Today I got two compliments about my curly hair. I took them in my stride. These days I wear my hair – while I wouldn’t say proudly, I will say without cringing. It’s been a long road to acceptance.
When I was a kid, I had fine hair that knotted easily – it was impossible to deal with. So my mother took me to the hairdresser and told them to cut it. They cut it just above the elastic. My curly ponytail lay on the floor. My hair boinged up into short, springy curls.
I cried even more the next day when I went to school.
“Shirley Temple, Shirley Temple,” my schoolyard nemeses mocked. I hated Shirley Temple. I hated my curly hair.
I refused to go into the classroom and stood outside the door. “Everybody’s going to laugh at me,” I told the teacher. “No they won’t,” she reassured me. After a few minutes, I went in. Everybody laughed. At least that’s how I remember it.
I’ve dealt with more bad haircuts than I can count. Hairdressers who didn’t believe my hair was curly until after they tried to dry it (I usually blow-dried it straight at home so when I came in they’d assume it was straight). Those who’d take a razor to it to make thin layers – and leave me with frizz so bad I looked as if I’d stuck my finger into an electrical outlet.
Another memorable one: I’d made an appointment to have my hair cut at the local hair salon during my lunch hour at work. The stylist cut my hair. Then he pulled out the blow dryer, blasted it and tried to tame my crazy curls. As he brushed and blasted, my hair got bigger and bigger. It was bushing out from the side of my head. He brushed it some more. It got knottier and bushier. Finally, he threw down the brush, turned off the blow dryer and said “I can’t do this” and walked away.
I kid you not. I threw my hair into a half-wet, half-dry pony tail and went back to work. What else could I do? I cried.
I cried even more when, in the hallway upstairs, by some stroke of crazy serendipity, I ran into a guy from high school I had had a huge crush on. “Hey,” he smiled. (He smiled at me! He smiled at me!) “How are you?” I sniffled miserably, pointed at my hair, and went back to work.
There were days when the frizz was so bad all I could do was pull my hair back or weave it into a braid. Humid summer days where I couldn’t dry it and it stayed wet for hours. I fought with my hair for years and years. I spent endless hours with a blow dryer, never quite getting all the kinks out. Endless hours with a curling iron, trying to straighten it.
And then my daughter was born. When they put her on my chest, the first thing I noticed were the black zigzags of hair slicked flat against her little skull. “Oh my God,” I thought. “She’s got curly hair. I’m going to have to come to terms with mine.”
I didn’t want to teach her to work against her hair. To hate it. To do whatever she could to tame and change it. I wanted her to love her hair and love herself.
Soon after her birth, thankfully, I discovered two things: John Frieda’s Frizz Free and straightening tongs.
It took me a while to get used to not fighting it, but with the Frizz Free, my hair actually dried curly. It didn’t get fuzzy – for the first time, I had ringlets. This kind of curl I can handle.
And when I want a change, the straightening tongs take out every kink, every bend – leaving me with stick straight hair – the kind of hair I coveted for years.
It’s taken me to middle age to grow into my hair. Thanks to all this advanced hair technology, I can actually handle this mop. And so I don’t really pay it that much attention anymore. Until I get a compliment. And then? Well, I just say “thanks” – and take it in my stride.