I don’t think there’s a girl alive with curly hair who doesn’t have pluck. Curly hair is a gamble each and every day and if you choose to rock your curls without straightening them, you have nerves of concrete.
One day you might, for instance, find that your hair has air-dried into perfect ringlets. Your cut looks cute, everything is in place and there’s no frizz. The next day, you leave in the conditioner for the exact same amount of time in the shower. You rinse with cool water. You use the same product, scrunching it through your hair the same way as the day before, holding your mouth just right and humming the same song under your breath. It dries crazy and you wind up looking like Carrot Top. You have to walk around like that all day because once it’s done, it’s done and there’s nothing you can do to fix it short of wearing a hat or yet another ponytail.
Curls are hard.
Your entire life, girls with shiny straight locks will look you in the eye and tell you that they’d gladly trade hair with you, that they’ve always wished for curly hair. They are liars. If it were actually possible for you guys to do the ole’ switcheroo, they wouldn’t return your calls. Girls with curls know this. We know that this is the exactly the same as that time you told the lady a decade older than you that you hope you look as good as them when you’re “their age.” It’s bullshit. It’s just something you say.
I started out life with curls. Early photos of me show a helmet of ringlets, either held back from my face by one of those awesome plastic poodle barrettes popular in the 80’s or sticking out from my head like it knows the answer in math class. Then for some reason it straightened out for grammar school, as if my hair needed to be as serious as my studies at Rusk Elementary. I’d gotten used to having long straight hair and thought my unruly curls were a thing of the past. I was comfortable in my normality.
Then, on a flight to New Zealand, when I was fifteen, they came back like gangbusters. I thought it was the altitude or the humidity or the fact that I was a sixteen hour flight away from West Texas. I let my hair spazz out while I was there, assuming it would calm down when I returned home to desert climates. It didn’t. In fact, it got curlier. For a while, I entertained the idea that something magical had happened to my hair follicles somewhere over the Atlantic. Maybe I’d been bewitched or visited by a hair demon. But, they never straightened out. I’ve been told since then that it was probably hormonal, a shift in puberty or some such horror. Whatever the reason, my hair began to define me.
High school and college photos show me barely peeking out from underneath a gigantic mess of long, curly hair. It was hot in the Summer and frizzy in the Winter. It gave me a certain authority I’d lacked in elementary school. People assume that girls with a big head of hair have a big personality to match. I grew mine to compliment my do. I filled it out around the edges with bravado and chutzpah. I couldn’t be a shy bookworm anymore. Curly hair explains you to other people in ways you’d never be able to do yourself with words. It’s the first thing people use to describe you. “You know, Kendra, with the hair?” (Insert fluffing hand gesture around the head.) It’s also the first thing they insult if you wrong them or threaten them in any way. I’m quite certain the phrase, “That stupid frizzy bitch,” has been used on me more than once.
People are also quick to help the poor curl-handicapped ladies of the world. I’ve had kiosk workers wielding straightening irons chase me through malls and performers at Venice Beach call me “Nappy Head.” A girl I worked with at Hooters told me my hair would stay straight if I kept combing it out every night. Strangers stop you and either ask what products you use or recommend some, depending on your frizz level that day. You start to feel defiant, as if your hair is your rebellion. Take that, Jennifer Aniston. Take that, Marie Claire magazine.
I read recently that women in their thirties describe the decade as a time of self-acceptance, of figuring out who you are and what works for you as an individual. I don’t know about all of that but I’ve just had a Birthday and the only hair wisdom I’ve attained is that you just have to roll with it. After twelve rides at Disneyland, you might look like a Star Wars creature, but that’s just how it is. Life is too short to pump your scalp full of chemicals to make your head look just like everyone else’s head. And while I’m sure I’ll still bust out my straightening iron every once in a while, I’m also sure that most of the time I have something way more important to do like line up all the wind-up toys on my desk and have a race or peruse YouTube for old 80’s cartoons.