I’m not usually targeted by police and security forces intent on rooting out terrorists. My hair, however? Very suspicious.
I’ve been stopped a few times in airports. In Paris I was once taken into a small room for questioning, where a woman barked at me in a mysterious Eastern European language. When I failed to respond, they let me go. (I don’t know what the problem was, but I like to imagine they believed I was a modern day Mata Hari, a spy and seductress on a weekend break in the City of Love.) Another time I was removed from my parents and asked basic details like my date of birth and whether I knew “those people.” But otherwise, I’d been lucky enough to pass through security mostly unnoticed, dutifully removing my shoes and jewelry like everyone else.
Recently I was traveling from an airport in London, where security was so tight the terminal was practically at a standstill. Thousands of us were all packed into a hall full of screaming children, impatient businessmen, and lads desperate for the ladies and lagers of Prague. When I walked through the security scanner after a thirty-minute wait, I heard a beep. I lifted my hands up automatically—we’ve all been conditioned to know that a beep means it’s time for the wand—but the security team shook their heads.
“You have to come over here, madam,” one said. She guided me to the side of the scanner and ran the metal detector over me. Two or three times we heard a faint beep.
“Lift your leg up on here,” she said, pointing at a block to the side. I did as instructed and while I stood legs akimbo, skinny jeans straining at the seams, she ran the detector over my crotch. People were starting to turn to look. “Other leg.” I obeyed, flinching only when she felt under the waistband of my jeans, hands dipping quickly under the sides of my knickers.
Nearby at another security station, a priest’s bag was being searched. He watched my crotch-scan with bug-eyed horror. My bra set off the detector but with a little prodding and poking we decided there was no bomb hidden between my breasts. Then the officer moved the metal detector to my head and the machine started bleeping crazily.
“What have you got in there?”
“Hair clips,” I said, glumly. Dozens of them. You can always find me by following my Hansel and Gretel trail of hair clips. I use so many of them, I often find them lodged deep in my hair when I wash it.
Before I go any further, I should explain the delicate relationship I have with my hair. If you have glossy, straight hair, feel free to stop reading now. I have curly hair. People tell me I’m lucky, that they want hair like mine. No, they don’t. They want salon-curled hair, which is about as similar to my own tangled mop as a strawberry milkshake is to one of your five-a-day. My hair is wild and unruly and grows outward, not down. Over the years I have learned to tame it with serum and blow-dry techniques, but I almost always wear it up, piled messily on top of my head, because attempting to keep independent-minded ringlets in place over the course of the day sucks at my soul and my time. But my hair is what you might call a defining feature: Everyone comments on it, people have taken the piss out of it for years, and I am highly sensitive about it. I know it’s “different,” I know it’s big, I know it must be difficult to look after, I just don’t know why the rest of the world insists on reminding me of these things.
So, context out the way, you can imagine how I felt when the woman at security, looking very puzzled, made me sit on the “crotch access” block and investigated my hair. The metal detector was not enough. She dived in with her hands, reminding me just how much hair I had.
“What are those things?”
“Hair clips,” I said again. The nightmare of my schooldays was coming true: people commanded to look at, contemplate, and comment on my hair.
“Sorry about this, but I’ve got to have a good look,” she continued. I felt a nail on my scalp. Maybe I should have offered to take my hair down, but we were too far gone now anyway. I wondered what she was looking for. A bomb? Drugs? No, I definitely didn’t look cool enough to be hiding drugs in my hair. I settled on money, which made me feel a little better. Like a boss.
Relatively satisfied, she nodded me on my way. I went to collect my bag, to discover that it had been set aside as part of Operation Hair Bomb. “Let’s just take a look,” a security officer said, opening it up to the world. Or at least to my fellow travelers stuck in security limbo: the priest, a young family, and a handsome guy insisting that Poland really was his final destination.
“What’s this?” The officer held a silver capsule in his hands, which did, to be fair, look quite like a bullet. It was actually a lipstick with a built-in mirror. He started to take out my belongings in fistfuls, depositing deodorant and rosehip oil on the table for curious passersby to admire.
“Those are tampons,” I thought about telling him as half a dozen Tampax spilled over the table, one bouncing off Destination Poland’s wrist.
“All fine,” he said, swiftly collecting everything back into my bag. “Have a nice flight.”
Feeling like a thousand pairs of eyes were following me and my disheveled hair to the departures lounge, I cursed my luck and my God-given hair. But then I saw a faint silver lining: If my hair is big enough to be the primary security concern, then maybe no one would ever strip search me. Right?
Clare Kane is a native Londoner; follow her on Twitter at @clare_kane.
Image via Shutterstock.
Flygirl is Jezebel’s travel blog dedicated to adventures big and small, tips and tricks for navigation, and exploring the world at large. Have a story or an idea? We’re always taking submissions; email us with “Flygirl” AND your topic in the subject line. No pitches in the comments, please.