Real Simple readers share some not-so-pretty experiences.
After an Audrey Hepburn movie marathon, I decided it was high time I had short bangs. I also decided I didn’t need to go to a hairstylist. The result: half-inch bangs cut on a cowlick right before senior pictures. Not the glamorous look I had hoped for.
Kansas City, Missouri
Disaster occurred when I was old enough to operate a pair of scissors and clipped off one of my blond pigtails. My mom, who had been waiting for a baby girl for seven years, had to equal me out by clipping off the other side. Until my hair grew out, she had to live with everyone thinking I was her third son.
Katherine von Haunalter
Right after my college graduation, I found out that my boyfriend had been cheating on me. I was so upset by the news, I decided to cut my hair―on my own―right then and there, just so I could feel like I was in control of something. What a mistake. I ended up with uneven bangs, haphazard layers, and a big mess. I had to get it professionally fixed. After that, I vowed never to let a man ruin my hair again.
New York, New York
Twenty years ago, I went to an upscale hair salon for an appointment with a stylist who cut hair according to how it “felt.” Not how the hair felt to the touch, but how it felt it wanted to be cut. My hair came out choppy, very short, and parted on the wrong side. It has never “felt” that way again.
In the 1960s, I was in seventh grade. I decided one day that it was time for me to have bangs. After school, I headed into the bathroom. I stood in front of the mirror. In my left hand, scissors. In my right hand, my hair held firmly in place just above my eyebrows. I cut away―and then I let go. I watched in horror as my new bangs sprung up, landing about an inch above where I had cut them. Quick thinking produced a solution: I brought more hair down from the top of my head and cut a new, longer row. Once again I let go, only to watch the bangs end up shorter than I had planned. The third time was the charm. Another row cut. Finally, bangs the length I had wanted. I was thrilled and relieved, but only briefly. My older sister arrived home, accompanied by her boyfriend. They looked at me and burst into laughter. Long before I ever heard the word comb-over, I had created the ultimate comb-forward. My bangs started at the very back of the crown of my head.
When I was maybe seven years old, I decided to give myself a haircut. This was in the mid-1980s. My mother took me to the hairdresser to try to fix the horrible mess I had inflicted on my long blond hair. My school pictures that year tell it all: There I am in a turquoise green jogging outfit with monkeys on it; my hair, a spiky mullet―with a wonderful part down the middle.
Havelock, North Carolina
One summer I was bitten on my hairline by a horsefly. About 20 minutes later, my brother pointed out that I had a rather large welt on my forehead, so I put some cortisone cream on it. Later that afternoon, despite the cream, it had taken over half my forehead and was making its way toward my right eye. By evening, my eye had swollen shut, and it stayed that way for four miserable days. What’s more, after the swelling went down, I was left with a lovely black eye. Four years later, I still have what I consider to be a completely rational fear of horseflies.
Old makeup. I hadn’t cleaned out my makeup drawer for a while, and while putting on makeup one morning, I chose a lipstick in a pretty shade. It looked perfectly fine, but unfortunately looks can be deceiving. When I put it on, my lips turned bright red and felt hot, with a painful tingling. Let’s just say I clean out my makeup drawer regularly now.
At the age of 13, I wanted so badly to wear eye makeup, but my mother said no. So when I got to school, I used an ink pen to line my eyes. It was hideous and my friends spent the day laughing at me. I never tried that again.
To Dye For
My biggest beauty disaster happened last year. I am 42 years old and blond, but I decided I was going to lowlight my hair―something really different. Well, my hairstylist decided she wanted to go a little dark, and when all was said and done, I looked like a purple oak tree during the fall foliage. Now every time I drive by a maple tree in autumn, I think of my hair.
North Reading, Massachusetts
“Blonds have more fun,” they say. Well, not always. While in college, I went from brunette to blond overnight, thanks to a very bad hairdresser. To undo what she had done, I went to another hairdresser. The chemicals he used turned my blond to red. Yikes! Brunette, blone, then red, all in one weekend!
Weeks before I entered my freshman year of college, I decided that I needed to darken my hair. I used a black henna that had a peculiar reaction with my home-permed hair and turned it green. Not even a fresh grass green―it was as if my hair had grown a sheen of mold. Then I pulled a pen cap off with my teeth, chipping a perfect half-moon out of them and had to start college as the chip-toothed leprechaun.
My biggest blunder comes down to a simple mathematical equation: Gorgeous platinum bottle-blond bob plus swimming in the pool all day equals the swamp creature.
My sister was going to help me add blond highlights to my mousy brown hair. Thanks to a miscalculation on the timing of the bleach, I got brown roots with carrot-red ends. Suddenly mousy didn’t seem so bad.
Sherman Oaks, California
From A to Z
The entire decade between 1986 and 1996! It was the era of too-toos for me. Too-tall bangs, too-tight perms, too-heavy makeup. These days, since I have a three-year-old and a five-year-old, my only instruction to my hairdresser is “Don’t cut it too short for a ponytail.” My makeup most days consists of moisturizer and mascara.
Alisha Denton Loftin
High school. Four years of bad hair, braces, huge weight fluctuations, and acne. I can say that I survived it, though not unscathed. There are decisions that haunt me to this day, like smiling in any pictures during the metal-mouth years, allowing my mother to give me a home perm, and wearing jeans rolled up tight at the ankles. Luckily, my teeth have straightened out, my hair is much more flattering, and I have a better sense of personal style. I seem to have learned from those early disasters. There is hope for me yet.
