gum on my head.

  23. Sandra Lea says:

    In second grade I had long, fine, straight hair. My mother decided that my sister and I should get pixie haircuts. I did not ask for this haircut and even at that young age knew that it wasn’t a good idea and boy was I right. This happened to be the day before school pictures. I cried and cried and didn’t want to go back to school let alone have my picture taken. To this very day 50 years later I get traumatized when I think back to that time or see a picture of it. Unfairly, the cut looked good on my sister.

    • Susan Claire says:

      Oh, the pixie cut! My mother decided that was the haircut for me-not my three sisters, just me. An understatement to say that it was the most unsuitable haircut I have ever had in my life. I wonder what I was being punished for!

    • Renee Ryz says:

      Same here the dreaded pixie cut in 2nd grade. Then for some ungodly reason I thought as a sophomore I would cut my hair short again of my own volition. I have never had shorter than shoulder length since. I cry just looking at the pictures.

  24. Eileen says:

    It was in the 70’s when I was just divorced so my budget included coloring my hair myself, straight blond, recoloring without the knowledge that you DON”T keep coloring the same hair, only the roots until the last five minutes. So there I am, a bleached blond and a new boyfriend suggests a perm and like an idiot I say ok. I look ridiculous, like a blond fluffed out cue tip, then the day that I color my hair, it came out in gobs in my hands when I went into the shower to rinse the hair color out. Lots of screaming and crying that day and for a long time after.

  25. Melissa says:

    My hair had always been long, and, I thought, straight. Fine, and yet very thick.
    After a major health incident, most of it fell out.
    Then I got the flu.
    Twice in a month.
    The second round, with a raging fever, I thought I was sitting on the bottom of the sea playing with the little pearl buttons on the back of a wet suit.
    You know, they button up the back.
    Anyway, my husband says I disappeared into the bathroom and came out some time later with no hair.
    Nobody said a word.

  26. Beckie says:

    I wanted to dye my hair black. Fir decades, literally. My 1st grade teach (in 1973) had bum length, jet black, straight glossy hair that I coveted my entire life. (I was dishwater blonde, mellowing to a light tawny brown as I got older and am now ash)

    When I was 30-something I thought: it’s my hair, I am an adult I am dying my hair black!!

    I HATED it…it did not suit me in the least

    I tried (unsuccessfully) to remove it

    it turned brassy and frizzed from being dried out to within an inch of what was left of its life

    I had to cut my then to my bum hair to chin length and had it colored a “normal” brunette

    lesson learned

  27. Denise says:

    80’s spiral perms….several, but I thought I looked great at the time. The alternative was my thin, poker-straight, stick-to-my-head hair – an even worse look back then.

    My 17 year-old daughter arrived home with a perm yesterday, lovingly applied by her beauty-school pal. The texture is similar to uncooked ramen noodles. She thinks it’s great. Because it was free.

    Ah, the folly of youth and inexperience.

  28. Stella says:

    So far
    In my lifetime..
    1. Young adult
    I had a coworker spiral perm me.
    I already have curly hair
    it was south Alabama USA
    in the summertime
    “Nuff said”
    2. Childhood
    … “the ever popular shag haircut”
    In grade 4.
    School photo document that
    I looked very much like the son my father never had.
    I remember wearing dresses for a while!
    3. College
    …”put it up something different please”
    The result was a real original paired with a voluminous 80s party dress think ruffles
    On my head
    A lopsided blonde bun like creation
    ..all my long hair hair combed over my head mounding and winding ponytail style above my left ear with curled tendrils and wisps escaping.
    I remember asking repeatedly
    “…. not sure should
    I take it down?”
    I was told repeatedly and I quote
    “No don’t take it down, your date is here
    It looks fine go on!”wrong answer!
    The date actually snickered as I appeared
    And gifted me an over large corsage to cap it all off
    Thankfully no photo phones in the early 80s
    However over 3 decades later at “girls weekend”
    1 photo of me that night always shows up to be passed around and we laugh and laugh

    • J says:

      Ohh the shag. The long shag was popular in 1994 and my friend got a shag and looked so cool and sophisticated (for a 5th grader haha) that I wanted one too. Instead, what I received was a boy’s 90’s bowl cut complete with shaved neck. I wanted to die. It was just terrible and took forever to grow out. The neighborhood mean girls called me boy names for months and I’ve never had the courage to get adventurous with my hair again.

  29. SuzNKton says:

    My worst hair disaster was what I did to my 4 month old daughter, the day before her photo appointment. She had a lot of hair and it wasn’t the baby hair like most babies. I decided to trim her bangs the way my mom had, with a piece of scotch tape and scissors. My daughter looked like one of the 3 stooges by the time I stopped. Had to take her to a hair dresser for intervention. Never cut her hair again.

