“You always keep it down! I can’t, I’m too hot.”
We just completed an end-of-Zumba-class ritual, which includes all of us pairing up and taking turns dancing our way though the room as others cheer and clap. Empowering? Perhaps. Humiliating? For sure. My hair, at this point, is a sweaty mop of frizzy, blonde curls. Everyone else in class has theirs in slick ponytails.
It’s not the first time my hair has gotten attention, although it isn’t always the positive kind. Naturally blonde (and highlighted with time) thanks to my dad, and super-thick and curly thanks to my mum’s epic Jewfro, my hair didn’t become an object of wonder to strangers until my family immigrated from Russian to Israel in 1991.
Back in Russia, before the advent of lice-killing shampoo, my parents opted to cut my hair short; combing potential pests out of my jungle of hair would have been a nightmare. Then, under the rule of school uniforms in first grade, my hair was put in tight, severe braids — all girls had to pull their hair back. When we moved, I was eight, and Israeli schools didn’t require uniforms or specific hairstyles for eight-year-olds. My hair was finally free. (Post continues after gallery.)
There was only one issue, however: being a Russian immigrant meant being showered with stereotypes, and my hair didn’t fit anywhere. Russian girls had slick, straight strands. Other Jewish girls had heavy, dark waves. I was a strange creature with a big blonde cloud around my head, promptly nicknamed ‘loofah’ by my new classmates. I was teased constantly.
During my mandatory service years, there was another Russian-Jewish girl in the department with ‘my hair.’ People would constantly confuse us from the back, calling out her name while I was walking up the stairs.
It was there, surrounded by green uniforms and sameness that I decided to let my hair fly high, so I could stand out and be myself — even if it meant being called ‘Svetlana’ from time-to-time. It would go on to become my signature, the first thing people notice about me and the way my friends would recognise me when I’d ride my bike around Tel Aviv.
And here I am again, a strange creature with three homes, having moved to my current location as the result of a relationship that started — you guessed it — with him noticing my curls. My now-husband and American friends seem to like the 'loofah.' It seems to me that Californians err on the side of flattery, rather than judgment, when faced with the unfamiliar and the atypical.
Thick hair is a nightmare to deal with — I must wet it every time I leave home (otherwise, my bangs stick out like horns), no one ever notices my elaborate haircuts, most trendy styles don't work for me, and my car is covered with it (when stuck in traffic jams, I like to play with the curliest bits). Still, I'd never have it any other way, neither straight, nor red, nor short.