Conditioner, by L

…or, How to approach the wild conditioner in its natural habitat

The Backstory:

So, I am not your typical young woman. By that I mean that things women use every day, I was either never exposed to, deemed unnecessary/risky/expensive. Mostly this falls in the category of cosmetics, but, for example, it took me a couple of years more than my peers to use specific facewash rather than regular soap or just water and a washcloth. Likewise with conditioner.

“Wait,” you say. “Shouldn’t you have been using that since you were little? Didn’t your mom tell you… what about 2-in-1s?” Nay, more sensible reader. My path through the world of toiletries has been non-linear and filled with trepidation and reluctance.

The Experiment:

As with most new things, I begin by ‘scouting’. This usually involves weeks, even months depending on the thing in question, of casual research, in-habitat examination and debate. In the case of the conditioner, this involved slyly glancing over the various species in the five seconds it took me to find my shampoo, and, most importantly, put aside my prejudice. The first round of inner dialogue goes something like this:

“Well, they must have all these types of conditioner for a reason – it’s popular, meaning people must find it useful or desirable in some way. You could try -”

“No, don’t need it. Unnecessary. Been blessed with wonderful hair, never needed it before, why start now.”

“Couldn’t hurt, surely?”

“Why buy two bottles if you only need one?”

“What about a 2-in-1? They apparently exist.”

[Another glance over the seemingly impossibly-large wall in front of me. I clutch the shopping cart in fear of being sucked in.]

“There doesn’t seem to be any here. Oh well! Nevermind.”

Discussion over, I leave it for another day. But this first round has got me thinking about it. This is dangerous, because I suddenly realize – as seems to happen more and more lately – that the way I was raised in one area may not be average. I am struck with a faint uneasiness that it is weird to not have domesticated one of the conditioners, and have it happily greet me every evening alongside its companion shampoo.

I do have some defense against this: growing up, we did not have conditioner in the house. For the longest time it was just my mother and I, and between us, we had a lot of hair – down to our hips, thick, and lots of it. Can you imagine how much conditioner we would have gone through in a week? And considering we struggled to make ends meet, it was an easy thing to scratch off the list – we told ourselves (and were told) that our hair was beautiful anyway, and so never thought twice. We also cut each other’s hair, meaning no trips to the salon and their exotic tamed species of conditioner.

I only ever encountered conditioner a couple of times when staying at my father and stepmother’s, where she insisted I use some of hers. By this time I had developed my intense dislike of oiliness (thus prompting the need for facecare), and what most people experience as conditioner’s miracle, I experienced as an absolute horror. I’m pretty certain I shampooed again to get the feeling of the conditioner out.

Recalling the above was something that put me off even more, but I tried to coax myself round to the idea. The scouting continued. The next bout of inner dialogue went something like this:

“Okay, this one looks approachable enough. Oh wait, what’s this? Why is there another type? Oh, and there’s another brand over here – why does it have five types? For different…wait, there’s different HAIR types?”

At this point, not only was I having to overcome an inhibition towards conditioner, but I had discovered the notion of hair types. Although this was a useful discovery because it allowed me, age fifteen, to demand a different kind of shampoo to my mother, it did nothing to further my venture into the realm of conditioner. It is also worth mentioning that my mother and I simply did not talk about these things, so I was not in a position to ask “WTF?”.

Now we fast forward eight years. By this point, I have experienced conditioner twice at a salon, which doesn’t make my skin crawl because I don’t have the oily feeling on my hands, and I can successfully ignore. I am also in a financial position to bring in extra species of toiletry and not have to worry too much. Crucially, however, there is also the added presence and opinion of a boyfriend, C.

There has only been one previous occasion that I can remember that my hair has looked drab, which was when I was suffering malnutrition a year or so ago after my BA. However, C’s involvement in my life had made me more conscious of taking care of myself – something I’m still notoriously bad at – and I noticed the hair was looking less than great. The thought of conditioner rises again. It even becomes a topic of conversation between us. I go through all the above reasons why not to, even though I am old enough by now to realize that I probably should. But in the end it turns out I have to be blackmailed into taking care of myself: C whispers a sweet nothing in my ear that amounts to the formula: Already Sexy Hair + Conditioner = Even Sexier Hair.

I am not vain. But yes, I will admit, that does give me the extra push to go back to the Land of Conditioners.

WalMart. The shopping cart already contains every possible other item I can retrieve, leaving encountering the conditioner to the last possible moment. I have to pass by the aisle a couple of times to make sure it’s devoid of other shoppers, because I don’t want to look like an idiot. (I say I am not vain, but I am unfortunately somewhat proud.)

I slowly approach down the aisle so as not to startle them. There are about a hundred types to choose from, and I try to be sensible, having already established certain criteria to limit the time I stare helplessly at the wall in front of me. (There is an elderly Caucasian lady examining the Ethnic Hair Care section quite intensely, but I’m fairly certain for this reason we will not bother each other.) I know my – and I must start thinking of it in terms of ‘my’ rather than ‘this’ – conditioner will not be extortionately expensive, but also not a value brand – if I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it right. I will try to get my hair type right – maybe something to volumize my hair a little. I will try to have it smell relatively nice. I will try for it to be as organic as possible.

I end up with a large purple bottle of ‘Tousle Me Softly’ by Herbal Essences, supposedly smelling of violets and pomegranates. Around six bucks, and in theory it should last a while now my hair’s shorter and I figure I’ll introduce myself slowly by only using every other day or twice a week.

Come shower time that evening – and the evening shower is a very sacred thing to me – I have this bottle of Tousle smiling beatifically at me from beside my shampoo. “Come on, it’s all right, trust me,” it seems to say.

“I trust you, Tousle. Where have you been all my life?”

“It’s okay. But I should let you know – since we’re going to be knowing each other for a long time here on out – that you should probably stop talking to and naming inanimate objects.”

Lessons Learnt:

  • Sort your hair first when showering, then wash the rest of you to. Don’t forget to wash out the conditioner and no it is not necessary to repeat.
  • Just because your parents didn’t have something around, doesn’t mean you cannot or that it is normal not to.
  • Name only significant inanimate objects.
  • The elderly may be choose whatever hair care they please.

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