“For the last time, young lady, you get your ass down these stairs. I’m not driving you to school again!” Amber’s mother called up the stairs, exasperated.
Finally, Amber emerged from the bathroom and made her way to the bottom of the stairs. If she was lucky, she might actually make the bus that was about to pull up in front of their house.
“You know, this is school, Amber. Not some photoshoot.” Her mother regarded the lovely young woman, her golden blonde hair perfectly coiffed, and her makeup impeccable. Sometimes. She had a hard time remembering that this was her daughter. She watched as the errant teen climbed aboard the bus, just making it to the base of the drive before it pulled away.
“I don’t know what on earth I’m supposed to do about this, Miriam.” Janice Porter exclaimed to her best friend, who had called just a few moments later. “It’s getting out of hand. I thought I was bad when I was a teenager, but Amber literally takes an hour to get ready to go anywhere.”
“Yep, I know all about it. Laura is the same way. I swear they were cut from the same cloth.” Miriam complained.
“I can’t wait for this school year to be finished. Maybe then she’ll calm down a little.” Janice hoped.
“Don’t count on it. Last year, Laura was even worse in the summer. If Amber has caught this vanity bug, then count on long lines for the bathroom in the morning.”
“Well, there is always my bathroom, but it’s not fair that the boys have to use the master while their sister hogs theirs,” Janice complained. “Have you heard about this Vanity Camp?” Janice asked.
“I’ve heard of it, but Laura has threatened me with bodily harm if I even entertained sending her to one of those,” Miriam warned.
“Really? Then maybe it’s time we both put our foot down. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got to nip this thing in the bud, before it really gets out of hand; not that it isn’t already.”
“You’re not actually thinking about sending Amber to one of these places. I hear they’re pretty harsh. I mean one story I heard, the girl came home with a military haircut, for crying out loud.”
“Maybe that’s what she needs. Maybe it’s what they both need, Mir.” Janice suggested.
“Well, I’m in if you are,” Miriam said, tentatively.
“I’ll call and find out the particulars. Call you tomorrow?” Janice ended.
“Alright then, bye.”
No sooner had her phone clicked off, than Janice was pulling up the website of the local camp she had read about. “Camp DeVan” Janice read aloud as she pressed the link on the website, placing the call.
“Camp DeVan, this is Natalie, how can I help?” An older woman answered.
“Hi. My name is Janice Porter, and I have a problem.” Janice began explaining her daughter, and the insane amount of time she spent on her looks, her hair, and her clothes. It was a lengthy explanation, and Janice had to stop herself when she realized that she was rambling.
“Well, Ms. Porter, it sounds like your daughter is a perfect candidate for our intensive de-vanitization program. It just so happens that we still have two openings, and I’d be only too happy to enroll…Amber was it?”
“Yes, that’s right. Listen, I have a friend whose daughter is going through the exact same thing. Do you think I could sign them both up together?” Janice asked, hopefully.
“Normally, we discourage friends from being signed up for the same group, because…”
“Actually, they don’t get along at all. Her mother and I are friends, but those two fell out years ago, and have never made up.” Janice lamented.
“Well, that’s a completely different story. Yes, we’d be more than happy to sign them both up. The camp begins July 1st, and they will be completely preregistered. All you have to do is drop them off, and pick them up two weeks later.”
“That sounds almost too good to be true.” Janice gushed. Two weeks without the constant whining about clothes and makeup.
“You understand that there is some paperwork to be signed. This program is the strictest we run, and there are some things we insist on that aren’t so rigorously enforced during the milder camps. This is hard-core de-vanitization, Ms. Porter. The details will be spelled out in the email I will send you and your friend.
Janice wondered if she was doing the right thing. It wasn’t that she wanted to deny Amber of her looks, but the primping just had to be curtailed. Of course, the phone rang almost as soon as she had read through the email.
“What do you think?” Janice asked, knowing full well why Miriam was calling.
“It sure seems extreme, Jan. I mean, I don’t want some little soldier walking back through my door in two weeks. I love my daughter.” Miriam fretted.
“And that is exactly why we need to do this, Mir. Just sign the damned thing and send it back. I already did.” Janice admitted.
“Fine.” Miriam relented. “But, I am dreading the phone calls I’m undoubtedly going to get from her, once she realizes where she is.”
“You didn’t read the fine print. They can’t call home, they can’t call their friends, absolutely no social media or phone.” Janice relayed. “The next contact from the outside world will be when we pick them up in two weeks.”
