In terms of hair texture, it may be true that the grass is always greener on the other side. The “lawn” might be more verdant, but on one side of the fence it’s definitely wilder and at times unkempt, no matter how much the owner of said grass tries to maintain it. Like the contrast between overgrown yards and neatly manicured lawns, wearing one’s hair curly instead of straight can say a lot about its owner.
And for some reason, “curly girls” always feel the need to become apologists for our “choice” of natural hair. Much has been written about our wild locks, mainly by our similarly dis-tressed sisters, united in the struggle to feel and look beautiful without spending a lot of money and time to straighten our hair. I’ve never read an apologia about how straight hair can be beautiful too. Because deep down, we all seem to think that straight hair is the standard and curly hair is the aberration.
I know, I know, owners of Marcia Brady-esque hair, you wish you had curly hair. “You have so much body! My hair is so limp.” Ok, that’s fair. Sometimes straight hair can lack personality, and when not done right, can either make you look like the Crypt Keeper or a newscaster. But walk a mile in my hair on say, a day that is even the slightest bit humid. Or go outside when there is a breeze. Or attempt to have bangs. When not done right, curly hair can make you look like a complete and total wack job /crazy-cat lady.
Or better yet, do your hair in the morning and make it just the way you want. Then check back with your mirror an hour later. No doubt you will find that your hair has taken the liberty of rearranging itself, with one warring faction of your hair choosing to curl in the opposite direction–or, in a fit of defiance (for reasons still yet unknown, as they have chosen not to have an appointed leadership and centralized message), straightened from a curl to a wave. At least that’s what happens with loose curls. Do you still have curly hair envy?
No matter what kind of curl we sport, or what kind of ethnic background from which we come, curly girls tend to unite in ways that our silky-haired counterparts do not. As Judith Newman so aptly points out:
“What curly head hasn’t had the Pantene Fantasy, where she shakes her head, and a glossy curtain of light-reflecting hair swooshes behind her? Let me reiterate the sound effect: That’s swoosh, not boing.”
Put a bunch of curly-haired women from different backgrounds in a room together. Talk will turn to hair and all manner of religious and ethnic differences dissipate through a shared anger and frustration about our manes. Product suggestions and tips and techniques are shared. “War” stories are told. Friendships are formed. It’s a beautiful thing.
Let us now revisit the idea that curly hair communicates some aspect of your personality to the world. Due to the untamable nature of our hair, our curls seem to indicate a certain level of wildness and unpredictability. Just like straight hair seems to indicate a certain level of competence and order. Curly hair is messy. It does what it wants, it tangles and it frizzes. It reacts to changes in the environment. Straight hair is neat. It stays in place and remains collected in the face of rain, or even the mere appearance of a cloud or two.
Sidenote: I had hoped to avoid it, but I’m going to need to make a Sex and the City reference now. I know that I will get commentary from my editor along the lines of “all women love chocolate and Sex and the City.” Honestly, Sex and the City makes me more irritated than when someone eats the last of my chocolate. But I can’t fully make a point without it. So here goes.
At one point, when the girls take a (short) break from discussing the never tiresome or tedious drama between Carrie and Big, they chat about the classic film, The Way We Were:
Miranda: “Yeah. But he can’t be with her because she’s too complicated, and she has wild curly hair.”
Miranda: “Yeah. So he leaves her and marries this…simple girl. With straight hair.”
Carrie: “Ladies, I am having an epiphany. The world is made up of two types of women: the simple girls, and the Katie girls. I am a Katie girl. And where are our drinks?”
“Katie girls” in this case are “curly girls.” Newman, in her article (linked above in case you were so mesmerized with reading further you didn’t click on it), points out that curly hair plays a major role in women’s identity and how we’re perceived. I admit, I’ve straightened my hair for job interviews so that I would look more “put-together.” I’ve straightened my hair for major occasions, so that I looked “sleek.” And when I’ve straightened my hair, I’ve been told that I look prettier because my hair isn’t distracting from my face.
Don’t get me wrong–it’s always wonderful to be told that you’re beautiful. But I know from having this conversation with every curly girl I’ve ever met that it makes us feel like we were somehow less attractive, less beautiful, or just less in general than we were before we wised up and fired up the flatiron.
And that’s really what cuts (preferably dry, but wet if the person knows what they’re doing). Curly girls were born this way. We probably spent our teenage years coming to terms with our hair, while our straight-haired sisters brushed their hair and walked out the door. We haven’t just had to wrestle our wild hair–we’ve had to wrestle with our identities as well.
For example, despite my European heritage, I do not have “white” hair. This, coupled with my ambiguous last name, big eyes and brown hair usually provoke questions of “what’s your ethnic background?” Or better yet, people just make assumptions and ask me how I prefer the United States to Mexico, which is from where this one woman thought I hailed (it could also have been my tendency to wear flouncy white blouses, wide black belts, and ruffly red skirts). Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Maybe because of my gender-normative love for chocolate, I prefer not to be considered vanilla in any way. But it definitely communicates that there is a standard way that white women should look and that I am an outlier.
The last time I straightened my hair was for a job interview in June of this year. It took me almost an hour and I didn’t wash my hair for four days so that it would stay straight (yes, those are the tricks of the trade–the good thing about having thick hair is that it doesn’t get greasy). When I let my hair go back to it’s natural state, I felt annoyed that I bought into the idea that my hair determined my beauty or competency. I felt annoyed that I was holding back a part of myself, believing that it would reflect negatively on me, a holdover from my spinning rat-wheel days in New York.
Maybe I’ve been afraid to embrace my messier side, but I’m still more than my hair. I might be little unpredictable, sometimes complicated and wild, and more than a little non-conformist. But I am also put together and extremely competent.
Curly girls make the world a more interesting place, just by showing up. We don’t do helmet hair. And even though, like our hair, we might seem a bit more complicated, we add some diversity to the neighborhood.
So in the tradition of Boo Radley (and unkempt lawns), I say, Curly Girls of the World Unite! It’s a sin to kill a rocking curl.