I was born in… well, we can gloss over that. Let’s just say that my childhood was spent in an era of extremes. War and calls for peace dominated the headlines, crooners shared the charts with pop groups, hemlines varied between revelation and medieval and most married women… and God help you if you weren’t… still stayed at home to raise their children.
My mother had already broken that mould by working full-time when I was small. She had grown from a pretty young woman to look like Susan Hayward and dressed like Marilyn Monroe. She had fixed ideas on fashion and it was into this environment that my first stirrings of femininity would flutter.
I was blonde when I was very young, with pale wild waves that were rigorously moulded into an acceptable shape with rollers, curling irons and a back-comb, then glued into submission with lacquer. When I was about seven, the pale golden glory began to darken to a nondescript mousey brown. My mother, whose own enhanced hair colour cycled through several shades of auburn, objected to this and began the application of a vile peroxide product known as ‘Light and Bright’. Not, she would assure me, a hair dye. More of a colour corrector.
Although it was certainly unintentional and even though I was not conscious of it at the time, it was one of those ‘not good enough’ moments that undermine a child’s self-confidence. You begin to believe that who you are must be changed to conform to the ideas of others. All children spend at least part of their childhood wearing clothes others deem appropriate and it is one of the first areas touched by rebellion.
At eleven, all pretensions to sartorial freedom ended with the imposition of the cherry red uniform of the grammar school. The obligation to conform for nine hours a day (including travelling time) was mitigated only by the extremes of the decade that allowed you to wear pretty much anything the rest of the time. There just wasn’t much time left after school and homework.
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