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The next phase of my visit, the actual perm, was much less pleasant. The stylist doused my head in some noxious solution. My nose started to itch and burn, and I felt as though I was engaged in some form of chemical warfare.

Several hours later, when it was over, I felt both excited and apprehensive about my new wavy--well, maybe curly--hair. I weaved as I walked to my mom's car, dizzy and sick from all the hairspray I'd inhaled. When I got home, my brother told me I looked like Robert Plant. I went to the bathroom and washed my hair six times.

During my late teens, I boycotted perms and chose a new shampoo. Flex seemed a logical choice, since the name connoted the calculated exercise of power and because, by then, I was less concerned about oil control and more concerned with building volume. It was the mid-eighties, the fitness craze was in full swing and I worked out every day afer school. I wanted the pumped-up mane and taut, lithe body of a teen goddess.

In college, I became less interested in flexing my hair muscle than in exercising my sublime intellect. My modus operandi became THE MYSTERIOUS WOMAN. So I switched to Finesse--sophisticated, subtly scented, with a nice, periwinkle bottle. With Finesse I could be alluring, even riveting and in control, but in a classy, understated way. Mystery women indulged and pampered themselves, or so I was led to believe, so I took long, luxurious showers, massaging the glorious soapy liquid into my complicated hair, which was styled in an Egyptian bob and dyed jet black, a la Louise Brooks. I wore hats and sunglasses to preserve my perfectly pale complexion. I worked out in the library, and never sweated. My figure became a little more, shall we say, voluptuous, after freshman year. I discovered jasmine-scented body shampoo to compensate.