Let me set you straight about frizz

Before you fork out for a perm, heed Monique Roffey's warning about the pitfalls of dreadlocks and hairballs

So frizzy hair is in again, huh? According to which fashion editors, one wonders. Ones with spaghetti for hair, that's for sure.

I have frizzy hair and it sucks. On a good day I look like a member of Aswad. On a bad day I look like a coconut. In fact, I'm not sure if I ever have a planned good hair day. Sometimes, when the chemicals in my conditioner mix with the chemicals in the atmosphere, something happens and the frizz softens to a curl. But this is always an accident. I can never get my frizzy hair to do anything I want. It's got a mind of its own.

Living with it means dreadlocks after four days if it hasn't been combed. And then wiry tundra hairballs rolling around the flat when I do comb it. It means slimey great chains of hair that clog up the bath plughole. And long threads of blonde frizz stuck to every jumper I own. Because we frizzles don't just shed hair like normal people. We moult. Flatmates constantly complain about finding long frizzy tendrils clinging to kitchen taps or wound round ketchup bottles - or running through the butter dish.And as for boyfriends running their hands through it, forget it. They're likely to lose a finger trying. For objects tend to become snared in my frizz. It's not an uncommon sight to see me wondering round with my reading glasses, a coupl e of biros, theodd teaspoon and a leaf stuck to my head. For the frizz is firm. But these are just the regular pitfalls of living with frizzy hair as an adult.

As a child my hair was a hateful and embarrassing beauty problem. While all the other girls in class could wear plaits, pony tails and a variety of pretty slides, kirby grips and Alice bands, I was stuck with two choices: pompoms or an afro. Neither of which a six-year-old can carry off. In fact, I remember trying to squeeze my afro behind an Alice band and adopt a kind of double-bubble look. That was nice.

Yet to this day, once a week someone still comes up to me and says, "Is that natural? ... Ooh, people pay a fortune for what you've got." And this is actually true. People pay a lot of money for fake frizz. It's called a perm, and it had its heyday in the Seventies. And now, like all bad fashion fads of the era, it's back.

In the Seventies, perms (short for permanents - didn't that sound suspicious?) involved neat hydrogen peroxide being mixed with some other kind of acid that you just poured on your head. You simply burnt your hair to make it look frizzy. You frazzled it to achieve the frizz. The art was in the size of the rollers you used. Teeny ones meant a tight afro. Big curlers usually meant the perm wouldn't work; people would always talk about their perm "falling out". Occasionally, women would get just the right size and end up with hair similar to mine (ie clumpy, tangled, unmanageable curls), and be really pleased. But, mostly the perm was a short-lived beauty disaster.

This didn't stop women from wanting frizz. They moved from chemicals to actual torture equipment.

There was a clamp-on device that waffled your hair into a crinkle-cut frizz. This was especially popular with the long-haired Legs and Co dancers on Top of the Pops. Then there were crimping tongs and curling tongs, which you heated up and wrapped round strands of hair to make it curl. In the Eighties came Molton Brown and various copycat brands of spongey toggles you could also wrap hair in and fry. Then came root perms (just making the roots frizzy?) and today we have come full circle, right bac k to the basic perm again. The perm is back, or so we're told. Frizzles have been spotted on catwalks and the hippest cocktail parties across town.

But victims beware. Before you jump on the bandwagon, don't be fooled by salon babes and their spiel about the supposed leaps in chemical technology. About how different a permanent is today compared to the Seventies. While they may have jojoba and aloe vera in them, my bet is that the old HP (hydrogen peroxide) sauce is still the main ingredient.

Whatever's used, it's unpredictable to try to recreate or imitate unpredictability. Too many women find this out too late. Any recent permees reading this take heed. If you hate the way your perm makes odd shapes or sticks out at strange angles, if it didn't quite come out as you'd planned, you've got what you've paid for. Frizzy hair.

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