The Ponytail Girls

Confession: I am not good at doing hair – my own, or other people’s.

TV and movies had me convinced that little kid hair should be beautiful; golden; glowing.  And when I was a little girl, mine was red, stick-straight, and fine.  The type of hair nobody could do anything with. As a result, my mother sort-of gave up, and cut it short.

And growing up in Southern California as a ginger-to-maybe-strawberry-blonde-in-a-sea-of-tow-heads, I never felt…right. By 5th Grade, I was addicted to Sun-In.  Maybe I am just Not A Redhead At Heart.


I have this theory that there is a cult of people out there who are really good at doing hair.  (You may know them as: Hairdressers.)  (Kidding.)  They were the girls who would come to elementary school with their hair in perfect ponytails; who would show up for ballet class with impeccably coiled buns.  Who, in high school, would arrive for first period looking as if they’d just come from a blow-dry.

Needless to say, I am not one of those girls.  I have spent the last few months wearing my hair tied back in an awkward, lumpy chignon because it’s summer in New York, and even though the weather has been almost unseasonably nice, I’ve been busy and can’t be bothered.  But even if I could be bothered, I’m not much good at it anyway.

I spent years of my young life envying The Ponytail Girls.  Wondering where they learned their tricks.  Trying to uncover their secrets.  Sometimes, I felt like they had the world at their fingertips, and I was always going to struggle to be pretty, or popular, or to fit in, because I couldn’t get my damn hair to lay flat.

Confession:  Sometimes, I still feel that way.

Don’t you?

Don’t you ever look around, and think: Holy crap. These people around me know something I don’t.  There is some secret to finding the right clothes, and being liked, and doing hair, and I was absent that day.  I missed some crucial piece of information, and not only can’t I put my hair up in a smooth ponytail, but I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!

Speaking of being absent that day: When I was a kid, we attended a Catholic church for a while, which meant I had to go to CCD.  This was around the time of First Communion, which was a critical stage in Catholic religious education and formation. It was also around the time that I came down with some deadly virus, and missed a bunch of school and CCD.

I was always a diligent student, and while I didn’t particularly like CCD, I also didn’t like feeling as if I didn’t know what I was doing.  I was able to catch up enough to make my First Communion.  However, I was absent on the day that they taught what you’re supposed to do at the point during a Mass when you make a bunch of tiny crosses down your face.

Imagine my horror when my first Sunday back, all the other kids in my class were making tiny face-crosses, and I was left standing like a fool. I was too embarassed to ask what the hell was going on, so I spent years just sort-of waving my hands over my face whenever I had to attend a Mass.

Fast forward to when I became engaged to my former spouse, and I had to go through the whole religious education thing AGAIN, because 1) the Catholic Church had no record of my previous “formation” and 2) I’d never achieved any of the other sacramental levels besides First Communion.

And of course, I again managed to get sick and was absent the day they taught the tiny crosses.

I felt stupid.  And I stumbled through a lot of events and innumerable masses because I had no idea what I was doing.

In reality, Catholics make those tiny crosses before the Gospel is read during a Mass to symbolise a desire to have the reading in their thoughts; to have it proclaimed from their lips; and to invite God into their hearts through the Word. I probably could’ve figured that out years ago via Google.

It is not a some kind of secret handshake happening there in the church.

And there is no secret to the magical ponytail, either.  Some people just have good hair; some people don’t; some people take the time to learn the tricks to do hair, and I never did.

I guess what I am saying is that I have spent a lot of my life feeling weird, and left out, and I blaming other people for it — like they had the answers and were keeping some secret from me. In reality, I was just as much to blame.  I could’ve asked about the crosses; I could’ve learned to do my own hair.

The other thing I now know is that yes, people talk; yes, people care about what others are doing.  But they probably aren’t noticing your flapping hands or messy ponytail.  We’re all just as clueless; we were all absent on some crucial day.

That said, I still won’t make the tiny crosses before the Gospel reading.


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  1. I’ve very fine and straight as a board hair too. I’ve been using the Wen products with huge success. I’m able to wear it many inches longer with the added body it gives me. Last week our granddaughter Brooke asked if she could brush my hair and tried to put a “pony” in it. She told me “it’s so small” referring to the amount. I know…I know!!

  2. I have incredibly thick hair and a lot of it. I’ve never been able to do much with it. Sadly. Some of my school pictures from high school. *shudder* And for some reason my parents thought it was a good idea to perm my hair. With as much hair as I have, that was a bad, bad idea. Bad.

    As I’ve gotten older, I don’t fight so much with it because I just don’t care. But I still look at those girls with their perfect hair and think, how in the world. *sigh*

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