Real Simple readers reveal highlights and lowlights from their Beauty Hall of Shame.
The Red (Haired) Menace
I have naturally curly strawberry-blond hair, and for some strange reason I decided to get a perm and dye my hair bright red. The outcome was awful. Little did I know that my mother had told my brother about the fiasco. When he got home, he greeted me with a robust “Luuucee, I’m home!”
Golden Valley, Minnesota
It was the 1980s, the Mohawk was in, and my hairdresser had just returned from a hair show in New York City, overly inspired for our typical suburban Pennsylvania town. I asked him to try something new on my already short hair. The result? A haircut with shaved sides and back and little wisps of hair on top. I called my folks from the salon, warning them of the fright they would receive when I got home. As I walked into the living room, there my parents sat, with paper bags over their heads. Needless to say, they taught me to always laugh at myself―and that hair grows back. I would love to say that I never made another salon mistake, but after poodle perms and Madonna platinum blond, I’ve finally come to accept my fine brown hair just the way it is.
High school hair in the late 80s―on a daily basis. Bad perms, teased bangs, Sun In brassiness, AquaNet fog. Just flip through a 1986 yearbook for proof.
New York, New York
When I was six, I had a bow that kept falling out, so to fix it, I used my dad’s duct tape. It stayed put all right―my mom had to cut it out. I was nicknamed “Whiskers” due to the hair that stood straight up until it grew out months later.
My mother always told me that my widow’s peak was a symbol of Irish beauty, but I hated it and wanted a straight hairline. So when I was 14, I took the electric clippers we used on the dog and shaved off my widow’s peak, which resulted in a disastrous triangle of stubble on my forehead. Fifteen years later, my family still has a good laugh when we go through old albums revealing my “five o’clock shadow.”
Brooklyn, New York
I once told a new hairstylist, “Don’t worry. You can’t cut it too short.” More untrue words were never spoken. I love short hair, but you know you’ve gone too far when your husband says that he feels as if he should salute you.
To Dye For
I went for highlights, and my hair came out pink. I left the salon for a lunch date with my best friend and our husbands, thinking I would go back afterward to fix it. At the restaurant, my husband saw me and said, “You have My Little Pony hair.” My best friend told me I looked like “a Liddle Kiddle doll.” Her husband wisely said, “I’m not saying a word.”
Molly Collie Irvin
I once did three consecutive dye jobs trying to get the perfect color and got green hair instead. But my new boyfriend didn’t flinch. He was a keeper. I ended up with a new do, a new color―and a husband.
Ladera Ranch, California
I decided to go to a hair salon on my work break because I was having a bad hair day. The stylist put color on my hair but forgot about me. When she returned, the highlights were white. To “even things out,” she made me a blond as a temporary solution. Not only was I really late getting back to work but also the receptionist stopped me because she didn’t know who I was. Then she screamed. At that point, others came to the reception area to see their work associate who had gone to lunch a brunet and returned looking like Marilyn Monroe. I bought do-it-yourself hair coloring on my way home and dyed it brunet myself that night.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
The first time I got cosmetic injections, my eyebrows drooped down my forehead until I looked like a cave woman. Apparently the dermatologist had injected the wrong muscle group. My coworkers elected a spokesperson to tell me to never do it again. They called me “angry eyes.” I even had to have my company-ID photograph reshot. When I went back to the doctor, he told me I was going to have to wear sunglasses for a month, until the effects wore off.
My eyelash curler got misaligned somehow. Instead of curling my lashes, it chopped them off like a guillotine! The little stubs looked ridiculous for weeks as the lashes slowly grew back.
I was going out and my eyebrows were in desperate need of shaping. There wasn’t enough time to make an appointment, so I had to do them myself. I decided to try out a new waxing treatment, one that uses cloth strips. I didn’t count on the wax spreading when I applied the cloth and basically removed a vertical strip of hair at the center of my brow. Fortunately, I have a wonderful husband who always makes me feel beautiful, even when he can’t catch his breath from laughing.
