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To Perm Or Not To Perm

By Amalah

Hi, Amy,

I had a baby a little over a year ago, and did the mom cut thing. I had long hair before I had her, and that long hair became thick(ish) and lush during my pregnancy. Then, after delivery, it fell out in clumps, which I understand is normal – pregnancy hormones make it beautious, and the loss of those hormones takes it back to reality, yada, yada, yada… Between the grief over the thinning hair and my infant daughter adding to the loss by pulling out handfuls, I went the mom cut route. However, she’s past that stage, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that I just don’t do bobs well. I want to grow my hair out again; however, it’s still so pathetically thin, fine, straight, dull and…. blah. I lived through the 80s and early 90s. I had the big hair. I went through a can of Rave a week, while spraying my head with a blowdryer pointed at it. I did the spiral perms. I don’t want to return. I was, however, considering a body perm? Is this a big no-no?? I don’t want New Jersey hair. I just want to have something other than long, stringy, straight, dull hair. I’ve never had a body perm. I don’t want to look like a poodle. Please advise on how to get the long, flowing, gorgeous hair of my dreams….

Thank you,
So Over the Asymmetrical Bob

I don’t quite remember when I last touched on the topic of perms, but I do remember coming down fairly strong on the “NO DON’T STOP NOOO” side of the argument — and getting promptly spanked in the comments by ton of people who had good experiences with them.

Okay, I found the link to it.

Eh, actually now that I read it…it’s about an even number of happy results and stereotypical perm disasters. (Me. In junior high. WITH PERMED BANGS. I was the biggest dork in the school and even *I* knew that wasn’t a good look and gave up on the perms after that.)

Have I learned anything more about perms and/or grown as a person since writing that column? No. I have not. SO THERE. And I still don’t think you should perm your hair. Or body wave it, or whatever. It’s a really risky proposition, since you never really know 1) if your stylist really knows what they’re doing, or 2) how your hair will handle the chemicals until it’s basically too late, and unlike bad hair color, there’s not much that can be done to correct a bad perm. Except re-perm it and damage it and then pray your hair grows really, really fast.

I have hair that sounds a lot like yours — WITH THE WRONG HAIRCUT. The only salon that ever tried to sell me on a body wave was a walk-in cut-n-cry that gave me the wrong haircut to begin with. The wrong kind of haircut for hair like ours? Blunt cuts, including bobs or anything that’s highly structured and angled and…yeah. The asymmetrical bob certainly falls into that category, and I should know, because I went and chopped off my long wedding hair after my honeymoon into that exact style and oh. My God. Was that a mistake.

I resigned myself to high-maintenance, flat hair and seriously hot-rollered it every day of my life, just to get it to do ANYTHING other than just…sit there, plastered to my skull and hanging around my face like underdone spaghetti. I knew better than to get the body wave at the walk-in salon, but did wonder if I went to a higher-end place if they’d do a good job.

So I went to a “better” salon (still nothing outrageou$, I just picked up a local “best of” magazine that did a reader survey on the best salons and called up the one closest to me). They laughed at the very idea of a body wave, complete with Steel Magnolias jokes and all, and the stylist cut my hair into a zillion and one layers — all at an angle, pointing the scissors directly AT my hair, not across the ends. The layers start just a few inches from my crown and go all the way down and all over and yet…if you look at the back of my head you don’t actually *SEE* any layers.

I’ve had versions of that cut ever since — longer, shorter, with bangs and without. But always, ALWAYS with lots of layers and no. blunt. edges. It’s not anything earth-shattering or revolutionary — it’s just a damn good cut for straight, fine hair that desperately needs volume but can’t hand excessive daily heat styling or product. (Damage and limpage, respectively.)

So. Anti-perm. (And for the sake of completeness, let me repeat a story from that earlier entry: my mom got a body perm from her long-time, nice salon and it completely fried her hair into straw without any of the desired volume or body.) Pro-growing-your-hair-out-and-finding-a-stylist-who-understands-your-hair. Who understands that “layers” don’t always equal “the Rachel.”

You can do it! Me and my fundamentally crappy hair that I just successfully camouflage (well, most days, anyway) believe in you!

(Commence commenter perm horror stories in three…two…one…)


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Catherine S

    March 20, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I am also staunchly anti-perm. Perm horror story involves the 80’s and my mom cutting my hair off short and then perming it all in the same day. I was the only white kid in the third grade with an afro. The following week, we had the family photo at Olan Mills so the event is thoroughly documented in its white trash gloriousness. AND my mom STILL has this photo up in her house. Now THAT is traumatizing.

  • Elizabeth

    March 20, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Can I throw out something weird and random? What about Rogaine? I keep reading in beauty magazines that in order to get back the thickness you had in highschool, or during pregnancy or whatever, you should use Men’s full strength Rogaine. I haven’t tried it myself, but it doesn’t sound too crazy in theory.

