How my epic fail of a preteen makeover made me a star. Sort of.
When Jennifer Warren's Grade 6 haircut went horribly awry, it led to an even more disastrous theatrical debut
This story was first published in December 2018.
The night before my Grade 6 school photo was taken, I went to the Hairport.
Yes, you read that right. The Hairport.
The Hairport was a hair salon set up in an extra room of the house across the road.
On the sign for the Hairport there was an airplane taking off, as if to suggest that any haircut one might get there would be a nonstop flight to a better, more glamorous you.
At least, that's what I was hoping for: a whole new me.
Actually, it was more that I was hoping to get away from the whole new me that had developed, unbidden, in the last couple of years, when a combination of puberty and a really bad strep throat hit me like a Mack Truck.
And my hair, which had been the kind of fine blond hair you could tie back with ribbons my whole childhood — transformed into a dirty-blonde mass of wiry frizz.
Here's me before the change:
"It's that damn high fever you managed to catch," said our family doctor, Dr. Lynch, in his characteristic gruff way. "Changes the hair follicle."
When this new hair started to spontaneously reveal itself in Grade 4, I tried a mullet, crafted by a hairdresser in a nearby town. This cut was "the Rachel" of the mid-to-late '80s.
This is me the next year, after the frizz began to infiltrate.
In the months that followed, I tried to combat said frizz with another mullet-cut (logic), which amounted to a chunk of frizz in the back, a chunk of frizz at the front, and perilously short sides. And it was the night before my Grade 6 school photo.
I didn't want this look immortalized in my school picture. So, I walked across the road to the Hairport. I went in and told the hairdresser that I wanted my hair "all one length."
I should have given this instruction more thought, given that, as I just described, my hair was very short on the sides.
In my head, I think I pictured the kind of artful bob that you would see in Vidal Sassoon ads at the time.
Something that said, "I may be stuck in Utterson, Ontario now, but my hairstyle predicts that there are much bigger and better things in store for me."
So Hairport lady gets to cutting. And cutting. Then… buzzing.
The hairdresser was suddenly using electric clippers on the bottom half of my head.
Until the buzzing started, I had been busy imagining my brand new self walking into school the next morning in the blue satin blouse and faux pearl necklace from Zellers that I had already picked out.
At the buzzing, I panicked. I couldn't speak.
Ten minutes later, I walked out of Hairport... a whole new me.
This haircut has become a legend in my family.
The cut itself, and the entire year that followed as I willed it to grow out, is still referred to as "The Wedge."
"I suppose you could compare it to a wedge of cheese, really," explained my mum, Pat Warren.
Hairport lady had followed my instructions. She did cut it all one length, as I had requested. But all one length was... above my ears. Below my ears was buzzed off.
And it so happens that, in this very moment, in this all-time low point in my self-esteem and overall appearance, I was cast as the lead in the school play.
The show must go on
Every year, my Christian school did a year-end play called the "Spring Fling." In Grade 6, it was a musical called The Enchanted Journey, which is a modern-day retelling of the Pilgrim's Progress. In it, a hero named Christian (points for originality) has to suffer all kinds of trials before being granted access to heaven. Or something like that.
Anyway, it was decided that I should play Christian. And much like The Wedge, this musical and my role in it quickly became the stuff of legend in my family. Wait — make that infamy.
The Enchanted Journey made what could have been a hellish year into a bearable one.- Jennifer Warren
"Oh..." my mum said tellingly when I ask her if she remembered the Grade 6 Spring Fling. "Is that the one with the burden of sin?!"
Yes. Yes it was. Which takes me back to Christian's suffering of trials. The suffering part is embodied by a burden of sin, which was a literal burden I had to wear on my back for most of the play, until it was removed in a tearjerker ballad near the end.
The burden of sin posed some challenges from a wardrobe standpoint. Finally, a suitable prop was found — a bean bag chair from someone's rec room, ratcheted on with mountain-climbing straps.
Opening night of The Enchanted Journey was a smash success. My tearjerker ballad jerked actual tears from every eye in the Utterson Town Hall. But on the second night, there was a wardrobe malfunction of Biblical proportions.
The burden fell off. Onstage. When I was still technically... a sinner.
But in the end, despite the audience bursting into waves of laughter, despite the unmistakable feeling of a bean bag chair creeping downwards off my back, The Enchanted Journey made what could have been a hellish year into a bearable one.
Why? I think it taught me that, even though I would never be that pretty little blonde girl again, I had more to offer. The character of Christian was supposed to be a boy. Even though the pickings of boys who could sing were extremely slim in my Grade 6 year, I think I got the lead in the Spring Fling thanks to my short hair; I believe The Wedge led me to greater heights.
Literally. My bangs alone were at least an inch and a half high by the time Grade 7 rolled around.
To hear the full documentary, tap or click the Listen link at the top of this page.
Jennifer Warren is the senior producer of The Doc Project. She has complicated feelings about musicals.
This documentary was edited by Acey Rowe.