My whole life I’ve been plagued/blessed with curly hair. My opinion on said qualification was always down to self esteem, and mostly tied to age. As a toddler I looked like Little Orphan Annie. As a child I had no qualms about my frizzy mop and loved the length. By the time I hit puberty, however, my curls became the scourge of my life. Constant straightening, disastrous haircuts (a pixie cut at 16 I am still regretting), and enough hair product to fill an olympic sized swimming pool several times over – that was my life for the past ten years. It’s taken a long time to go back to being happy with my curls. But recently I’ve been edging back towards discomfort.
A few months ago, whilst searching for how to get Meg Ryan’s lustrous curls, I stumbled upon this article on naturallycurlly.com. The whole thing is very on point, but this quote stood out for me:
“[S]ince when does having curly hair make one earthy? Neither have we found in our unscientific gatherings that curly hair necessarily translates to being unconcerned about one’s appearance, or more romantic, wild, creative, or crazy and lusty.”
I recently went for an interview and it was a weird experience. One of the things the woman asked was for the hour of my birth so she could do a psychometric chart to determine my personality. (I know.) I had gone to the interview in all my lion’s mane glory; I though it looked pretty good. The more she went on about graphology (handwriting to determine personality) and my horoscope, the less comfortable I was feeling. After recounting the brief horror show, I found myself saying to all my friends, “I bet she didn’t like that I had curly hair.” I also recited a tale from my undergrad days, when an interview coach suggested to an auditorium of impressionable teenagers that girls with curls should straighten before interviews. (I know!)
Luckily, naturally curly hair is becoming more popular in fashion – from couture to beauty blogs to Disney princesses. It’s a subject Samantha Ellis deals with extensively in her memoir How to Be A Heroine, an absolute favourite of mine. As a fellow curly girl, Ellis writes about the shared experience of growing up with no princess to associate with hair wise.
Makeovers constantly result in curls being flattened. Sleeking up means straightening down. And unless you’ve got the tresses that feature in Botticelli paintings, curls can be unruly and hard to manage – therefore their owners are perceived as such. Now curly girlies have Disney’s films Brave and Home to look to (it took long enough, especially for the latter). Growing up I accepted that I, like Anne Hathaway, couldn’t be a princess with curly hair.
There are girls whose curls I want (Ruby Tandoh [I also want her fashion sense and baking abilities]), and girls whose straight hair I want (one of my besties, Genna). I envy being able to wake up and not worry about my hair. I’d like to wash it if I want and not stick to a 2 times per week regime. I’d rather not have a huge bucket full of products I’ve wasted money on trying. I’d love to be able to do any of the thousands of hair tutorials on The Beauty Department that in practice are impossible. I don’t suffer gross under representation by mainstream media as a white woman, but I have lacked some by having curly hair.
By now I’ve mostly figured out how to control my tresses – but there’s a part of me that will always be self-conscious, and wonder what other people think of it. We do, after all, judge each other on appearance – whether it’s classed as objectification or not. When a friend says “you look like a sexy medusa” and means it as a compliment, I know I shouldn’t be upset but deep down I am. Is Medusa my only hair role model?
Sure, my own anxiety stems from the preposterous beauty standards hollywood and the media have perpetuated, but on a fundamental level we all have to be happy in our own skin – and with our own hair. Natural beauty in all its forms needs to be celebrated, and catered to, but not as something novel. Two Disney films aren’t enough; curly girls of every ethnicity need equal representation from big screens to magazines.