  • Sara

    March 20, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Re: Rogaine, from what I’m to understand you have to use rogaine pretty much forever to maintain the new growth and it may cause you to grow hair other places (like on your face). I only heard about it recently because my mother is going through menopausal hair loss and asked her dermatologist about it. I don’t have much experience with perms (except the elementary school variety) but feel compelled to mention that my colorist (a Goldwell International Educator) claims they have never once performed this service in the salon. I’ve gotta believe there’s a reason. Haircolor might boost your roots and provide some visual dimension.

  • Karen

    March 20, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    I hear you sister. I wish someone could come to my house every morning so my coiffe would look like Jennifer Aniston or Katie Holmes with their cute and high-maintenance do’s. I am also cursed with fine, straight, limp hair and have been trying to make it work with a single stylist for 5 years (like a bad boyfriend?). We are going to break up this summer when #1 arrives.
    Couple of suggestions: 1) Shop stylists until you find someone who gets your problem. My guy thinks I have an hour every morning to spend on my hair and that I’m actually capable of blowing out layers and he’s wrong, wrong, wrong. 2) Like Sara said, try color. If you can’t commit to permanent color, Clairol makes a great product called Nice and Easy that washes out over a month. It’s a rinse not a dye and works best if you match closely to your natural hair color. It gives my hair the body and shine it never knew was possible. Good luck, I feel your pain.

  • Jess

    March 20, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    No good can come of a perm. Never had one myself, but I have family that used to get body perms and friends that got the super 80’s tight curls. Ick. Very damaging for your hair and i haven’t seen it look modern…even in the 80’s.

  • Jess

    March 21, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Do not perm. Repeat. Do not perm. No good can come of this.

  • Laura

    March 21, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Amy – I live near-ish (I’m guessing) to you in Catonsville and am looking for a new stylist. Our hair types are similar, so would you mind telling me what salon and stylist you use?
    I’ve had so many horror stories of trying out new stylists, so I’d love to try one I know is trusted by someone who knows everything about all things beauty.
    Thank you!

  • Amy

    March 21, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    The greatest miracle of my life is that my husband knew me when I had The Middle School Perm (circa 1987) and loves me anyway.
    Amy @

  • Emily

    March 22, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    I have thick thick hair and I got a perm that I loved most days a couple years ago. The stylist pulled some of my hair through a dye cap (with the little holes) and just permed those bits. Sounds weird, but it worked. Otherwise I would have had huge 80’s hair.

  • AnEmily

    March 24, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Oh Catherine. I had White Girl Perm Afro in Third Grade Trauma too. Sigh. The worst part was that I hated it immediately and washed and combed it so it ended up being flat on top and stuck out like Bozo on the sides. Very Carrot Top. I wasn’t a terribly popular kid.

  • jen

    March 25, 2009 at 11:21 am

    funnily enough, I commented on the last “to perm or not to perm” entry and here I am again to report that… I got a perm and I kind of love it. the key is to go somewhere where they know what they are talking about and have done lots and lots of perms before (I got mine done in a salon in Korea). I’d ALWAYS had straight hair and wanted something different and I love the results! just one success story to throw into the mix. beware, however, that your hair will change and your maintenance will need to change too… so if you’re just thinking “oh I want change” without willing to work for it, that may not work.
    good luck!

  • Karen

    March 26, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Catherine: OMG! My mom did the same thing to me, but in fifth grade. I was going to France for three weeks that summer, and she claimed it would be easier to “care for” while I was Over There (she and my dad didn’t come with). It. Looked. Horrible. When I walked into school the next day, this kid named Eric who had the locker next to me took one look at me and and yelled, “Oh, my GOD, Karen got a ‘FRO!”
    So no perms. Ever. Here. After I had my second and third babies, I found that my hair had changed its texture and now has some natural wave/curl to it, so that helps. Before that, I had the pin-straight hair that never feathered, which bugged my mom.

  • Serena

    March 30, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Oh my god i thought it would be a great idea to have a perm, cause i have been growing my hair for 5 years and got it quite long from a short hairstyle, thought well its really limp i will have it permed, im now gutted cause its too thick, with no layers and my fringe past my eyes as im growing it out, went back to my stylist and asked for some layers to thin it out and define my fringe – and oh my god she cut into the length of the back and didnt touch the front, i didnt realise until my hair had dried, im now in tears, cant believe my stylist done this, and now im considering having it chopped off completely she is normally so good – so my advise to anyone is just use modern methods and curl it with a straighening device…..

  • Tiffany

    May 12, 2009 at 3:18 am

    Honey haven’t you heard perms are back in. Not just any perm the body wave which is different from what we were getting in the 80’s and 90’s. All those saying not 2 because of a perm they had when they were younger need to stop! Look up photos and you will see that a body wave that uses bigger rollers not rods looks natural and is for the people who have fine hair and want volume, try it..What can it hurt, you can always straighten your hair with a body wave perm. Those who are stuck in the 80’s and 90’s need not to comment.

  • alysia

    June 7, 2009 at 1:41 am