Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: An Ode to Dusty Beauty

Day three of the Burn. It’s Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday, depending on when you finally pulled that old ’97 to the distant corner of clock hand and alphabet, draped yourself in faux fur and hit the playa running.

By now, the initial shock of the place has worn off, and you’ve grown accustomed to desert days. Whether you’re returning home or recently de-flowered, the week is at its purest halfway through.

You’ve danced in a way you haven’t all year, swiveling on joints like some sort of primitive dinosaur. You’ve bumped to the bass blaring from the loudest sound system, waking up a few hours later with a crusty smile and distant ringing in your ears. You’ve climbed into a giant butthole and ridden the slide down into a mess of pillows while singing the national anthem.

Desert Days

You’ve seen the sun set: a blazing rose thrown across the sky and sinking beneath the mountains. You’ve rejoiced as the same simmering comet rose 12 hours earlier. You’re a vegetarian but you’ve had bacon, and you’ve fallen in love with more people in three days than in the rest of your life combined.

You’ve given presents, or received them, and you’re heavier in weight and grace from all the artifacts you’ve collected. Now a pack of gum has transformed from personal survival rations to an invitation tucked inside a metallic pack, a portal to a new group of friends.

With half the week left, you know the best is still before you: long, magical days of romping around, art-gazing and going deeper and deeper inside yourself.

From the Inside Out

But what about your outside?  You’re finally getting used to your new playa body. Your skin, dry as hell, alternates between chalk-coated and stinging from standing vinegar baths. But the dust has such a soft ashiness once it’s coated your full body. Your face is smothered in different combinations of adornments, like the rainbow chalk pen a new friend drew across the bridge of your nose or the smeared face paint that a mystic channelled onto your forehead.

Your hair… well, that desert dust has filled it with natural highlights and puffed it up to an unnatural volume and tangle that makes you look like Cruella Deville when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a car window.

You are absolutely the crustiest you’ve ever been, and don’t let the #modelsofburningman instagrams fool you: You’re going to look like a lost moon child of Lysithea zapped back to the Stone Age. It’s at this point that you’ve embraced the layer of dust that coats your tent, your food, your chalky face. Halfway through the week, you’ve become.

Some might say you’ve let the crazy in, but we know: You’ve just become yourself. A creature of the desert, in harmony with the elements, in tune with yourself. You race on your bike like a warrior, chasing your simplest expression. You breathe in your mantra like a buddha, setting your truest intention.

Looking How You Feel

For the first time, you stop giving a fuck about how you look and you start looking how you feel — which is bliss or fear or pain or love, and, most importantly, honest, raw authenticity. And you realize that there is absolutely nothing as beautiful as you.

As day three bleeds into four and five, you might continue to brave the dust and let it compound in limestone layers with goosebumps popping through like rocks in a zen garden, but you’ll likely wash off that initial layer of “becoming”.

You’ll end up getting sprayed down at the human carwash, naked among a crowd of 20, or you’ll receive a gentle, peppermint-infused wash from Sweaty Betty’s. Not to worry, though — it’s soon replaced with a fresh coat as a dust storm rips you off your bike and into a cyclone.

End of a Cycle

But with the new coat comes a little bit of panic. The cycle of the sun is shrinking under the desert sky as the week comes to an end. Is it really ending so soon? I haven’t done everything! There is so much more to be learned! Your hair sucks up the dust again, growling like a vindicated lion’s mane, back with a vengeance and hoping to attain its former glory.

But you know you’ll be out of the desert before long, and the jojoba oil conditioner waiting for you back home has moved into your realm of consideration, a tease back to the world you once knew.

You’ve also moved on from your desert wig’s novelty, for you have far more important things to worry about now — like finding the fabled playa oyster bar, discovering when DJ So-and-So is playing next, or a mission to find the San Francisco venture capitalist you fell in love with.

The last few days are a whirl of flames and beats, a rush to see and feel it all. In the end, you watch the city fall to the ground in ash and ember, searing your week’s learning in your heart. Your hair has dreaded, stuffed up under a captain’s hat, begging for a bathtub.

Looking Back

Weeks, months, years later, you’ll look back at photos and remember the week’s peaks and valleys. A bittersweet album of dust and glory — all the amazing people, places and faces of Black Rock City. But that one photo will stick out: you sprawled across a inflatable unicorn, wearing nothing but a white nightie and many layers of necklaces, chain after chain of gifts from your new family.

You’ll remember that this was halfway through the week, and the pivotal moment you stopped letting anything interfere. You started at home: with yourself, with your community, with the desert. And you’ll think, Damn. My hair looked good.

The author (the human, not the unicorn) (Photo by Murray Paternoster)

Photos by Harry Barmon from his project, 1,000 Faces of Burning Man

About the author: Maria Gotay

Maria Gotay

Maria Gotay is a writer, designer, traveller, festival junkie, seeker of all things prismatic currently skipping across the world as a digital nomad.

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