All that mattered, we told ourselves, was what we saw when we looked in the mirror, what we saw when we looked at each other.
The photograph was taken in 1971 and shows the side profile of Fawcett as a young artist in her early twenties. Chisel in hand, her eyes are concentrated on a mound of clay that has been sculpted into a nude torso. In the background is Farrah’s mentor, Charles Umlauf, working clay with his hands in the shape of Farrah’s head. Contained in this one shot, we get the juxtaposition of Fawcett: Farrah as artist, Farrah as muse.
Even more interesting is Farrah’s hair and what it isn’t doing in this photograph. The feathery tresses that would lift her into the stratosphere of fame and crystalize her image are not the focal point. They are pinned back in a bun hidden from view.
As time went on, details of her private life became public: reports of a controlling husband in the ’70s, records of physical abuse from partners in the ’80s, then the late ’90s. With each decade, even as she took on more challenging dramatic roles (often playing victims of domestic violence like in TheBurning Bed and Extremities),her hair never changed, like an impenetrable barrier between her inner and outer worlds.
In 1997, a different Farrah emerged at age fifty, in a special for Playboy. The seventy-two-minute film All of Me includes footage of Fawcett painting and sculpting with her body, with biopic material interspersed throughout. Her hair is short, in a pixie-style fringe when she addresses the camera directly, and wigs are worn during her artistic performance.
In March of this same year, three months prior to the film’s release, she ended her eighteen-year relationship with Ryan O’Neal.
At one point in between takes, Fawcett is on the phone fighting back tears. We hear her telling the person on the other line how she doesn’t like her body, doesn’t like the way her hair looks. The next scene we see Farrah nude, covered in gold paint, her hair like a paintbrush moving across the floor canvas to make the classic strokes—blending, mixing, smudging—wielded like an instrument of expressionism.
The camera cuts away and Farrah is fresh-faced with her iconic feathery layers cascading down. She is holding a pair of silver shears and begins cutting. The soft-spoken Farrah voice is overlaid with the footage: “People say you’ve changed.” Chunks of blonde fall out of frame. “I say yes! Yes! All of me gets better.” She goes on to say that this is more her than Charlie’s Angels, than a lot of other things. The thing that everyone loved—her beauty, her hair—that once consumed her, was no longer needed.
I am driving north of Brooklyn; my heart is racing. Maybe it was a song playing in the car, or my subconscious knowing we were approaching the anniversary of our shared loss. Sometimes it takes the mind a moment to catch up to our bodies.
Tear ducts open, and drops flow down my chin, into my hair, signaling I need to exit the highway.
I pull into a gas station parking lot and impulsively call Mom.
The sun casts across the dust on my dashboard—it’s one of those days when it should be warmer than it is.
Out of my periphery I see a car park to my left. Don’t look in here; please don’t look in here.
Between Mom and me, neither of us know what to say.
We aren’t talking, but I hear her still on the line.
Like birds, maybe she and I are meant to communicate in a more sensory way.
If this is how my body remembers this anniversary, then maybe next year it will reflect on this phone call, a memory of remembering.
She breaks the silence: If I could hug you through the phone, I would.
I feel the passenger in the car next-door looking, but I keep my eyes forward and, on the motes, floating in the light.
KATIY HEATH is an essayist from Saint Joseph, Missouri. Her obsessions include women who bathe, women who work, and women who witness. She currently is writing a memoir about her experience moderating focus groups for skincare companies. Read more from her at CHEAP POP, Pigeon Pages, and XRAY Lit.