Party Hair

2 Apr

The correct way for an Indian woman to wear her hair. Image of Jhumpa Lahiri from

In Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story, “Hell-Heaven,” an Indian daughter describes how her mother insisted she have “party hair” when attending a social event. Party hair consisted of pulling a piece of hair from each side to the back of the head and fastening each with a clip. Her mother disapproved of American women who wore their hair loose.

I have never seen my mother wear her hair without pulling it back. Not even in childhood pictures. Though she wore her hair long, in a braid or bun, in pictures from her early married years, she’s worn her hair the same way as far back as I can remember.

She pulls back the top layer and uses a barrette to fasten her thick, shoulder-length hair in the center of her head.  She has a large collection of barrettes in a white plastic basket on her bathroom counter. Fancy clips with fake gems she wears with saris to parties, plain colored ones for everyday. She picks up new ones every trip to India.

I didn’t make the connection that she personally dislikes hair worn loose until a few days ago when I pointed it out to her. She was telling a story about a co-worker’s hair and wrinkled her nose in disgust when describing its “sloppy” appearance. After thoughtfully listening to my explanation, she agreed she’s always preferred clipped back hair.

My mom says pulling your hair back is a part of presenting yourself as well-groomed. Leaving your hair loose is like leaving the house without makeup, something else my mom never does.

I’ve always worn my hair short. I haven’t worn my hair up in a bun since eighth grade when a boy asked me why my hair looked so weird. I only wear a ponytail when I work out. Though I always wear a skin matching shade of foundation, I have to be prodded to wear anything more than Chapstick.

One more difference to separate us. I can’t imagine styling my daughter’s hair (if I ever have a daughter) the way my mom styled mine. Party hair is another “tradition” that will end with me.

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