This piece was originally published on my first blog in 2009.
While my parents were waiting for me to be born, my dad was dead certain that I would be a boy. He got over his shock quickly when he was told he had a daughter, but unfortunately, I was born bald and stayed that way until I was almost three. My mom, tired of random people commenting on how cute her “son” was (be careful what you wish for, Dad) tried to feminize my look so that passersby would know my gender without inquiry. She invested in pink clothes, garments with frills, lace, and ribbon, and a number of those stretchy headband-type things with a rosette or a bow stitched to them, which look rather ridiculous on a kid with only a skiff of blond peach fuzz. Despite her best efforts, though, my poor mother still had to reinforce the fact that the tiny person in the stroller (in the purple sundress, no less) was a little girl.
Suddenly, after they figured they had done nothing for long enough, my follicles cranked into action, and I went from being the bald kid to the kid with too much hair. Luckily for me, it was the eighties and curly hair was right up there in style with shoulder pads, frosted teal eyeshadow, and plastic-frame eyeglasses. Perhaps I would have had an easier time as a curly girl if my mother had been similarly endowed, but her hair is straight and smooth and glossy. So, following procedure for her own tresses, my mother brushed my hair zealously from the time there was actually enough hair make the effort worthwhile. Thus began the battle.
As anyone who has it knows all too well, nothing makes curly hair quite as angry as a hairbrush. Brushing makes straight hair surrender and lie down quietly, but the same approach toward curls makes that hair come out to party, and not a tea-sipping, scone-nibbling high tea party, but the kind of out-of-control party where someone you’ve never met is wearing your newest tea towel as a loincloth and the cat ends up with a name shaved in his side. And the more you brush, the more obnoxious and out of control that hair party gets. My hair was so thick and curly that it was a truly epic shindig.
Someone (who obviously didn’t have curly hair herself) suggested that some simple changes be made to help “manage” my hair. The options that Mom decided to run with were cutting me layers and some heavy bangs, then cutting the hair short on the sides of my head so that there was less hair total to brush, braid, and dry after a shower. Readers who are the visual types have already imagined (correctly and tragically) a six-year-old girl with a mullet. I went to second grade with the hairstyle that traditionally accompanies a band t-shirt with the sleeves lopped off and punishingly tight acid wash jeans. Those things I could have probably acquired with ease, but the beat-up Firebird and skeevy mustache I needed to complete the ensemble were tougher to track down. Unfortunately, mom kept at me with the brush, and although there was significantly less volume on the sides of my head, there was still a rocking party in the back.
The fight with my hair continued for a number of years, through a truly painful growing out phase to undo the pre-adolescent mullet. Suddenly, in my early teens, a curly girl named Alanis Morissette stomped her bitter feet onto the Canadian music scene, and, following in the footsteps made by her Doc Martens, I became acquainted with the miracle of gel. In my mother’s defense, she had never needed hair products to make her hair behave, so I don’t blame Mom for not knowing that a simple bottle of Dippity Do could relieve so much of my teenage angst. I discovered that I didn’t have “bad” hair, or hair that needed to be hacked into submission like some sort of noxious vegetation: I had curls. I grew them long and learned to love them.
Now, in the year 14 A.G. (After Gel) I’m a proudly curly girl. Not that I don’t fight with my hair some days, or secretly wish that a rumbling thundercloud will make fast retreat so that I don’t frizz up, but I refuse to engage in the huge industry of hair straightening irons and goop on which so many women waste countless hours and dollars. I know the time it takes to make my hair straight (two hours, plus touch ups all day) and I don’t care to invest the such a large chunk of my day. Not to mention that straight hair doesn’t reflect who I am, my bouncy personality and the fact that at times I am, in a good way, so exuberant that I’m just barely under control. When my hair is straight, I don’t feel like myself.
What boggles me now is the seeming unacceptability of curly hair among the younger generations. I work with teenagers, and I have literally gone for months on end, seeing some of these girls every day without realizing that they had curly hair, until one day they really sleep in and don’t have time to “fix” their hair after a shower. When their hair is rocking out and doing what it does naturally, it breaks my heart to see these lovely girls feeling less attractive because their hair is curly. Maybe I should show them pictures of me with the mullet to help them feel better and find some perspective.
I suppose I have become a bit of a curly hair evangelist, decrying the sheer ridiculousness of falsely straight hair and warning some girls I know that they will have nothing left of their hair if they continue to apply draconian heat and chemicals on a regular basis. I admit that I even responded with foul language last week when that pushy guy with the mall kiosk tried to talk to me about straightening my hair.
I love having curls, and people seem to remember my hair, even years after they’ve seen me. The fact is, this is the way I was made, and I’m going to go with it. Big hair, big smile, rock on.
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