My wedding was an extreme beauty disaster. My hairstylist and makeup artist liked to dress in drag, and he just assumed I would need all the makeup he did. My mother and sister watched in horror but couldn’t say a word; my three-year-old niece was inconsolable. Yes, my makeup job made me look like a character out of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video: gray lines for cheekbones, white powder all over my face, etc. So I washed my face and applied my own makeup before the ceremony.
Sally Kokernak Millwood
In the 1970s, I attended a play with a friend. The play was a tragedy, and I cried my eyes out with no hankie or tissue. Afterward, my friend and I went out for drinks and supper and had a good time. It was only later, when I arrived home, that I saw that my black mascara was streaked down my cheeks in watery smudges, like Pierrot. Apparently, it had been that way for hours. My mom was right: Always carry a hankie.
Brooklyn Park, Minnesota
Prior to a presentation at work, I had a dentist’s appointment. He had to do a filling, and my mouth was numbed. Rushing from the dentist’s office to work, I quickly applied lipstick in the car. When your mouth is anesthetized, you can’t feel where your lips end, so I wound up with lipstick smeared all around my mouth. Fortunately, I caught the mistake before delivering my presentation.
I was 16 and dangerously armed with a magnifying mirror and a pair of tweezers. The next thing I knew, I had tweezed my eyebrows almost into nonexistence. All I had left were inch-long pencil-thin brows and a look of perpetual surprise. I still remember my mother trying not to laugh when she saw the brow massacre.
Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey
When I was 17, I put cucumber slices on my eyelids to reduce puffiness. Apparently, I had an allergy to cucumbers, because my eyes swelled shut. Cold compresses got the swelling down a bit, but I still had to wear sunglasses to the rock concert I went to that night. My friends teased me endlessly.
Back in the 80s, I read about the benefits of putting raw egg in your hair as a conditioner. My best friend and I thought it would be even better if we let the egg get warm and really soak in. So we sat out in the summer sun, massaging the goo into our scalps. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what happened. We combed scrambled egg out of our hair for a week. Maybe we should have added hot sauce?
Catch a Wave
When I was eight, my mother decided to give me a home permanent. My hair was all rolled up when the news came on the television that President Kennedy had been assassinated. My mother was so swept up in the coverage that she completely forgot about my hair until my father came home that night and asked, “Why is Kim in curlers?” All the hair on my head broke off at the roots except for one hardy patch down the middle―making me the first person in town with a Mohawk.
Charlotte, North Carolina
I might have said my perm at age 13, but then I went ahead and did it again at age 25. That perm made me look like a 70s porn star. I’ve since learned my lesson.
As a curly-haired child, I resented the attention that my younger sister received during the Saturday-night ritual of getting her straight hair pin-rolled for church on Sunday. After I fussed for more than a month, my mother agreed to roll my curly hair but warned that afterward I would have to go to church, no matter how it came out. At a young age, I learned a lifelong lesson not to mess with what Mother Nature has given me. And, yes, I went to church looking like a disaster.
Gibsons, British Columbia
I showed up at my husband’s bosses’ barbecue with my bangs rolled up in one of those very large pink curlers. My husband thought I was making a fashion statement and decided not to say anything.
North Canton, Ohio
At 16, I wanted silky-smooth legs to go with my new bathing suit for a pool party. I applied leg wax, left it on for the prescribed time, and only then realized that I had skipped the step of powdering my legs before applying. My father attempted to chip me out with a pocketknife. I ended up at the party with red, raw legs that were still sporting patches of disgusting greenish wax. I’m just grateful that I didn’t do my bikini line.
My hair-removal experiment with a new, supposedly gentle gel product was definitely the most painful and ill-timed disaster. It was the night before my beach vacation, and my armpits blistered. To add insult to injury, no hair was removed. I drove to Cape Cod with ice packs under my hairy arms.
Being college poor, I ignored the fact that my curling iron was on its way out. On its final mission, it got so hot that it burned off my bangs. It was traumatic at the time, as I tried to figure out what to do with two-millimeter bangs, but 10 years later my best friend and I laugh so hard, we cry whenever we think of it.