  30. Jane Anderson says:

    OMG…”Barbara Bush on crack at a hoedown” 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

  31. Judith says:

    Karen, the Barbara Bush do , while amusing, is something you should never, I mean never, do again. I’m sure you agree.
    In the 80’s as a young mother I decided that my very straight blonde hair needed a few spiral perms. The last was apparently too soon for my very damaged hair. The stylist, and I use the term loosely, was very busy gabbing and smoking while on the phone. I was fairly certain that a timer should have wrung ages ago as the solution was burning my scalp and the fumes were making my eyes water. Finally she came running while saying
    “ whoopsie” and poured on the neutralizer.
    I’m a very even tempered person and forgave her. After all, talking and smoking were important to her. She had been running her “salon” out of her house. Things come up when you’re talking with friends. I think she also stopped to eat her lunch. A gal gets hungry. And forgetful.
    Long story short, as she removed the rods from my Very damaged hair, a few did not need to be unwound as they fell out with my hair still tightly wound on them. As I realized I was going to have bald patches I started to laugh. I laughed so hard that she looked at me as if I were crazy. Maybe I was but I kept up an inner mantra of “ its only hair. Hair grows”.
    As the last curler was removed she said” I guess I left your solution on too long but don’t worry, I’m not going to charge you”. I drove home laughing but when I walked in the door my husband took one look and said” first we need to buy you a baseball cap, then take you to a good hairdresser” . I ended up with the shortest, cutest haircut of my life and my sons all said I looked like a boy. I should have been more upset but I still laugh to myself when I think of it. Oh woman, thy name is vanity, said someone.

  32. Jen says:

    Also at 16 years old, I spiral permed my waist-length hair – my grandmother said, never mind, darling, I still think you’re beautiful.

  33. Erin Prohaska says:

    I too asked to look like Julia Roberts…I got Nelly Olson…except with long red tight spiral curls. I couldn’t brush it or I would turn into a Bozo/Carrot top hybrid. I still get night sweats about it.

  34. Susan says:

    Back in the late 70s, we were a young family with not much money for hair stylists. My friend and I heard that the Bay was doing free hair stylings as part of a Vidal Sassoon workshop so off we went. My hair was long at the time and had always been very straight so of course, they gave me a perm. When I arrived home, my youngest was in his high chair – he took one look at me and burst out laughing. That was the most honest opinion I had.

  35. Marna says:

    LOL! The Barbara Bush remark was so funny! I’ve been lucky, I have thick wavy hair but that doesn’t mean I always liked what I had. I wanted straight hair, it took growing it down to my knees to weigh it down, it did look cool but got caught in everything! My disaster was when I was about 11, think the Elvis period still, 1961. I only was allowed to get my hair cut at a
    “beauty parlor” so it was styled while wet, then I was on my own. The look I chose was the duck. So image the back end of a duck, really, the feathers meet and curve up. It was easy to do in my very short hair and being wavy it held however it was styled while wet. All was well for a couple of days until a repairman came, don’t remember what he was fixing, but he had the same hair style! I couldn’t run fast enough to change my hair, combed it out and waited for it to grow.

  36. Ann says:

    My daughter went away to college and did the usual experimenting with her hair. One week she called and said she had dyed it blue, but it hadn’t taken well, so she was going to do it again later. She called frantically, said she’d redone it in the shower….and that she’d gotten the color all over and looked like a f***ing Smurf! I’m laughing out loud still as I write this, and it was 22 years ago!

  37. KL says:

    This is actually a story about my daughter, then aged 11. Puberty is probably not the time to mess with your hair, inherent insecurities and hormones raging. She and her sister grabbed a box of level 3 (permanent!!) ‘Black Pearl’ hair dye from the drugstore: My daughter is a natural blonde. They dyed not only her hair but most of the kitchen and bathroom. As her hair style was a middle part and chin length, she was a pretty good likeness of Professor Snape. She did not care for the comparison and has, I believe, burned all the Christmas photos of herself that year (except for the ones I have hidden, hehe).
    We go to the nicest/chicest salon in town to have the dye removed. The stylist says he can’t get all the dye out, but can bleach parts, highlight those and make it look more intentional. The minute that bleach hit her hair, it turned into bright orange and black stripes. Through tears, she whimpered, “I look like a tiger.” I was hiding behind the salon Christmas tree in hysterics (In my defense, I had cleaned up all the residual dye in the house, and dealt with the angst, and hats…), but she added, “And I can see you laughing!” Major tears ensued. We finally ended up at a very competent salon nearby, where the owner himself supervised the dye removal and new dye process. She was restored to her natural beauty and hasn’t had the urge to dye her hair ebony again, almost 20 years later and counting. She still gets mad when the episode is brought up, and it is still hilarious to me.
    I would relate my horrible hair tale of woe, but alas, remain too traumatized and upset about it. Yes, a double standard. Yes, it involved a perm.