As a tennis player in high school, I was always battling tan lines that cut my tan off at the ankles. I decided I wasn’t going to have shockingly white feet ruin my Spring Fling Dance. I bought a self-tanner and applied it to my feet, hoping to match the nice bronze of my legs. Impatient after the first application produced only a slight change, I slathered on a few more coats and hopped into bed. In the morning, I was horrified to see two neon orange feet peeking out from under the covers. To make matters worse, I hadn’t spread the tanner between my toes, so I had orange-and-white Creamsicle feet for a good two weeks. Needless to say, I never let a “tennis tan” bother me again.
My worst beauty disaster was picking up the wrong spray can. Below my bathroom vanity is a cabinet that holds various aerosol cans to maintain the cleanliness of my bathroom. The assortment includes my hair spray and one can whose unpleasant-smelling contents repels insects. Can you guess which spray I used minutes before my date arrived? Hint: My dog had fleas―not me.
Catch a Wave
I spent countless hours in the 80s trying to make my hair as big as possible. I got a tight, curly perm every eight weeks to make sure it wouldn’t ever look deflated. It added two inches to my height. I look back at pictures and think, Oh my! Don’t tell anyone, but I secretly miss my big hair. I am still holding out hope that it will make a comeback.
A permanent at 14. Already highly advanced in the awkward stage and severely self-conscious, I took one look at myself after arriving home and covered all the mirrors with paper. Later, when I went into the bathroom, my mom had removed all the papers except one, where she had written, “You’re beautiful.” Thanks, Mom!
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
One word: perm. When I came home from the salon, my baby cried and my husband called me Harpo for days. The salon warned me that I should steer clear of perms in the future. Twenty years later, I’ve never done it again.
When I was in the third grade, my mother gave me a home perm. I thought I was going to be the prettiest girl in my class, as if it would magically turn my long blond hair into lovely, bouncy golden waves, like the little girl pictured on the box. What I got was a yellow Afro. My bangs were like steel wool and about an inch long. The perm made me look like Little Orphan Annie.
St. Charles, Illinois
My biggest beauty disaster happened recently. I was standing up for my sister at her small wedding. The morning of the wedding, we went to a salon to get our nails and hair done. My sister’s hair looked great when the stylist was finished. My hair, however, was a disaster. We were so busy talking that I hadn’t paid attention. When the stylist was done, I looked like a cast member of Hairspray. Tracy Turnblad would have been so proud. My chin-length brown hair was big on top, slicked back on the sides, flipped up in back, and totally stiff with hair spray. I was horrified. I couldn’t even get a brush or a comb through it. We were going directly to the church to dress for the wedding, so redoing my hair was not an option. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. So I laughed. I rushed to a local store (embarrassed even to walk in) and bought bobby pins, barrettes, and headbands. I ended up wearing a black headband to tame the mile-high do.
Commerce Township, Michigan
Back in the early 80s, when perms were popular but good advice and products were not, my grandmother took me to a posh salon in New York City for a perm. I walked out looking like Rosanne Rosanna Danna from Saturday Night Live.
A crimping iron. Need I say more?
I wanted to have awesome high bangs and curls, like the girls on Beverly Hills, 90210. Well, Asian hair and a perm don’t quite mix. I looked like the love child of Howard Stern and Cher (circa 1989).
San Francisco, California
My biggest beauty disaster happened 37 years ago, on the morning of my wedding. A violent storm had shut off the electricity the evening before. I awoke to darkness, no water, and, even worse, no hair dryer or electric rollers. The wedding was at 10:30 a.m. When the electricity came back on, I dashed into the shower with a sigh of relief, washed and dried my hair, and quickly put in my electric rollers. Dressed in my beautiful gown, makeup done, I gently unwound the rollers, thrilled that my hair would be perfect for this special day. After primping until it was just right, I borrowed my sister’s hair spray from her bedroom. After spritzing like crazy to make sure my perfect do would not come undone, I realized that my sister had filled a leftover hair-spray bottle with water.
After a long day teaching school and coming home to three small children, I washed my face and soaked a cotton ball in what I thought was astringent. After wiping my face, I felt a slight tingling that turned to a scalding sensation. I had grabbed the nail-polish remover by mistake.
Adolescence in the 1980s. Electric blue green eyeliner and mascara. Not to mention using sparkly eye shadow on my lips.
When I didn’t love myself enough and didn’t feel beautiful on the inside. Now that’s a major beauty disaster.
Polly Mae Phillips
Santa Cruz, California
My biggest beauty disaster was listening to the people who made me feel ugly and insignificant when I was a teenager. Now I have accepted that I may not be the ideal image of a beautiful woman, but I love the way I look.
Heather Jo Wingate
My biggest beauty disaster was not realizing until I was well into my 20s that beauty is relative. If you are unique but try to conform to conventional beauty ideals, it’s not going to work. But once you find your own style―and there’s one for every body―you blossom.
Philadelphia, New York
When I was a sophomore in high school, I realized that I relied too much on makeup. I would not dare go out of the house without makeup; I felt ugly without it. When I realized how hooked I was, I decided to stop. It was tough at first, but I have since become confident in my natural beauty.
My biggest beauty disaster occurred continuously for about 10 years: I was ravaged with low self-esteem, a delusional body-image problem, and extreme self-consciousness. I chose clothing that was hideously oversize, hid behind an unflattering hairstyle, and, to top it off, faked an “I don’t care” attitude to cover it all up. Since college, I have gotten a handle on what I truly look like and how to flatter my figure (small boobs, long torso, mushy legs). I still have issues―who doesn’t?―but I know now that I am, as my mother always said, a very pretty girl.
Beauty is never a disaster.
Ages 8 through 28. Then I realized my inner beauty. How amazing when you discover that your personality by far overpowers a pimple.
Walk with confidence and you will always look beautiful. Beauty solution: Look away from the mirror, walk out the door, and enjoy the day.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado