Curly Hair Is Not An Act of Rebellion

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A lot of my fellow curly-haired female friends have been sharing The New York Times article, “In Praise of Curly Hair” recently. They seem giddy with the proclamation that “Curly hair is messy; curly hair is chutzpah; curly hair is loud, and has a lot to say.”

The article implies that curly hair takes “confidence” and is seen as a “bold choice.” Admittedly, writer Marisa Meltzer is herself a curly haired woman, and finds that this perception is often the result of an “outside gaze” from those with straight hair.

But she goes on to say that, “The very things curly hair has been maligned for — effortlessness, devil-may-care irreverence — are right now the height of cool. It’s a feminist statement, one that says my hair, and by extension me, cannot be contained.”

As a curly haired person, I can’t understand how wearing my hair as it was naturally given to me is an act of bold yet stylish bravery, like chasing down a mugger while wearing a cocktail dress and heels. Or maybe it’s just the opposite. Because this is not bravery by action, it is bravery by inaction.

I was quick to conclude that the depiction of curly hair as “irreverent” has a whiff of condescension. The idea that wearing one’s hair curly is somehow a “feminist statement” noteworthy enough for the New York Times is depressing. After all this is “All The News That’s Fit To Print”. And here it is, spelled out for us: it takes a very bold woman to take the social risk of not wearing her hair straight.

How the hell did we get here? I wondered if as we make more progress toward equality, and see greater social change, is the straight hair beauty standard a way of maintaining the status quo on some level? A quick look at your local newsstand shows glossy magazines covered with beautiful women of different races and nationalities all sporting the same long, straightened, often dyed blonde hair. In the wake of social change, the newsstand remains curiously unchanged.

Then again, maybe it’s not quite so insidious. Maybe it’s just that straight hair has been the norm for the past 15 years, and only daring pioneers buck trends. As William Battie said, “Style is when they’re running you out of town and you make it look like you’re leading the parade.”

But I’m old enough to have experienced my teen years in the late 80s and early 90s, the golden era of huge, fluffy, curly hair. The world was a curly wonderland back then. Take a look at any yearbook unleashed between 1987-1993 and you’ll see. So much so that when Jennifer Aniston didn’t rock a massive mane of hairsprayed curls in the ‘80s period piece, “Rockstar”, people called her out for the lack of authenticity. (And by “people” I mean me.)

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Still, I don’t recall anyone who chose to wear their hair straight back then being told it took “confidence” to buck the curly trend in the same way curly heads are routinely told today. Straight hair was not seen as a bold statement made by stouthearted women.

I doubt anyone with naturally straight hair was ever told, (as I’ve been) “I could never wear my hair natural. Guys just don’t like it. But good for you for not giving a shit. You must save so much time in the morning.”

Boy oh boy. I sure am lucky that some guys out there have the deep sensitivity to look past my scary, unwieldy curls. One glance in my direction and these curls telegraph that I’m just a lazy sloth, too slovenly to rise and shine at a decent hour to maintain basic grooming standards. Yep. It’s a wonder I ever get laid at all.

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And it gets worse. I have been told if I wanted to be a news anchor, I’d have to straighten my hair, as curly hair is “unprofessional”. I’ve been told to straighten my hair for job interviews, as curly haired women are “untrustworthy”.

Again, I have to ask: how the hell did we get here?

Now, I’m not dumping on people who straighten their hair. Everyone needs to do what makes them feel attractive and confident. And yeah, I get a blow-out a few times a year. I’ll admit it’s fun for a day or two to swish my hair around, run my fingers through it without losing a ring in there. It’s a novelty.

But I am taking a dump on the notion that not getting a blow-out, or using keratin straighteners and flat irons is somehow courageous. That curly hair is by itself an act of rebellion. We are telling people that their natural hair is a direct challenge to beauty standards. As long as curly hair is viewed as rebellious or quirky, straight hair remains the standard.

And that is straight up bullshit.

So to all my curly sisters out there, I do not think you are brave or bold. I do not think your hair makes a political statement. I just think you are beautiful.

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