“I don’t know, jeez.”
“Do it, Mir, or Amber will be going through this alone.” Janice insisted.
“Fine, okay. I sent it.”
“Lookin’ good, Amber,” I mumbled under my breath as I put the finishing touches on my hair. “Last day of school, and you are going to be glorious.” My mother was screaming from the bottom of the stairs, like she always did. I knew that if I missed the bus, she’d just drive me to school. I have to admit to missing it on purpose a few times, just because it was windy out. “Wind should be illegal,” I muttered as I made my way down the stairs.
“Hurry.” My mother handed me my lunch as I made my way out the door, just as the school bus was pulling up in front. I glared at her, grabbing the thing from her hands. She was such a loser.
Of course, I was perfect for my first few classes, but then I managed to catch my hair in my locker door, and had to make an emergency run to the restroom. “Disaster averted.” I sighed, as I brought the errant strands under control. I was late for my next class, but who really cared. At least I looked good.
My end-of-school excitement was cut short, to say the least, when my mother announced that I would be going to summer camp for two weeks. I argued until I was blue in the face, to no avail. She was determined to ruin my summer. All the plans I had for the mall and the beach seemed to evaporate in one fell swoop. Granted, it was only two weeks, but it was right at the beginning of July, when all the great stuff was planned.
My boyfriend, whom I had kept a secret from my mother was royally pissed. I was certain that by the time I returned from wherever my omnipotent mother was sending me, Brad would be enjoying someone else’s company, and I would be left high and dry for the rest of the summer. “This is so shitty.”
A week and a half later, I was poised to leave on this ridiculous trip to some remote camp up in the hills. I had no idea where I was going, and my mother was being very tight-lipped about the whole thing. All she had told me was pack as if I was going on a camping trip. Well, seeing as I’d never actually been on a camping trip, I just packed the usual. One suitcase for my clothes, and one for all my products and makeup. Hey, a girl’s got to look good, no matter what the circumstances, right?
I lost track of where we were going when I dozed off in the back seat of my mother’s SUV. It didn’t seem like we had gone all that far, but as I had no idea how long I’d been out, it could have been a lot farther away than I imagined.
The place looked like almost any summer camp I’d seen in the movies, with cabins and lodges all set picturesquely on the shore of a large lake. How bad could this be? Well, my first clue was that all I saw were girls. Not a member of the opposite sex to be found anywhere. Had my mother really sent me off to an all-girls camp? “Son of a bitch”, I mumbled under my breath.
“What was that, Amber?” My mother asked. Unlike most mothers, mine not only had eyes in the back of her head, she had ears as well.
“Nothing, mother.” I slowly dragged myself out of the back seat and onto the sandy parking lot, where I was forced to unload my own luggage. My mother watched from the air-conditioned comfort of the car. Before I knew what had happened, she had driven away, leaving me standing there. “How the hell am I going to get these to wherever they are supposed to go?” I asked, out loud.
“I imagine, you’ll carry them. There’s no porter service here, Miss Porter. Get it, hah, I kill myself.”
I turned around to see a rather sporty-looking woman that was probably in her mid-twenties walking towards me. “Very good.” I sneered, viciously.
“Amber Porter? My name is Georgia Fitch, but you can just call me Miss Fitch, without the B.” Again, the woman laughed at her own joke, jeez.
“Can you at least help me?” I asked, pleading with the woman.
“Everybody pulls their own weight around here, young lady. Now, I expect you to have your bags at that inspection station in two minutes.” The woman pointed to a large set of tables that were well over a hundred yards away. “You’re lucky you’re so early, Amber. At least you won’t have to wrestle with the crowds.” This woman was getting on my nerves.
So, I set about dragging my suitcases across the parking lot, under the not so helpful coaching of Ms. Fitch. I hauled them onto the tables and opened them at her instruction. “There. Satisfied?” I blurted, my temper getting the better of me.
“Well, this must be a new record. An entire suitcase devoted to your vanity.” The woman spat, pawing through my expensive hair and skincare products like they were so much trash. “Unbelievable.” To my absolute horror, she dumped the entire suitcase into a large plastic bin and dragged it to what looked like a scale. With some effort, she lifted the bin onto the scale and shook her head. “Definitely a record. Thirty-five pounds worth of vanity-inducing crap!”
