Fringe Benefits

The last time I tried to grow my bangs out, I was in middle school. The feat proved nearly impossible – a combination of a low forehead, a widow’s peak, and thick hair I inherited from my mother’s side of the family made it so that my tresses would always fall into my face, obstructing my field of vision and causing me to bang my shins on many a coffee table. Now in adulthood, my best friend will often say to me, “I’m sure your styling techniques have improved at some point in the past decade, so why don’t you try growing out your bangs again?” I tell her that I just can’t be bothered, that I have better things to worry about than my hairstyle. This is a lie. In truth, my bangs have been something of a trademark – my gift, my curse, my raison d’être. I do not tell her this because then she’ll think I’m cuckoo, and I depend on her to let me know about all the cool parties.
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Braids: A Tale of Love and Hate

In my earliest memory of having my hair braided, I am maybe four or five, sitting in the living room in a tiny pink kiddie chair. I am getting ready for a Ukrainian dance performance, two very tight French braids being the necessary hairstyle for that sort of thing. My mom kneels behind me, getting organized, and although she hasn’t touched me yet her methodical movements send a shiver of uneasy anticipation up my neck. She picks up a spray bottle full of water and wets my hair, and then draws the tail of a comb slowly and carefully down the centre of my scalp, parting my hair in half. Her long fingernails separate first the teeniest, tiniest hairs at my temples. A chill runs down my spine as I feel the first tug of what I know will be a long, torturous series of hair pulls. I am terrified. My lip quivers. Braiding time inevitably becomes crying time.

I hated braids first because, being little and a wimp, they hurt my head. But dancing required that I endure the torture of French braids often enough that eventually I learned to keep my loathing to myself. Later still, I had to learn to braid my own hair, which was another kind of tragedy entirely because, when you’re 10, French braiding your own hair is hard. Your arms get tired and your braids get lumpy in funny places and nothing ever looks as smooth and neat as it did when your mom was doing it for you. Braids went from frightening to frustrating, and I didn’t much like either.

Even when braiding my own hair got easier, I didn’t ever do it unless dancing required it. The idea of wearing them for fun, because they looked nice, did not occur to me – I had no love for them at all.

Then, one evening about four years ago, I came across the 1949 version of Little Women on television. Throughout the movie, Meg (played by Janet Leigh), wears half of her hair in a thick braid wrapped around her head like a headband. The rest of her hair hangs in loose curls at her shoulders. To me it looked so elegant, and so unlike the tight-enough-to-give-you-a-facelift French braids I have always known and mostly hated. Braids could be pretty. The next day I fought with my hair until I had a Meg March hairstyle of my own.

I’ve loved braids ever since. Meg March, it turns out, was just the first in a long line of characters that wearing braids allowed me to pretend to be. Braiding my hair has become my own secret game of dress-up, allowing me to feel like someone else when I am otherwise bored with regular old me. I can be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. I can be Heidi, or one of Pride and Prejudice’s Bennet sisters, or any number of romantic and princess-like characters from centuries past. I’m not sure what it is about braids that make them feel so transformative. It might be that their first job in my life was as part of a performance, or that they seem to pull so strongly from history, appearing over and over again in different ways from century to century.

It’s true that in the past few years, braids of all styles have become very popular, and maybe even trendy – but I am okay with that. To me they seem timeless, and are so versatile that it is hard for me to find them boring. Maybe they are especially “in style” lately, but I don’t know if they’ve ever really been out – and either way, despite our troubled past, we have managed to become very good friends.

-Hailey Siracky


When my editor said she was sending me on an adventure, I have to admit, my first reaction was not excitement. I don’t know whether it was the way she emphatically punctuated her sentence with an exclamation point, or the fact that she met me outside the office, but my mind raced with all the possible situations for which “adventure” would simply be a euphemism.

Of course, like almost every situation in my life, my anxieties were for naught (honestly though, I really should get a prescription for some downers…). I ended up spending an afternoon at a tiny silkscreening studio in Parkdale being a pesky photographer and spectator. Jacob (the awesome artist who worked with us from Punchclock Printing Collective) and I exchanged a few casual niceties, and after a short time we both just did our own thing — he working quickly before the paint dried and me snapping pictures before the project was finished.

“I listen to weird music when I work,” he said without looking at me, focusing on the pink and blue pigments he was mixing. “I hope you don’t mind.”

To me it sounded like a mixture of screeching children and metal crashing, but I was not one to protest.

“No no, it’s cool. No worries,” I assured him.

The reason for my visit was to make sure that everything with our new tee-shirts went smoothly — er, have we mentioned tee-shirts yet? Designed by illustrator Chris Davenport, the tee-shirts are decidedly hard to describe — depicting a font that looks almost like human hair. They’ll be available for sale soon on our Etsy shop and at upcoming events like our Halloween Dance of the Living Dead. Also, and here’s the important part, they look great with a pair of jeans. And really, if I was a gambling woman, I’d be willing to bet that they could also double as sails should you ever find yourself stranded on the sea in an inflatable kayak you won at a work Christmas party. Just sayin’…

The other fun part of this adventure that I really wanted to share is when my editor casually mentioned that she would need me to choose the final colour. In preparation we had a discussion about purple — hues, shades, finishes, connotations even. I can say with confidence that Serah-Marie and I could now co-author Everything You Wanted To Know About Purple But Were Too Afraid To Ask. Eventually, I set off with the perfect shade of muted mauve in mind and the determination not to screw things up.

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Book Review: One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair

Allan Peterkin’s One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair filled my arsenal of oddball facts and trivia to bursting. I now know that there exists an actual organization called the Beard Liberation Front (an interest group that campaigns against beard discrimination), that somewhere in this world lives an enigmatic contraption called a moustache bra, and that Peter the Great of Russia made it impossible for men to wear beards unless they paid 100 rubles per year for a beard license. Truly. A beard license.

One Thousand Beards
was born out of what Peterkin describes as “one of those perverse moments of inspiration.” Devoted to the who, what, when, where, and why of facial hair, it contains chapters that progress from the early history of the beard to the beard in the 20th century, with sections on everything from shaving to psychoanalysis in between. It offers something for every reader, and although the book aims to be part cultural history and part psychological investigation, it is neither at the expense of fun or entertainment.

In his introduction, Peterkin claims that while writing his book he had hoped to uncover, “the unconscious reasons we wear beards” and the statements we make with the facial hair we choose (women included – Peterkin writes an entire chapter on the feminine beard that, for me, was one of the highlights of the book). The book does address these and other tough questions about why we wear facial hair, but provides few answers. Instead, One Thousand Beards is saturated with facts, statistics and stories, giving readers the information and freedom to draw their own conclusions. While I wish there had been more space devoted to the author’s own ideas and opinions, the volume of information provided and the pace at which it’s presented tells me that any answer to these questions would require an entirely different kind of book.
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