  38. Karen Anderson says:

    Oh, boy. In the 90’s (again), I had long, straight hair and I wanted spiral curls, so I made an appointment with a girl who was getting married the next day. I have had many perms and I kept looking at my watch because it shouldn’t have taken that long for the solution to curl my hair. I think she forgot about me because she was doing wedding things. An hour and a half later, she remembered that I was under the dryer. She put me in the sink to rinse it out and put on the neutralizer. After 15 minutes, she rinsed it out. By that time, I was running late and ran out with my hair still wet. Hoping to dry it a little bit, I rolled down the window to air dry my hair. When I got home, I looked like I had an afro. It was everywhere. All I could do was pull it up with a rubber band. Then, although it was corralled, I looked like I had a giant Brillo pad on top of my head. I was siting on the sofa when my husband got home. He looked at my head, walked into the bedroom to change his clothes, and then walked through the house to the garage. He reminded me of a shark circling because he kept walking back and forth without saying anything. He finally got up his courage and asked, “Is that what you wanted?”
    I called the beautician before she left the shop and explained what my hair looked like. She said she was sorry and thought she had left the perm on too long. Ya think? So, a week later she (the professional) gave me ANOTHER perm to counteract the first perm at no charge. That only fried it again and I had hemp hair. Another week at work with the Brillo pad on top of my head. On Saturday, I drove 100 miles to my old beautician and she just about died. She said I was lucky that my hair was so strong because anyone else would have been bald. She huddled with her fellow beauticians and they all agreed, it had to be cut off. So it was cut off at about 1″ in a pixie cut.
    While I was telling her my tale, I noticed the young woman in the next chair was hanging on my every word. When she was finished with her hair, she stood up, leaned over, gave me her card, and said she would take my case if I wanted to sue. I looked at the card; she was an attorney! I told her, “No. it’s only hair.” She said if I changed my mind, to call her. Then she bent down and picked up a swatch of my hair. She went out the door, shaking her head, and looking at my ruined hair.

    • Annette says:

      Your description of your husband’s reaction to your new hairstyle has made me laugh so hard. Especially the last line asking if that was what you wanted.

      • Brenda Donaldson Sarty says:

        I just had to read this out loud to my husband, and this was his favourite part, too. The “circling shark” was just too funny!

  39. I belly laughed at the head of swear words.
    I’m living my horrible hair moment as I type.
    Moving to the country and living the dream is amazing.
    Well water….not so much. It has completely changed my (hair) life and I’ve literally cried over it.

    • Barb says:

      Oh Mindy I feel your pain! I moved from having a water softener to a hard water area, and couldn’t figure out why my naturally curly hair was so frizzy. I got a new water softener, but in the meantime I discovered the vinegar rinse. Amazing! My hair was back! I still rinse with diluted white vinegar every wash. It dissolves whatever is deposited on your hair and makes it behave MUCH better. Good luck!

    • Karen says:

      Hair is 100% worth crying over, I don’t care what anyone says. ~ karen!

  40. Carly says:

    Decided I wanted to go blonder, and that a box bleach from CVS would be the best and most convenient way to do that. Not only needed to send the boyfriend back to the store for a second box halfway through, but in the end I had orange hair. Orange. It took many hundreds of dollars and multiple salon visits to get it back to a non-neon color. Still recovering from the damage to my locks and my pride over a year later…

  41. Tina says:

    Ah, I remember the 70s and 80s! I had a wonderful hairdresser who was a (male) Vietnam vet and had a lot of mental problems but was a genius at hair. Then I came in for my appointment and there was a new guy. He had finagled the shop owner into a rehab clinic for PTSD and took over his shop. I think it was dodgy and I still worry about the original owner.

    So anyway, the new guy did my hair and cut it and it was so horrible, I could never get it to do anything. Finally I was away on a business trip and went to the hairdresser at the hotel and cried. I asked her to re-perm it or shave my head. So she’s pawing at my hair and says the perm is fine but whomever cut my hair should have their license taken away. Within moments she’d shaped it and it looked so amazing! I went to her for YEARS after, flying in on business or finally moving there.

  42. Steph says:

    Oh yes, from normal straight blond to hennaed afro. I was in my 20s, mother refused to see me for about a month, communication was via notes in my letterbox. Perms are NEVER a good idea.

  43. Luanne says:

    Tina Turner. Weren’t we all trying to look like Tina Turner in the 80’s?

  44. Lesley says:

    Spiral perm also, and I had very long insanely thick hair. It looked great until the first time I washed it, and then never again. And there was that time I did a home dye job with henna, then spent the next afternoon having it stripped out by a professional. Good times!