I didn’t see the significance of weighing my stuff, but apparently, she did. “So. I like to look good.” I complained.
“Trust me, you don’t need all this… stuff, to look good. Now haul the other bag up to your cabin. Yours is the one with the owl sculpture out front.” I watched as she dragged my precious stuff over to a dumpster and emptied it.
“My mother’s gonna kill you when she has to replace all that,” I said.
“Amber, my dear. Your mother sent you here because of all that.” Ms. Fitch said, pointing at the dumpster. “You are in the intensive de-vanitization program, Miss Porter, at your mother’s request.”
“What? What do you mean, De-vanitization?”
“Your vanity, Amber; it simply has to go.” And with that, she disappeared towards another unsuspecting young girl who had been deposited only feet away from where I had been.
“Well, this isn’t good,” I said out loud as I closed and then dragged my clothing suitcase off the table and towards the owl’s head, which stood obscenely in front of a large and quite rustic cabin. “Yep, this is gonna suck.” I finally said, as I opened the door to find three rows of bunk beds.
“Did they toss all your stuff too?” A voice asked from behind the last row of beds.
“Who’s that?” I asked, walking over to find who I thought was an old acquaintance of mine. “Laura?” My mother continued to be friends with her mom long after our friendship had ended. It was inconvenient but hadn’t been a problem until now. “I suppose your mom talked mine into sending me here?” I accused.
“Hardly. I’m pretty sure it was the other way around.” Laura sniped.
“Yeah, well, whatever. To answer your question, yes. An entire suitcase full of the most expensive product just ended up in this bitch’s dumpster.” I sighed.
“How much did yours weigh?” Laura asked, reticently.
“What difference does it make?” I griped.
“Because of this.” Laura handed me what appeared to be a printed page, and they looked a lot like rules. Most of it was pretty run-of-the-mill shit, until I got to number seven.
- For every pound of vanity products found upon your arrival, an inch will be cut from your hair. This is non-negotiable. The haircuts will begin after supper on the first night.
“Holy shit! They are not cutting my hair!” I screamed.
“Well, how much did all your stuff weigh?” Laura asked again, her question admittingly carrying a lot more meaning.
“Jesus, Laura, thirty-five pounds.” I gulped, running my hand through my waist-length hair. I ran to find a mirror, but there wasn’t one. Not a single mirror in the entire cabin. “They can do this!” I cried. “I’m calling my mother.”
“Good luck with that.” Laura pointed out. “The only phone is locked in Ms. Fitch’s office.”
I immediately pulled out my cell, but noticed there wasn’t a single bar of service. “Shit.”
“Forget it, Amber. I’ve tried. There’s no signal anywhere in the camp.”
“Come on! Thirty-five inches, Laura, I’m gonna be bald!” I wept.
“Join the club. I had twenty pounds of stuff, and my hair’s already a lot shorter than twenty inches.” Laura sighed. “You might end up with a little bit left.”
“Oh, my God this can’t be happening.” I cried, flopping down on the bunk next to Laura.
Laura reached over and laid her hand over mine. “Look, I know we haven’t been friends in a really long time, but we might as well stick together, right?”
“Why not?” I shrugged, not really caring at that point. All I could think about was how humiliating it was going to be to have my hair taken from me. My beautiful blonde hair which I had slaved over to make as healthy and shiny as possible.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” Laura asked.
“Oh my God, Mark!” There was no way a guy as gorgeous as Mark was going to hang around with a bald loser. “He’s going to hate me.” I blubbered.
“Yeah. I can’t imagine mine is going to stay with me after this.” Laura sighed. “This is the end of all that.”
She was right, of course. No self-respecting guy would go out with a girl who had all her hair shaved off. Again, I ran my fingers through my hair, and I could feel a few tears course down my cheeks as I did.
By the time the rest of the campers arrived, the word had spread about the imminent haircuts. Most were horrified, but some seemed to take it in stride. I couldn’t for the life of me, figure how a girl could be so cavalier over something as precious as their hair.
During supper, I could see Miss Fitch, walking around between us while we were eating, sizing us up I figured. She stopped across the table from me and caught my eye, shaking her head as she did. I barely ate anything at all.
After everyone had deposited their trays along the kitchen hallway, Miss Fitch got everyone’s attention at the front of the room. A large stone fireplace stood at the center of the wall, and there had been a fire lit, as warm as it was outside.
