Terri White


The story of me and my beehive

Terri White

Terri White’s weave was brash and brave – it protected her, it was armour. But then, one day, when life got even harder, she learnt to live without it

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By Terri White on

Even if I didn’t know when, or how, the end would come, I knew it would come. As it turned out, it wasn’t the time I toppled into bed with a guy for the first time in an age, panicked by how to wrestle it off without drawing attention (impossible). It wasn’t the time a woman on a steaming rooftop ploughed her fist inside, holding my humiliation aloft (infuriating). It wasn’t even the time the lacquered ends smoked over a naked flame, my nose filled with the smell of my Sindy next to Nana’s gas fire 25 years before (so very trying).

The end wasn’t a straight path carved by the flight of a dart – it was wonky and unexpected and very, very painful. But, wait; I’m getting ahead of myself. This is the story of how I finally ended things with my pal, my love, The Weave. But to understand that you need to know how, and probably more importantly why, we began.

And how, and why, is this: at first – as is so often the case – I didn’t need it. My hair was all my own, always had been. Specifically, it had always been thin and mousy and nothing brown. Beige, really. Until I found 1950s and 1960s music and poured it greedily into my ears. Then I fell in love with the aesthetic I saw goggle-eyed in Ronnie Spector, The Cramps, Kate Pierson and Bettie Page. There were the rocky early years with a bottle of bleach and tub of toner from Sally’s (how was I to know that your hair would fall out if you bleached your entire head every few weeks? People should really tell you this). By the time I reached 31, I’d begun taking tentative steps towards a beehive. Initially, it was just a case of gentle backcombing and pinning. Little did I know then that there is no such thing as gentle backcombing. Not if you’re doing it properly, mind.

As I emerged from a crappy relationship and left London for a terrifying new job in New York, the hair went up, went higher. The hours before I began my new gig on a celebrity magazine, I sat close-kneed in my apartment on the Lower East Side, the sun winking through the crack in the blinds. I teased and fixed my confidence into being, my nerves sprayed into submission from a forty-five degree angle. That was the first day I truly remember strapping on my armour, one strand at a time. Actually, I lie. There was the time my ex-love arrived at my "Hey, I’m leaving London!" party and I stood, hair-proud, as I pretended I didn’t care. But that was the work of an amateur. This was the real deal. Welcome to the pro league, baby.

New York was built on blows and bluster. I bumped off the hard edges as I tried to find my way, like a deer, bow-legged on the highway in the darkest hour of night. In a city that I respected, occasionally loved and frequently feared, my hair became my very closest ally. The ritual of pulling, ratting and smoothing offered consistent comfort each morning. It knew me; I knew it.

In the hours before I began my new gig on a celebrity magazine, I teased and fixed my confidence into being, my nerves sprayed into submission from a 45-degree angle

Terri with beehive

But it wasn’t purely my shield in a new place – it became my always armour. I missed a lost love; it was up. I got bollocked by my boss; it was up. I survived a disastrous date with a guy who sent OKCupid messages from the loo; it was up, up, up. In fact, it became my calling card: "Hey man, it’s the British girl with the hair!" It gave me an identity, of sorts. Really, though, this was sheathing for everyday shit. And it was barely bearing a scratch when the call came.

That day, coincidentally – and for only the second time in five years – I’d gone to work without The Weave. I’d been back in London for six months. My (own) hair was down, I was wearing a faux-fur hat. The Weave sat quietly on my bedside table. The phone rang as I was mid-conversation; I glanced down as the words flashed up: "Give me a call when you can. Mum has gone into intensive care with pneumonia."

It was from my brother, delivering the news to a daughter who hadn’t spoken to her mum for a decade, the real reason for the clink and clank of my always armour.

My response – so often fantasised about – was instinctual. After stark words from a doctor, I was on a train without my toothbrush, a change of clothes or The Weave.

I spent the next week flitting between ICU and my brother’s sofa as my mum fought an almost-fatal bout of double pneumonia. When I would visit the loo in the relative’s room of the hospital, I’d look at my reflection: red-eyed and unrecognisable. The hat was gone and my head seemed so small and so very exposed. By her bedside, one hour crept into another as the machines beep-beep-beeped a soundtrack to the silence. I lay my head on her starched blanket and scorching hand and was glad The Weave wasn’t scratching her skin or shedding stray hairs. I looked like a child; I felt like a child. Right now, I was just my mother’s daughter. Every shred of self-consciousness disappeared as I succumbed to the feeling that my skin had been peeled off and pegged on the line to dry. The wind blew hard.

I realised that there is no protection when you’re that close to the vortex. Nothing can protect from the damage of the crash and the slap – not even a gravity-defying ’do

Terri without her beehive

As I sat on the train for London a week later, my throat closed shop in protest at leaving, yet I felt a tug of excitement at being reunited with The Weave. It was the longest we’d been apart.

Upon returning home, I picked up my hair – which, if you’re wondering, was made of two foam pads from Ricky’s, three clip-in hair pieces, a folded beret and an ex-boyfriend’s sock – and started to pin it into place. I looked in the mirror. Something was off. Maybe it was the angle. I tried again. No. It wasn’t that. I pinned, twisted, rebuilt, combed again. Every time I placed it high and then even higher, I recognised myself less and less. I felt like… a fraud. I persevered, increasingly uncomfortable in somebody else’s hair.

Nine days later, without telling any of my friends, I booked an appointment at the hairdresser's. "Nice beehive!" chirped the girl who landed me. "It’s not really mine," I said, pulling off The Weave. "And I want mine cutting off." She looked alarmed: "Um, are you sure?" "I’m sure." And I was.

I loved my bob immediately, literally feeling the weight fall off my shoulders (and my head). The rest of my world had a slightly tougher time adjusting. "But it’s your brand!" somebody said. "It’s your thing. What’s your thing now?" asked another. "Me?" I suggested. I shan’t say the worst had happened – it hadn’t. I was lucky enough to make it out with a mum who miraculously came home six weeks later. A woman who, for the first time in a decade, is now saved in my phone as "Mum". But I’d come damn close. And realised that there is no protection when you’re that close to the vortex. Nothing can protect from the damage of the crash and the slap – not even a gravity-defying ’do.

Me and The New Hair are now a month in. Between us, we still feel a little vulnerable, our head still a little small. But we feel like us. We’d go so far as to say we think we’re going to be very happy together. Wish us luck, won’t you?


Terri White
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