I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I have curly (wavy, if you want to get technical) hair. Most people who know me didn’t know that until recently. Some of them still don’t know that this is my natural hair instead of the board-straight locks that they have been accustomed to seeing on my head. You might be wondering how that’s even possible. Because every day for twenty years I either wore a bun or flat-ironed my hair. Every. Single. Day.
When I was a little girl, my sisters loved to play with my hair. I was like their little doll. My middle sister practiced braiding on my hair so she could see how different techniques would look on our hair. And then, when her hair started to get curlier, she continued to practice on me because my barely-there waves were easy to manipulate. But then middle school happened.
My sisters (and my brother, for that matter) are several years my senior. So by the time I started middle school, they had all moved on to college or careers. I was suddenly the lone kid in the house. So you can imagine my horror when puberty, in all of its benevolent glory, changed my dark honey, subtle waves into a dark molasses, frizzy nest. Braces and acne, and the plethora of other pubescent problems weren’t enough. No, I also got to have hair reminiscent of a labradoodle who stuck their paw in a light socket. Awesome. And there was nobody around to commiserate. Even better.
Cue my very own Regina George. For the sake of this post, let’s call her M. Now, M was a popular girl with an “it’s my world and you just live in it” attitude and gorgeous blonde hair. She wasn’t always nice to people and people, for the most part, didn’t care because she was M. For reasons unknown to me, in sixth grade, M decided to make me her new project. I was the Elphaba to her Galinda (with a Ga!). She was determined that she could take my no make-up, messy bun, jeans and t-shirt style and burn it to the ground so I could rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Well, I’m in my 30s now and am still partial to jeans and t-shirt, but do at least throw on (at minimum) some mascara before I’ll agree to leave the house, so she won some and she lost some. But back then, her real battleground was my hair.
She curled it (and burned my forehead with a curling iron in the process). She hot rolled it. She fluffed, styled, and quaffed. She would ooh and ahh until she realized that my hair didn’t “fall” like hers did after she curled it. It stayed in those tight ringlets up next to my head and made me look like Shirley Temple after a bender. It was not cute. So she changed her tactics. She crimped it. All the rage back in the day, it is something that should never, ever be done to someone with remotely frizzy hair. I went from light socket labradoodle to the love child of Hermione and Einstein. Y’all.
Then she had an epiphany. She took the plates off of her crimper (yeah, I know, I’m dating myself here. I’ve already admitted I’m in my 30s, though, so meh) and traded them out for flat ones. She straightened my hair. Suddenly, my dark hair matched M’s style completely. She squealed in delight. In less than a year (it took me a while to convince my dad, who just didn’t understand the need for a twelve-year-old to have anything other than a hair dryer as part of her daily routine), I had a flat iron of my very own. I never did become one of the popular girls, but I didn’t care. I had awesome hair!
The next year, my father remarried and I moved far away from M, but my flat iron came with me. However, there was already a girl in my new school who had my same first name, large blue eyes, and gorgeous, perfectly straight, dark locks. People confused the two of us at first. She was hard to compete with, so after a while, I gave up. Messy buns with a halo of frizzies got me through the day, and through sports practices too.
Little changed over the next decade. When I wanted to look nice, my flat iron ruled the day. When I didn’t care, messy bun it was. When I first became a mom and had even less time to get ready, there was the very occasional day when I left the house with my waves and curls on display, but I had to be desperate.
Fast forward to this year. Medical issues arose and one of the less-than-glorious symptoms of my particular issue was hair loss. Until this year, if I wanted to know what my scalp looked like, I had to physically separate and restrain sections of my hair to see it. It took effort. And no small amount of it. But after my hair began to shed, if I didn’t style my hair just right, small white patches could be seen. I was heartbroken. I was scared. Moreover, I was more insecure about my hair than I had been since before that first time M introduced me to heat styling. All the soul-crushing angst of puberty, none of the youthful glow to accompany it.
My doctor pointed out that I should do whatever I could to treat my hair more gently. My hair loss might stop. It might not. It might grow back, it might not. No matter what, it had the best chance of being healthy if I did my best to make it so. The only way to do that was to stop heat styling and all the other harmful things I was doing. It was time to embrace my natural waves and curls.
It’s been a few months and I can tell you that on a good hair day, I have grown to love my waves and curls. I wonder why on earth I covered them up for so long. On not so good days I miss my flat iron so much it hurts. I’m still insecure about my hair, but I know what I’m doing now is better than what I’ve done for the last two decades. And this time around, I have the benefit of knowing what my middle school self didn’t yet know–it’s okay to be me.
I have pondered, though, why I spent so many years in an exclusive relationship with my flat iron and never really got to know my curling iron (which I have also ditched) or hot rollers (which my oldest sister had an intense love affair with in the late 80s). Well, in most media, when the nerd girl gets a make-over, they straighten her hair. When a girl is an outcast, she has crazy, frizzy, curly hair. Mean girls, villains, or side characters, might have heat styled, twisting locks. But protagonists don’t. And I didn’t want to be a sidekick in life. I wanted straight hair.
Even the shampoo aisle makes it clear. There is an entire aisle of (harmful) straight hair products with a smaller section of healthier products, all still meant for straight hair. On the next aisle, there is a tiny section of healthy, curly hair products. Curly-haired girls are an afterthought and never the main attraction. So when we connect over our curls via social media, no wonder we retweet and like until our hashtags go viral. We have to support each other because we know nobody else will.
So here I am, embracing my natural hair and declaring that, at least in my life, the protagonist has curly hair. There will be no make-over montage (at least not involving hair). There will be no surprise reveal. This is me. This is my hair. I’m going to slay the dragon and look fabulous doing it, thank you very much.
Curly hair, don’t care.