“All right, ladies!” She called out. “As I call your name, you will step forward and take a seat in the chair beside me here. Then I will mete out the punishment. As you all have probably read, you will be losing an inch of hair for every pound of vanity products you so foolishly brought with you. After your cut, you will gather the hair from the floor at your feet and throw it into the fire behind me. It is a bit symbolic, I know, but for some of you it may be life-changing.”
And so it began. One by one each girl was called, and the sentence pronounced. Some only received a trim, having been smart enough to leave their stuff at home. I watched in horror, as many girls were subjected to a drastic change and a few were even shaven to the scalp. It was these cuts that grabbed my attention as I was certain that this would be my fate.
I looked over at Laura who was equally as daunted as me, until finally her name was called.
“Laura Swift!” Miss Fitch called. I squeezed Laura’s hand before she stood and stepped to the front. Her face was twisted into an awful grimace as the clippers ran over her head from front to back. It was horrifying to watch. All that beautiful hair just swept away so quickly and mercilessly. In less than a minute, Laura was nearly bald. I watched as she gathered all that remained of her crowning glory and tossed it into the fire. As she stood, she ran her hands over her head. ‘How humiliating’, I thought.
“And finally, we have our biggest loser.” Miss Fitch looked me straight in the eyes. “Amber Porter, who weighed in at an incredible thirty-five pounds! It’s a new record.” My legs were like rubber as I stood. I glanced down at a very different-looking Laura, who simply shook her bald little head, and pouted.
It was like I was in a trance. As badly as I just wanted to run, my legs didn’t cooperate, carrying me up to the ominous chair. I could feel the heat of the fire at my back as I sat, and I couldn’t help but sweat a little under the weight of my hair. It was the last thing I would notice before the blades of the clippers were placed at my forehead and unceremoniously dragged over my crown.
By now the haircuts had become less of a distraction and I could see the other girls talking amongst themselves. Some were watching but most just seemed to ignore the most horrifying experience of my life unfolding. My head grew lighter and lighter as more and more of my beautiful blonde hair was separated from my scalp. I could feel the slight pinch as the very last of it fell away.
As I started to get up from the chair, however, Miss Fitch pushed me back down. “Not so fast, Amber. You are going to be subject to a special treatment, as you were our biggest loser.”
I watched as she took a can of shaving foam and dispensed a healthy amount of the white fluff, spreading it over my head. Was she really going to shave my head with a razor? Very quickly I learned that she was. She must have gone through at least four razors as she shaved, removing the very last shred of hair I still possessed. For some reason, this was even more humiliating than the clipping. The fact that I had arrived with the most glorious head of hair, and now would have none. At least the other girls had a shadow of hair on their heads.
When, at last, the deed was done, I couldn’t help but run a hand over my head, feeling the glassy smooth surface of my scalp, instead of my luxurious mane. I thought my heart was going beat right out of my chest as I approached the fire, with a mound of my blonde hair gathered in my arms. For a moment, the fire grew dark with the smothering weight of my tresses, but then as if in mockery of what I had become, it roared to life, burning my blonde hair to ash.
My legs shook, I think my entire being was shaking as I made my way back to my table and took a seat next to Laura. I looked over at her, envious of the sparse brown covering she still sported on her head.
“If it means anything at all, Amber, you still look good, even bald,” Laura said, honestly.
“I can’t speak right now.” Was all I managed as I struggled to grasp the magnitude of what had just occurred. Again, my hands went to my head, and ran the surface, vainly searching for anything that even vaguely resembled hair. There was nothing. I could see the other girls snickering amongst themselves as we slowly filed out of the dining hall and back to our cabins. All of them had received a shearing, but none so drastic as mine.
As if in some cruel mockery of our former vanity, mirrors had been hung in all the cabins while we were being shorn. Only then did I see the real horror that was my appearance now.
Arguing Laura’s opinion, I thought I looked hideous with a shaved head. Some of the girls had nicely shaped heads, whereas mine was a little box-like, with vertical sides and ears that stuck out like clamshells from the side of my head. My stark facial features that I had always loved, looked terribly out of place without the frame of blonde hair surrounding it. In essence, I looked like a bug.
By the end of the two weeks, the finest stubble had emerged on my head, but because I was so blonde, it was hardly noticeable. I still looked bald.
Other than that night, the rest of the camp was a misery of chores and games, swimming and socializing, all without the benefit of our makeup or for some of us, hair. Most of the others seemed to get used to their new looks, but I had been so traumatized by it, that I never really recovered.
