Monday, March 12, 2007

HTT: Do I tell my friend that her head looks like an eggplant?

Dear HTT,

Several months ago, after complaining for years about not liking her hair, a friend of mine got a drastic new hair-do. She had many inches cut off and she colored it with a shade that sported odd undertones. Really, when the sun hit it at just the right angle, it gave off an eggplanty glow. She came to my house straight from the salon looking for affirmation and support. And I gave it to her. As much as I hated her new look, I just didn’t want to crush her when clearly she wasn’t feeling great about it herself. (She’s had a lot of real trouble of late and bad hair was the last thing she needed.) So, I might have gone overboard. Instead of saying something like, “Well, it’s not bad” or “The change is kind of overwhelming but I’m sure I’ll get used to it,” I practically raved.

So now after about four months, her hair has grown out some and the color has faded enough that she no longer has an aura around her head. But she’s making plans to go back to the same salon and ask for a repeat! What should I do? I really think the look wasn’t very flattering, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. And I feel a little responsible since I praised it so highly the first time. Am I going to hell for my big white lie? Should I fess up? Or is it possible she really likes the hair do, and does that mean I should just keep my mouth shut?

A hairy problem

Dear Hairy Problem,

First, I don’t really believe in hell, so no, I don’t think you’re headed there. But let me pretend, for a second, that I am worried about eternal damnation, and maybe I should be! Even then I can’t help but feel that the intention of your white lie---to keep from hurting your friend’s feelings---will get you off the hook and out of the handbasket.

But I doubt a theological discussion was really what you were after, so let’s move on to an issue about which I have much more authority: hair and all its related problems. I, myself, have suffered for years with a hair inferiority complex. Mine is big and unruly. It’s rarely professional and often looks as if I’ve just ended a 200-mile road trip taken at full speed with the windows down. It cannot be forced into any hip, kicky style. As often as not I pull my hair back into a ponytail, which is not exactly the height of fashion but which keeps its frizzy curls out of my way. My bathroom cabinet is, at this very moment, overflowing with potions, lotions, waxes, salves, serums, gels, mousses, sprays, putties, infusions, moisturizers, and balms that I’ve used in millions of combinations in an attempt to achieve good hair.

So I can empathize with your friend’s frustration over the hair status quo and I can see why went she for broke with a brand new do. I applaud her for trying something radical. And you for not hurting her feelings. You did what you thought was right in the moment. But now I think your chance to tell her you don’t like her hair has passed. After all, no matter how much she needed your encouragement at first, it sounds like she’s grown to like her hair style. Maybe she enjoys the attention that a purple aura attracts.

On the other hand, if she’s less decisive than I’m imagining, if she’s hemming and hawing, if she flat out asks you what you think, be gentle but honest. Apologize for misleading her last time. I think she’ll understand.

Good luck!

Sexing it up

Well, that might get someone's attention.

So, most of you know that I'm an editor and writer. And not just of this column, I mean. (Good thing I have an actual job, because HTT does not, as of yet, pay the bills.) Today, I was working on a short piece about a service my organization offers to researchers who study infectious diseases like TB, malaria, dengue fever, and others. This service essentially involves training scientists in developing countries how to conduct research according to various international standards. (Turns out international standards-setters are picky about the conduct of research.) We teach them things like biostatistics, good clinical practice, scientific writing, data management, and protocol development. I think this is interesting work. I've even participated in some of these trainings, and had the opportunity to travel as a result, so I'm all for it. All this is to say that I'm not minimizing the importance of this service.

However, when I turned in my draft, someone asked me to "sex it up" a little bit. it up. Right. Let me give you a picture of what this training actually looks like. It looks like a couple of people giving PowerPoint presentations while a bunch of others watch and take notes. It looks like people hunched over manuscripts for hours. At its sexiest, it looks like someone walking around a lab with a clipboard. Hot!

So, I'm not sure how to revise my piece based on this suggestion, but it did give me a chuckle anyway.