The Five Everyday Struggles of a Curly-Haired Woman

The Five Everyday Struggles of a Curly-Haired Woman


1. General wildness

Curly hair is unpredictable. When you’re a little kid, it’s cute, but once you hit puberty, those soft ringlets will transform into mean, teen coils of fury. Part of the excitement of having curly hair is not knowing what you’re going to get at various stages of life—for example, when my Italian mom had me, her curly hair mysteriously went straight.

A curly-haired woman will spend most of middle and high school just figuring out basic styling, and even once you do get a grip on how to make it look okay, a slight increase in humidity could overcome years of technique and product-hunting. Curls look different day-to-day. You have to shower every morning to hit reset, and don’t even think about threatening their authority with a brush. Find a good hair cutter person and a couple bottled sprays and goos that work for your type and never let them go, because you’re not getting out of this curly-hair deal (unless you give birth to me, and that’s already been taken).

2. The media hates curls

We know that women of all ages, shapes, and hair types are routinely exposed to unattainable physical standards depicted in various media—but curly girls are dealt a particularly harsh set of demands by advertisements and other creative content. John Frieda, Pantene Pro-V, and Garnier are just a few companies that have disseminated longstanding ad campaigns delivering the same message: curly hair is something to be eliminated, not managed. These ads usually begin in black and white with a woman surrounded by an angry mane of frizzy (read: curly) hair, her mouth framing a shriek as she grasps those mischief-infused locks in frustration. The next frame (post-product) is in color, and she looks like she’s just chewed up three Xanax, and her hair is a smooth sheen of straightened perfection, and somehow it is also now blonde.

The crusade to kill all curls doesn’t end with ads. Can you think of a single lead actress in a major movie or TV show (besides freakin’ Felicity, come on) with natural curls?  Canada’s YTV features the stunning curly-haired actress Madison Pettis in the sitcom Life With Boys, but a curly girl rocking a Canadian network is not exactly a revolution for our kind.

3. Inappropriate reactions to straightening

Once in awhile, a curly-haired lady gets the itch to shake things up by squeezing her follicles between 400-degree ceramic plates. The process is lengthy (two hours on average), hot, and often unsuccessful (summer? Don’t even try), but if you do manage to unwind those tresses, there’s one thing you’re sure to get in return: comments.

I remember a mortifying moment from my high school years: I had risen at 5:00 AM to do the straightening deed, and I debuted my temporary look in first-period Russian class. Steve, a pre-frat-type junior I’d been secretly crushing on for months but had never really interacted with, slammed his palms onto his plastic desk and said “Holy shit…Natalie’s hot!” A sliver of me was excited that he thought I looked good, but the rest of me sat, purple-faced in the back of Russian 1, thinking, “I will never be hot the way I really am.”

The straightening reactions were more direct when I lived with 60 women in a sorority house at a state school in the South. “Oh my God, Natalie. If I were a dude I’d totally feck you right now. You should do that every day. Have you ever thought of like, permanently straightening it? I hear there’s this Asian method that totally doesn’t damage your hair.”

Shockingly, being told repeatedly that you look best when you alter a defining part of your physical appearance to its opposite state does not inspire warm feelings of self-appreciation in curly-haired women.

4. Offensive reactions/questions

“Are you as kinky as your hair?”

Also, nicknames like Pube Head, Ms. Frizzle, or ‘Fro Ho.

As a 22-year-old young professional, a collegiate freelance photographer I was working with asked me within moments of meeting me, “So, are ya mixed?” I replied, “Actually yeah, I’m Danish-Italian.” She just looked confused as she bounced off to take pictures of a softball game, her platinum blonde, stick-straight ponytail skipping off her scalp.

When you have curly hair, you get asked the same questions over and over. “Is your hair naturally curly?” When I was a smartass middle-schooler, I’d answer that one with, “Would you do this to yourself on purpose?”

Then there’s always, “do you put any product in it?” Gobs, honey. Probably 10% of my income goes to product. I tithe product.

5. You never know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone

In summer 2011, I started a strenuous job that pushed my limits while simultaneously handling the collapse of a four-year relationship with a man who shared my apartment. I was so stressed that my hair started falling out. At the same time, I was also quitting smoking, and developed a heavy nicotine gum habit—also a cause of hair loss. I’m not patchy or bald, but I have a lot less hair today than I did two years ago, and I miss it all the time. I used to wrestle with it every morning, trying to get it to be less voluminous, to just behave for one day, but now, I spend time shaking it out with my head upside-down, trying to get a little of that voom, that oomf, back.

I’m off the gum now, and I’ve learned how to manage stressful situations without losing physical parts of me. I take biotin and vitamin E, and I never apply heat to my locks in hopes that I can re-grow the thick, unruly, Mediterranean curls I didn’t fully appreciate when I had them en masse.

Even in its diminished state, I love my curly hair. It’s surprising and full of personality, assuming remarkably different looks and lengths depending on whether it’s raining, below zero, or humid. It perfectly matches my sister’s hair, and I like looking like someone I love. No matter how hard frizz-serum commercials try to convince me that I should find a way to get rid of it, I’m happy with my obstinate corkscrews. My curls represent characteristics I hope to see in myself: individuality, spontaneity, and resilience to those who think I should change who I am.

Natalie Berkley