Most of the time, I sulked in my cabin, unless I was physically dragged out to do some mandatory task. The only saving grace was that there were no boys around to see us, or to be honest, to see me. That would not be the case starting the following day. The camp was finished, and my mother would be there to pick me up in the morning.
Aside from the intense and shattering humiliation of that first day, I failed to see what had been accomplished. Perhaps they thought that the shock of being deprived of our beauty might alter us somehow, make us realize that there was more to life than a mirror and the ideal image of the female form.
I could see the look of approval on my mother’s face as she regarded me from across the parking lot. Gone was her voluptuous daughter, replaced by a lanky bald thing, devoid of any shred of dignity. Not saying a word I piled my bags into the SUV and flopped into the back seat, and laying down across it.
“That’s a different look for you, Amber.” My mother dared to say.
“I can’t believe you did this to me.” I sighed.
“Well, maybe now you will appreciate how spoiled and vain you had become.” She offered.
The sandpaper finish of my head offered no cushion as we pulled out of the gravel lot and onto the highway, so I sat up and stared out the window. “I look like a freak,” I admitted.
“You hardly look like a freak, Amber. You’re just bald.” My mother said.
“Just bald? Are you kidding? No one is going to talk to me for the rest of the summer. I’m going to have to hide.” I cried, the tears finally coming.
“Well, I can tell you that Mark has been over, and he promised to be there at the house when we get home.” My mother shared.
“Nooo! He can’t see me like this.” I screamed, falling back across the seat again.
“He said he’s missed you, and really wants to see the new you.”
“What, do you mean he knows?” I freaked.
“Well, not about the shaved head, but he knows about the camp and what it was about.” She calmed.
“Oh my God, he’s absolutely going to wig when he sees what a bug I am. I bet he runs away, not walks, runs!” Simpering, I buried my face in my hands.
“I think you’ll be surprised.” She grinned.
The entire trip home, all I could think about was Mark’s reaction to my ‘new look’ as my mother kept calling it, as if I was going to keep it this way. My heart must have been in my throat as we pulled down our street and I saw Mark’s Mustang parked in our driveway. “Oh, shit, he’s here.” I cried, hiding in the back seat as we pulled in next to it.
I could hear him talking to my sister as I realized that there was no way out of this. I had to just face the music.
As I climbed from the SUV, I heard the cascade of laughter from my sister as she ran up to me and attempted to cop a feel of my head. Shying away I ran straight into Mark who had come up behind me.
“Oh, God, don’t look at me.” I spat, desperately trying to cover my bald head with my hands. I felt him pull me into his arms, and gently ease my hands away from my scalp.
“But, I want to look at you.” He sighed, lifting my chin to place a kiss on my lips.
“Mark, I’m hideous. How can you…
“You are beautiful, Amber. Come on, let’s go for a walk.” He pulled me along as we headed for the woods behind my house.
I could see my mother smiling as we walked past, and I wondered just how much of what was going to happen to me, she was aware of, and just how much she had shared with Mark.
“I think it’s hot as hell.” Mark finally admitted after walking for a bit.
“You mean you actually like this?” I cringed, running my free hand over the stubbly surface of my scalp.
“It makes you look… I don’t know, exotic?” He pondered, and I finally allowed him to caress my head with his fingers, causing a ripple of arousal to course through me. “I just wish I’ d been there to see it.”
“To see what? You mean my haircut? Oh, God, Mark, you would have been horrified. I had to take all my hair and burn it, like some ritual or something.”
“Not only do I wish I’d seen it, Amber, I wish I’d been the one to cut it,” Mark admitted finally.
“Don’t be weird,” I said, but enjoying his hands as they ran softly over my head.
“I don’t think it’s weird.” He sighed. “Will you let me shave it for you?”
“I’m not keeping it like this, no way.” I protested.
“Not even for me?” He bent down kissing me, wetly, our tongues mingling as we embraced one another.
I had to admit to being shocked by Mark’s admission, but not unpleasantly so. I had been so convinced that he would reject me out of hand, that his strange and fetishistic attraction to my new look, was actually a relief.
So, and much to my mother’s curiosity, I allowed Mark to re-shave my head. I really didn’t know for how long I’d keep it that way, but at least for the time being, I was content to be my boyfriend’s bald girl.