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, sweetly confessing: “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?

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