Curly Versus Straight (updated)

I have always loved curly hair. I myself have straight hair so my preference for curly is usually ascribed to the fact that I don’t have it. My hairdresser says all the straight-haired girls want curly hair and all the curly-haired girls want straight hair. When I press him on this, however, he admits that it’s not entirely true. That many of his clients are quite happy with their hair. I, too, am quite happy with my hair. But I do get bored and I’m glad that I know how to make it wavy without too much effort. A change, they say, is as good as a holiday. To which I’d say depends on the change and depends on the holiday. I once went to [redacted] for a holiday and let me tell you . . . *heh hem* I digress.

I don’t actually think my love of non-straight hair—it’s not just curly hair, any kind of non-straight, textured hair fills my heart with joy: kinky, curly, wavy, nappy, twists, locs etc. all looks good to me—is because I don’t myself have such hair. I think it’s because I like curves. Aesthetically I always choose a curve over a straight line. I don’t like hard edges or Modernism, I love Art Noveau and Art Deco. I love Gaudi and Zaha Hadid.

I’m not saying straight hair is ugly. I’m just saying that when people rave about the beauty of, say, Megan Fox’s hair, I don’t see it. I mean it doesn’t look bad, it’s shiny and that, but I can’t get excited. It certainly doesn’t look beautiful to me the way that Nicole Kidman’s hair was before she straightened it and nuked it blonde, or Gina Torres’, or Tawny Cypress’. I could go on for a week listing women with gorgeous hair.

It could be that part of my curly hair love is from being a kid in the 1980s in Australia when curly was the thing. Yes, I had a disastrous perm when I was wee. I used to think all perms left you with fried hair that smelled bad for months, but then I met a rich girl in my first year of uni, who had gorgeous corkscrew hair down to the small of her back, that you would swear was natural. It was not. She got it done once a week. I had never met anyone who went to the hairdresser once a week before. Well, not other than the ladies with their weekly sets. But I’m betting those sets did not cost $200 a pop. I did mention she was rich, right?

So that might be part of my curly hair love, but I don’t think it accounts for all of it, because I have been a lover of curls and curves and waves and spirals and twists, not just in hair, but in art, in buildings, in plots, in nature, in pretty much everything my entire life. And, frankly, I’m not particularly convinced by the grass is greener argument. That’s too easy and it’s certainly not the main reason so many people with curly hair want straight hair. Most of the curly-haired women I know were taught to hate their hair. They endured a lifetime of being told that the way their hair grows out of their head is messy and out of control and somehow wrong. I have curly, kinky and nappy-haired friends who’ve been knocked back from jobs because of their hair.

Most of those women have grown to love their hair. And in their professions—writers, journalists, musicians, academics—they’re able to wear their hair however they please. But I still know plenty of women who keep their hair straight for a variety of reasons, including being taken seriously in the work place and looking “professional”. If Michelle Obama were to appear in public with natural hair many, many people would say, What has she done to her hair.1

My straight hair has never cost me anything. When I make my hair wavy it doesn’t cost me anything either.2 No one has ever commented on the professionalism of my hair.

I’ve never lost a job over my hair. I’ve never had to deal with the politics of hair per se. I’m white, with straight hair. I’m not a politician, neither is my husband. But even without those huge pressures, I have spent lots of time and money and angst (I found my first grey hair when I was fourteen & thought that was the beginning of The End) over this stuff that grows out of my head. It’s a multi-billion industry world-wide and I’m throwing my money at much product and hours-long visits to the hairdresser every four weeks. I have to admit that sometimes I do find myself wondering why?3

Care to share your hair stories?

Update: You can find some of my additional thoughts on this fascinating subject here.

  1. See the crazy responses to Malia Obama’s gorgeous twists. No, I’m not going to link, makes me too cranky. []
  2. Well, except for the product involved. []
  3. Other times I’m just giddy at the new colour and waviness of my salon hair. []


  1. Patty on #

    My hair is quite straight, of indeterminate colour, long and because I’m lazy, I wear it in a plait that reaches to my waist. I’m too lazy to go to the hairdresser. All of a sudden, due to a certain movie, I’m finding people becoming intrigued by really long plaits. What comes around goes around. Just be yourself and don’t worry.

    That said, I once met a girl whose hair was in loads of perfect tightly-curled ringlets – just gorgeous. Bet she hated it, though πŸ˜‰

  2. Wendy Prior on #

    Well I’m lucky. Mine’s always been wavy, but it’s gotten steadily curlier over the years. Now it’s genuine corkscrew curly which I adore. I’ve always liked it, but now I looooove it. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

  3. Welshcake on #

    I have curly hair. The 80s were good for curly girls!

    Sometimes I think my curls are lovely, most of the time I don’t like them AT ALL, so I blow dry them straight. Poor hair, I bet it gets tired of being fried into submission. One day I’ll stop torturing it and embrace my curliness.

  4. lisadempster on #

    I have really thick hair with a kink in back and a small cownlick in front. When I get it cut the hairdresser always exclaims about how much hair they have to cut out to tame it. It’s too thick to curl with curlers (it just drops out), and as a result I have always loved curly hair. I have been able to achieve lovely waves by spending lots of time in the ocean (beach hair!) but in everyday life my hair is unwieldy. However, as I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate it’s volume.

