To say the curve of a tress is a matter of debate would be fair. What are we, anyway, but confused, furry creatures, forced to wander the world with a little extra fur on top? Some of our fur is curly; some of our fur is straight. And in between those crass categories there’s a little bit of every texture, color, shape and personality. That’s where things get tangled.
I’m speaking, of course, of hair — as this is a personal statement, I guess I should say my hair. As soon as I burst through the womb (sorry, Mom) on that cold January afternoon in 1996, all of the nurses gasped, so the legend goes.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“She’s just — she’s got so much hair.”
True, I was born with a completely full head of silky, dark brown locks. They prompted even more shock from onlookers as my mom was wheeled out of the hospital (i.e., “Did you have, like, major heartburn with all that hair inside you?”). My grandma stuck a bow on top of me for good measure, but that effort soon fizzled as “the Afro” began to set in. Yes, kids, as soon as I started walking, what was nice baby hair grew into a frizzy, kinky, incomprehensibly thick, certifiably untamable mop.
Haircuts, as a little girl, were hell realized. Crying, thrashing, combing — only these violent verbs capture the traumatic shards of salon memories I’m left with. (Sometimes I like to set them to music from “The Omen,” but only on particularly low days.) I began to regard my stylist, Carla, as Satan’s mistress, and with that in mind she bought me cookies to incentivize and desensitize visits as much as possible. Washing my hair at home was just as much of a process: my mother, a “lucky” one bestowed with slightly wavy, mostly straight fur, didn’t really know what to do with mine. I can recall sitting on my bedroom floor, Mom piling Johnson’s No More Tangles Spray (probably meant for weaker curls than mine) onto my mane to absolutely no avail. Combs. Tears. Heartbreak. Rinse and repeat.
One of my favorite movies growing up was The Princess Diaries. Just writing that I’m immediately struck with visions of pre-makeover Mia Thermopolis — a classic cinematic “nerd,” she has one defining physical characteristic: dark, thick, curly, frizzy hair. After the debonair Julie Andrews swoops in with the eponymous royal surprise of the film, she decides something must be done to ameliorate Mia’s appearance. (Queen Clarice’s granddaughter better look like the Prin-cess of Genovia, damnit.) So the Cinderella rigmarole happens and the big whooshing-away-of-the-metaphorical-curtain reveals what, ultimately? A conventionally more “beautiful” Mia, with mascara and waxed eyebrows — and nothing other than bone-straight hair.
I blame that scene. Well, that scene and my broken hair ties. When middle school hit, I got my first straightener, and I soon became enthralled with the idea of tameness, of fur docility. Straight hair was cool; princesses had straight hair because curly hair was ugly. Celebrities — most of them — boasted sleek, kink-free locks (think: Britney, bitch). Why shouldn’t I have the same? With each crushing of a hair chunk through those magmatic irons and their toxic power, I felt prettier. Killing hair to get happy, sweating my life away during the 30-minute process — hogwash. Beauty is pain, darling. By the time my whole head was done, relief would flood me. Now I won’t stand out. Now I’ll be able to walk into a room and not worry about people staring at my Bozo wig. I feel sharp; I feel beautiful. I can walk through a crowd on the street and feel normal.
So now it’s time for what I call the Nike swish — the grand twist in the plot where I fall in love with my natural hair un-conditioner-ally, admit that I’m four years sober from the straightener, and tell you about that one time when Colin Firth ran to my London flat to tell me he loves me, just as I am.
That hasn’t happened. The aforementioned, deep-rooted doubts still plague me, and right now my flat iron is sitting on a shelf in my dorm, ready for action. Colin Firth is nowhere in sight. If anything, my willpower has changed — and my vantage point. If we look at hair from a more “meta” standpoint, as an extension of the creature it inhabits and subsequently the creature itself, why would we change it if there was nothing wrong? Why would we slaughter our fur, our essence, the thing that separates us from the other creatures around town? I’ve been told to “thin it” — flatten it out, control it, cut it all off. But I can’t. After all, it is me and I am it: curly, confusing, symphonic, a little rebellious, a lot unconventional, kind of intellectual if you stare at it for a while and — supremely, my most favorite — inimitable.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t get a Brazilian blowout to squash the intrinsic quirks of me, the extra furry one who hobbles — nay, saunters through Ann Arbor — with her full personality and her full hair. My mop is neither beautiful nor ugly, and I’ve come to realize that’s true of everyone. It simply is itself: and that’s enough of an argument to respect it, preserve and convey its natural state, and let it romp around like the uninhabited creature it was meant to be.