  45. Susan Hollier says:

    I got one beautiful spiral perm that gave me beautiful ringlets for a few days then went frizzy. The rest were disasters (which since my hair was on the carroty side of the red spectrum made me look like a clown). Was always hopeful for those beautiful ringlets again. Now if I want curls for an occasion I use old-fashioned rags with new-fashioned hair gel.

    • Meg says:

      thanks! I just looked up rag curls! I wanted ringlet curls so badly after I saw Ridley Scott’s Legend. Obviously it was her hair which led Mia Sara to be able to pat a unicorn and have Tom Cruise try to win her heart….so obviously I needed curls at my prom. Spoiler alert: I didn’t manage to get these curls at my prom.

  46. Shauna says:

    In high school I used Sun-In for those beachy highlights! Remember Sun-In? It’s basically spray-on peroxide, and kind of works for blondes. But I’m a brunette, so it turned my hair a horrible brassy orange. I was worried about using more chemicals to dye it brunette again, so I thought a home henna kit would be the ticket. All-natural! The henna reacted with the peroxide from the Sun-In and turned my hair a deep broccoli green. I lived with it until it grew out. Fortunately I was wearing my hair in a boys cut at the time so I was only answering to the Jolly Green Giant nickname for six months. Traumatizing!

  47. Cyd in DC says:

    Why have you posted Charlize Theron’s picture here?



  48. judy says:

    You look like a cute mischievous imp looking for fun and mischief. How could you commit sacrilege against the most sophisticated haircut I have ever seen? By the Bye how are the chickies I miss them

  49. linda in Illinois says:

    My sister tried to give me blonde highlights and my hair turned an interesting shade of green.

  50. As a beauty expert, I should know better, but late 90s I gave myself a macro fringe (baby bangs to laypersons) . It does NOT suit round Danish frisbee faces….

    • Vanessa says:

      First I’d like to say thank you. This post was AH-MAH-ZING!
      So, my mother always wanted to be a beautician. And what better way to practice than inflict a perm on your daughter? I spent most of elementary school looking like little orphan Annie…minus the endearing red hue. Thank God she never tried to color my hair, I can only imagine what would have happened.
      But that is not what traumatized me, no, sadly I’m thinking of another hair-tastrophy. When i was 13 my Aunt was getting married. She had the lovely idea tp have as her bridesmaids her nieces. My painfully gorgeous 17 year old cousin and myself, a painfully awkward 13 yo. We were getting ready curlers were flying and perhaps due to all the perms my hair is rigidly straight. In a fit of frustration and longing for her missed beautician years, my mother grabbed a pair of scissors and cut my bangs. Once she let go they snapped into place about an inch above my eyebrows. If she had stuck a bowl on my head to cut my hair it could not have been worse. Did I mention this was at a WEDDING where I was a member of the wedding party. There are photos everywhere, at every member of my families’ homes, of my mangled bangs. Also, just to add insult to my injury I had just gotten braces.

      Years later my mom asked me to trim her bangs. They ended up an inch above her eyebrows. I swear I didn’t do it on purpose, but I may still be harboring some latent anger.

    • Barbara H. says:

      I have stick straight hair. Putting it up on rollers didn’t do much to make it curly. I noticed that smaller rollers gave it a little more curl, and that curl lasted a little longer. So, following that logic, I decided to roll my wet hair on those little plastic things usually reserved for giving permanent waves.

      The next morning, my hair was dry. I had great difficulty getting my shoulder length hair separated from those darn curlers! Then I couldn’t get either my comb or my hairbrush through the rat’s nest on my head! And I had to go to school! Yikes! Mama said, since I foolishly messed my own hair up, I had to desl with it–at school!

      So off I went… wearing a headscarf as camoflage. When I got to school, I immediately hid out in the girl’s rest room. I guess I thought a miracle would happen and I’d make more headway there thsn I had at home. Didn’t happen…

      As I hid out in there, trying to figure the best way to disappear, a lovely older girl came in. She immediately saw my problem.

      Now, she was a senior while I was a few years younger. She could have used me as the joke of the day. Instead, she gently offered to help me. She quickly realized that no amount of effort would get a comb through my mop. So she suggested we dampen my hair in the sink and then try again.

      OMG! It worked! Any other time I would have been too embarrassed to go to class with damp hair. But, concidering the alternative, I was more than happy to do it this time.

      Thank you B. B.! You will forever be my heroine!

      NOTE: This happened over 60 years ago and I still feel grateful to that girl! 😊

    • Karen says:

      Ooooo, lol. And bangs take so long to grow. Did you use the trick where you raise your eyebrows in an expression of surprise all day, in order to make your bangs look longer? ~ karen!

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