A BITTERSWEET HISTORY OF CURLY HAIR

In addition to a box full of recipes, Mom also bestowed upon me a crown of curls. Yes, I have been blessed (and cursed) with hair that has a mind of its own.

As a teenager in the early 1960s, Mom wanted nothing to do with those curls. She coveted the silky coifs of Gidget and Jackie O. To get the desired look, she and her best friend would take turns ironing each other’s hair with an old-fashioned iron. I can just imagine the scene: Mom chatting incessantly with her cheek pressed against the ironing board, her hair heating precariously beneath a hot press.

Luckily, I came of age in the era of Big Hair. In high school, my girlfriends got perms to add the height to their 80s-style bouffant. In college, I worshipped at the altar of Elaine Benes on Seinfeld, allowing my hair to grow super long and wild. During those years, I learned to love my hair. The crazier it grew, the more a part of my identity it became. I was The Girl With the Super Curly Hair.

I had planned to ride that look into the nursing home, but –alas— straight tresses are once again the rage. I don’t see the resurrection of Big Hair coming any time soon. While many of my curly-haired sisters have embraced Japanese or Brazilian straightening techniques, I’ve clung to my “naturally curly hair.” I’m too lazy, too cheap, and too proud to make any type of permanent change.

When I do go for the occasional blow out, I am stunned –and frankly hurt— by the rave reviews. Compliments like “Your hair looks great!” or “It’s so different” feel like backhanded insults. And God help the soul who tells me: “You look a lot better like this.” That’s an automatic entry into my Shit List forever. When Judith Newman published her seminal piece In Defense Of Curly Hair in the New York Times, I almost wept with recognition. (OK, maybe it was only seminal to me.)

However, as we settle into winter, going Seasonally Straight sounded awfully appealing. Curly hair is a pain when the temperature drops because you are often stuck going outside with a wet head. (Anyone with curly hair knows that air drying is the only way to go). Such a health crisis could be easily solved with straight (shower cap-protected) hair. I would also no longer have to spend precious minutes each morning applying gels, conditioners, and serums.

On Tuesday, I shelled out $40 to have my hair blown straight. I spent another $20 on some magic potion that would keep it straight for days on end. I ran my fingers through my tangle-free hair. Sweet Freedom!

Instead, I spent the entire week worrying about my hair. Predictions for rain sent me into frenzy. “Omigod! Perhaps I should cancel my plans.” Rather than trying to maximize my heart rate in spinning class, I tried to will my head to stop sweating. Finally, after four incredibly stressful days, I hopped in the shower, letting the hot water return me to my natural state. It was the most liberating moment I had all week.

Last night, I was brushing my daughter’s straight hair, when I told her: “You know I didn’t get my curls until junior high. You probably will too.” She smiled at me and confessed to me: “I don’t think I’m ready yet, Mommy.”

And though I love my hair, I couldn’t help but think: “I understand, baby. I understand.”

Speak up, Curly Tops! How do you feel about your curly hair?

8 Responses to A BITTERSWEET HISTORY OF CURLY HAIR

  1. ChrissieN January 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    As soon as I started reading this, I automatically thought of your H.S. senior pic (even before scrolling down enough to see that you posted it) with your fabulously long locks … and that polka dot shirt. I think I have the one of you looking over your shoulder, hair flowing down your back. You’ve always had beautiful, BEAUTIFUL hair! I always coveted your honey highlighted ringlets!

  2. Jeanne's Daughter January 14, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    You also had some lovely long locks back then, Chris. I always thought we were a very glamorous duo! Ah, to be seventeen!

  3. Juliana B2 January 14, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    ahhh I have curly hair…made peace with it…but only because I get my Brazillian blow outs…I do not have the curly hair of corkscrew maidens but rather the part corkscrew part what the heck is that and mostly annoyed…indifferent to it as a kid,love-hate through 20s though the era of big hair was making life good for moi, made peace in my 30s especially in the summer and now I make choices…to get it straight and know that in the end I somehow like that more …

  4. Melissa January 16, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    I am in a constant tug of war with myself over my hair. I don’t have gorgeous curls. I have more of a Jew-fro – wavy and very prone to frizziness. It takes me just as much time to make it look presentable in its natural state as it does to blow it out at home (I’ve become quite the expert with the blow-dryer and ceramic brush). Personally I feel more put-together with it straight (which I realize is an affront to all my curly-haired sisters). I also don’t think I have yet to stumble on the right cocktail of products to make me happy with how it looks curly. So the inner battle continues…

  5. Kelley Ragland January 19, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    Just seeing this now!–and what timing, because I was looking at a stranger’s long curly hair on the subway yesterday and wondering if I was too old to grow mine long again like it was in college… Maybe yes, maybe no. I so relate to the back-handed compliments about blown-out straight hair, but sometimes it’s still fun to try on such a different look, almost like I’m a different person. And like you said, a shower rights my identity again.

  6. Jeanne's Daughter January 19, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Kelley Ragland! You are the ideal audience for this post. If anyone could pull of the long twine-y locks again, it’s you. Hope all is well.

  7. Jeanne's Daughter January 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Juliana B2, let’s bring back the Big Hair, man!

  8. Jeanne's Daughter January 19, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    Melissa, if you’ve mastered the ceramic iron, you are way ahead of the game.

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