Thursday, January 27, 2000

Bad hair day leaps across gender barrier

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Perhaps in the excitement of the Procter & Gamble stock ups and downs when CEO Durk Jager flirted with drug-company acquisitions, you missed the bigger news, which might affect your job, your self-esteem, possibly your love life.

        Procter & Gamble announced this week that “bad hair days are real.” And, furthermore, this is not a tragedy that befalls only women.

        There have been rumblings before.

        Remember Samson? A bad — a very bad — hair day.

Hair Force One
        My own generation wore bad hair as a badge and celebrated it in a musical play. We used our shaggy locks instead of body piercing and tattoos to signal to our parents that we would take their money but not their advice.

        Then we grew up, cut our hair and started working on our stock portfolios. We elected a guy our age as president, and one of Bill Clinton's first official acts was to tie up the runway of a busy airport while he got a $200 haircut aboard Air Force One. See what I mean?


        In 1994, a survey by Yankelovich Partners reported that 90 percent of women suffer from bad hair days. (The other 10 percent are models, television anchors and the Other Woman.)

        Most regular women can cite a day when the earth spun out of control beginning with our hairdo. I still break into a cold sweat recalling a seriously overmoussed television appearance. My mother has a video clip of me looking just like Little Richard.

        Yankelovich found that 71 percent of women having a bad hair day feel self-conscious, 65 percent grouchy or irritable, and 27 percent feel depressed. Trust me, 100 percent of women already knew this.

        But it was Cincinnati's soap giant that commissioned a study proving men have feelings, too. (I am guessing 100 percent of men already suspect this.) Marianne LaFrance, the Yale professor who conducted the study for P&G, apparently “discovered” that when we look good we feel good. Her credits also include a study about men who hog airplane armrests and assistance in the launch of Pepperidge Farm's “Smiley” goldfish crackers.

        “Research shows that unexpected smiles are contagious, and what is caught is a good feeling,” Dr. La- France said.

Anguish of leaky containers
        Researchers in the P&G study questioned mostly Yale students, 60 men and 60 women, ages 17 to 30. The control group was not asked to think about anything negative. A second group was questioned about bad hair episodes in their lives.

        And a third group was encouraged to think about something that would throw them into a negative tailspin. They were asked to think about bad product packaging, like leaky containers. Not global warming or world hunger. Just a little tailspin, a bad hair day kind of tailspin.

        Leaky containers.

        Anyway, then all three groups were given tests to monitor their self-esteem and self-judgment. The people who thought about their bad hair days got lower scores than either other group.

        “You might even say that the study suggests getting and keeping the style you want has positive psychological effects beyond feeling good about your hair,” says Jane Wildman, general manager for Physique, P&G's new hair-care line.

        You might.

        Especially if you are selling hair-care products.

        “Interestingly,” Dr. LaFrance says in a prepared statement, “both women and men are negatively affected by the phenomenon of bad hair days.”

        Men. Yikes? This is serious. Maybe shampoo and haircuts will be deductable, an unreimbursed business expense. And since our self-esteem affects our mental health, maybe we can get our HMO to chip in for our mousse.

        Or maybe we can just learn to smile.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at or call 768-8393. She appears regularly on WVXU radio, National Public Radio's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.