It all started when I went to visit my older and significantly cooler cousin in the summer holidays.
“Shall I do your hair?” she whispered conspiratorially mid-way through a particularly uneventful family barbecue sometime in the early 2000s. I was 13 and deeply unsure of myself, as you might expect of someone that age. That year, the six-week holiday felt ripe with opportunity for reinvention. And I’d just been shown the very tool: a BaByliss Straight and Shine hair straightener.
I got the full VIP treatment upon arrival in my cousin’s bedroom. She hit play on her minidisc player filling the room with Robbie Williams’ distinctive vocals, released my scraped-back messy bun, and gently washed my hair over the bath across the hall from her room.
I longed for straight, sleek, silky hair. But teenage me thought I’d been dealt a losing card in the hair stakes. Instead of Rachel-from-Friends sleekness, Rachel-in-real-life had really thick, frizzy hair, with loose curls. I cannot overstate the thickness of my hair. Every new hairdresser would widen their eyes in trepidation and gulp. “You have so much hair,” they’d tell me. Don’t I bloody know it, I would think to myself. My classmates at school were, naturally, deeply complimentary. “Frizz!!!!” was one boy’s epithet of choice. During lessons, I would look enviously at the girls with dead straight, Jennifer Aniston-style haircuts and wonder what it felt like to have beautiful hair.
So, on this balmy evening in the early 2000s, my cousin handed me the BaByliss 2030 Straight and Shine Shot of Steam while she went to get some water (for the steam!). To me, it seemed like the most high-tech device my hair had ever come into contact with. This steam conditioning straightener had its own little water cartridge that needed filling up before you got started — which made you feel as if you were literally ironing your own hair. By today’s standards, it was a pretty hefty piece of equipment, complete with chunky white plastic claws (for want of a better description) with teal accents. When you clamped down on your hair, the plastic made a distinct crunching sound that let you know you were doing it right.
First, my cousin blowdried my hair until there wasn’t a pick of moisture left. “Never straighten your hair when it’s wet,” she warned me, before reeling off a speech about the damage I could do to my hair. She took the first tendril between the plates and pressed them together. The steam made a whooshing sound that made it sound like something was really happening up there. It took my cousin the best part of two hours to straighten every last length of hair on my head. By the end of it, I felt so hot I needed a cold shower — but that would defeat the purpose, of course.
I needed this straightener. My entire secondary school reputation depended on it.
When my cousin handed me a mirror, I hardly recognised the sleek, chic goddess before me. The boys in my tutor group won’t even know what’s hit them, I told myself
I went downstairs and showed my mum, dad, aunt, uncle, brother, and cousins — it was that momentous an occasion. Hair flicks and twirls most certainly did occur. For the first time in my whole life, I felt like I had nice hair. In short, I needed this straightener. My entire secondary school reputation depended on it.
“Muuuuummm, please can you get me the BaByliss Straight and Shine? Please please please,” I begged of her.
“Put it on your Christmas list,” she replied. Still shocked that I didn’t get a flat-out no, my straightener arrived on the morning of Dec. 25 and I felt like I’d won the lottery. My ticket to transformation had arrived. This was a huge moment for me and my hair. I was about to become unrecognisable to my own family very soon.
On my first day back from the holiday break, I woke up an hour earlier to give myself enough time before school to straighten every hair on my head. It took a hell of a lot longer than I remembered, even with the extra time I’d given myself. “You’d better hurry up or you’ll miss the bus,” my dad informed me. “I can’t go to school with kinks in the back of my hair, dad!” The bus was indeed missed that morning and my dad ended up driving me to school.
I bounded into my tutor room just in time for morning registration and sat down silently next to my friends, waiting nervously for someone to acknowledge my metamorphosis. To my chagrin, not a single word was said about my hair. Does it not look good? I mused silently. Now I was worried. Maybe this was all one enormous, time-consuming mistake.
First up on the timetable was PE, my least favourite lesson. “Oh my god I love your hair,” my friend Vicki yelled over to me as the class queued outside the PE building. “Did you get the BaByliss straighteners?” she asked. I nodded enthusiastically. “Me too!” she said proudly. Let’s be clear, these straighteners weren’t just the key to flattened hair, they were a status symbol.
In class, one of the Mean Girls (also known as “the Trendies”) of my year came over to me. “Everyone thinks you’re wearing a wig,” she said, wincing. “Your hair is soooo thick.” Before walking away, she added, “Also you should stop touching the front bits or they’ll go really greasy.” Cool cool cool. The reaction at school was nothing like Mia’s hair unveiling scene in The Princess Diaries. As a teen in the 2000s, watching films like Miss Congeniality made me think my entire school would fall at my feet if I changed every detail about my hair, face, body, clothing, and personality.
This simple gadget set me off on a journey…
I now had empirical evidence that my hair wasn’t the problem. I could change my hair and it still wouldn’t make the Trendies like me. Obviously I’d be lying if I told you I realised that lesson right there and then while standing in my gym kit with fabulous hair. As I carried on straightening my hair regularly over the next few months, I marveled at how much I actually liked my hair. I’d gone from plaiting it, or scraping it back into a severe bun, to feeling like I no longer needed to hide my hair.
By the start of my twenties, I realised that having thick hair with volume was actually a gift — one that I’d been turning my nose up at for many years. I discovered the wonders of hair oils and serums and consciously uncoupled from my relationship with frizz. Since those days, I’ve had hair highs and lows. There was the time I tried to give myself blonde highlights at home and I had to go to school with orange streaks. There was the time at university I tried to curl my tresses using a considerably speedier GHD straightener and accidentally burnt off a chunk of hair.
Don’t get me wrong, BaByliss Straight and Shine straighteners released in the 2000s were far from perfect — the company still makes straighteners with less must-add-water compartments today. If you had thick hair, curly hair, wavy hair, or just hair that wasn’t pretty much straight anyway, they took an eternity to use. But in the early 2000s, this unsophisticated gadget set me off on a journey that eventually led towards me loving my hair. And for that, I am thankful.
Feeling seriously nostalgic for the 2000s now? Check out more on this strange decade.