I’m afraid of going bald. If you’ve seen my hair, you’re laughing. It doesn’t seem to be an immediate risk. I think I’d feel just as naked without hair as without pants, though. I dyed my hair recently, which fried my hair. And it’s coming out more than usual lately.
“Thank you; it comes out of a bottle,” I always say when someone comments on my hair color.
“Really? It looks so natural,” they always reply.
Except Sara. Sara is diligent, vigilant even, to remind me that my hair is, best-case scenario, the color church coffee becomes when you pour powdered creamer in it, underneath the copper pigment. Sara keeps me honest. Though, I also wonder: where’s the charm in being honest?
If you have ever seen the 50s sitcom I Love Lucy, you might remember that one of the running gags, in addition to Lucy’s ill-shaped plans to break into show business through the connections of her Cuban night-club singer husband, is that she insists that her dyed red hair is natural. The real comedy is that the show is in black-and-white; a potentially visual joke is conveyed entirely through audio. It’s funny almost by sheer will power, just spoken into being.
But the show is hysterical. Lucille Ball, who plays Lucy, was a master of timing, facial expressions (her “oops” face, complete with big eyes framed in long lashes and perfect 1950s lipstick scrunched into a scowl, is a classic), and props manipulation. She crafts a dynamite mix of “I’m laughing because it is not happening to me” human error and vaudeville slapstick.
Under sufficient influence of hair dye fumes and overthinking, I Love Lucy has a melancholy too. Sort of “retro-gothic,” perhaps? Or maybe black-and-white television is just a little spooky.
Lucy and her husband, Desi Arnez, a married couple, act out the ultimate, iconic 1950s “ideal” of married bliss in a chic New York apartment. A live studio audience cheers. It’s so iconically perfect, and it’s also ordinarily sad. Sometimes I think you can tell in the later episodes that Lucy and Desi’s marriage is spiraling toward divorce as we watch them chain-smoke themselves to death. Phillip Morris sponsored the show.
Have you ever noticed how intimate sitcoms are? What I mean is that we are usually looking at the character’s couch, which means we, the audience, are probably looking into the room from the characters’ TV screen. So we occupy the same role in their lives as they do in ours. We love to watch life. There’s a strange connection between the real and the “fake” in sitcoms.
In I Love Lucy, It’s the closeness of the ideal and the sad reality that gets me. The show is so grounded in their real life, and they did it for so long that the irony is intimate. There’s also the eerie immediacy of a live studio audience directly outside the light of the fictional living room and privy to so many of the details of the actors’ “real” lives. (I don’t watch reality shows. If I did, the bald lack of privacy might shock me less).
It’s a sitcom. It’s all varnish, as fake as Lucy’s copper curls. As fake as mine. But I don’t know that it’s fair to worship authenticity as we do. For one thing, what do we mean by it?
I’ve been telling people I was “meant to be a redhead.” Am I finally being authentic? Because this feels right to me. I finally have a valid reason to have a quick temper, dance Irish jigs, and shamelessly walk about without a soul.
But why does anyone else care? Why are they disappointed when I say it isn’t natural?
I analyzed my skin tone and experimented with the dyeing process. That’s a skill. I choose Copper Blonde #7.
The control is important to me. It’s important to my friends. I use a bottle that has “100% gray-coverage” written on the side. Yes, I’m using a product marketed to conformists sucked into the worship of eternal youth. But I don’t think I’m conforming. I’m self-expressive. I’m still young enough that it’s about adding, not covering. But I still want it to look natural and I tell strangers all the time that I dye it. What makes it my real hair color? People recognize it. It looks real. Regardless, I made it this way.
So let me set the record straight, this is my “real” hair color. I picked it.
Like I picked my retro-ish wardrobe and my identity as “the funny friend.” (Well I am trying painfully hard anyway.) I’ve made my life Lucy-ish, put it on like dye. But who’s to say it isn’t me because it is also something else? Honestly, I wonder if she liked the fake life better, if she kinda lived there, in her head. I would have. And I would have liked to ask her what she thought of playing at perfection for a living. Maybe that is as rubbish as a brutal commitment to “authenticity.”
I am less interested in what people are and more interested in what they want to be. What if we suspended disbelief with people? Weren’t constantly digging for some “authentic” part of them, terrified of being lied to, but accepted what they give us as “real”? I have a friend who often says her love life is a “sitcom.” What she means is she has a narrative and a meaning she would like me to see in her life. That is a choice, that is interesting.
Bald “truth,” facts without narrative, without will, much like my beige-ish hair color are not.
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.