    I would start talking colour issues now, but I feel I’ve said enough…

  5. Lu on #

    I have very curly hair that, you’re right, I was pretty much taught to simultaneously love and hate my hair. Everyone would touch it and stroke it and say how beautiful it was, but in the same breath marvel at how it must be impossible to take care of and so messy. I also believe that people treat me differently when my hair is straight. People are *nicer* to me. I can’t even explain it, but I just feel like I’m both taken more seriously and thought I’m more beautiful when my hair is straight. Straight is neat, clean, professional and beautiful. Curly is unruly, lazy and ugly. Every single time I straighten my hair it’s proven to me again. Straightening my hair is not very difficult (thought getting it to stay that way is all but impossible) but there is no way in hell I want to straighten my hair every single day the way the women you mention or my aunt do just because I don’t like the way I’m perceived. Fortunately, I’m comfortable enough in my curls and my frizz that I really don’t care. And I don’t even notice until I straighten my hair, but it is unsettling whenever it happens. If my children have curly hair they will wear it proud and I will tell them from day one their hair is absolutely beautiful.

    PS I hate it when people touch my hair. The more you touch curly hair, the frizzier it gets because of the oil on your hands. Don’t you people know that?! Please don’t touch curly hair, we don’t like it.

    PPS I’m guilty. My friend in high school had super tight curls (compared to my looser, frizzier curls) and I touched them all the time. But she did not have the frizz problem and we were FRIENDS.

  6. Stormfilled on #

    I have curls that were dragged into a near semblance of straightness every day by my mother, until it gave up being anything and just sat there in frizzy waves. I hated it. Then I cut it all off when I was sixteen, buzzcut short. When it grew back, I didn’t brush it or wash it (this was the 1990s, grunge was IN) and as it grew back, it grew back in its naturally curly state. My Jewish friends taught me how to take care of it, and now I have gorgeous locks that I adore. It’s my best feature and often commented on, but the compliments are so frequently followed with ‘Do you ever straighten it?’ that I’ve taken to challenging it. I only ever straighten it to cut it, which I’ve been doing myself since the buzzcut. I do rely on FrizzEase though. It is my saviour, even if it is expensive. I think a lot of the negatives about curls can be righted if people know how to take care of them.

    I’ve been told that curly hair is associated with scatty personalities, but I’ve also been told that the wearing of glasses counteracts this! I’m a librarian now and can do that classic whipping off the glasses and shaking down the curls thing, which always makes me giggle. Now and then I look at people with sleek straight locks and I do feel a bit envious, it’s a whole grass-is-greener thing. I love my curls though.

  7. Najela on #

    I mostly wear my hair in braids because I don’t have to take care of it and the hair comes in all sorts of different colors. So far, I haven’t gotten fired or talked to by my bosses about my hair. In fact, most of them like it and it’s probably because I have yet to have a “serious” job. I more of a freelancer who can wear my hair anyway I want to. I like wearing my hair natural too, but it’s just too much to take care of to get it to look just right.(plus things like lint and stuff get stuck in it)

    I knew some people that had really beautiful ringlet curls, but they straightened their hair and cut it all off.

  8. mb on #

    I always wanted hair that would “cascade” down my back. Eventually I got it (it grew out that way naturally, very long with a bit of wave). After about five years of cascading I got tired of that and went with the Jeanne D’Arc look. Lost my hair on chemo, and then it came back a really weird sort of coyote color until the melanocytes or whatever they’re called revived. So now it’s short, fairly straight, and back to my normal dark brown, and I’m quite happy to have it. Though bald is, of course, beautiful.

  9. Micol on #

    My hair is neither straight nor curly, and therefore needs quite a bit of coaxing in either direction. I wouldn’t care which way it settled, if it chose, and that meant less work for me.

  10. AliceB on #

    I had straight hair until after I had children, when it curled. Frizz curled. Then it thinned. I mostly try to ignore my hair at this point and hope that others will too. I have noticed, however, that people don’t take me as seriously as they used to. But then, middle-aged women are generally taken less seriously than younger women. Older women even less so. So I can’t entirely blame the hair.

  11. wandering-dreamer on #

    Ever since I discovered a few years back that I look better with short hair (naturally straight) I’ve actually been loads happier with it than when it was half way down my back. Although my hair is quirky, it flips out if it’s cut shorter than my shoulders and waves in the humidity (so pretty often in the American South). And when I was younger I did Irish dancing and you HAD to have curly hair for the performances/competitions. No buts no exceptions, and still no idea why they had this rule. So even though having straight hair was a pain then I actually like it much better now, yay for me I guess.

  12. Carrie V. on #

    I had a long/short dilemma. I had convinced myself I would look bad in long hair, even though everyone else looks good in it. I had badly layered short hair through the 80’s. Then I started growing it out in college, mostly because I didn’t want to pay to get it cut anymore. Then I noticed that hairdresses charge more for long hair, even if it’s just a trim. And I also noticed my hair got so much better when it was long — fuller, wavier, prettier. Now, I trim my hair myself and haven’t paid to get it cut since 1997.

    I’m also blond, which is a whole different can of worm. Some people don’t take you seriously when you’re blond. It’s very weird. I once had a stranger walk into the waiting room when I was getting my car worked on, and he started telling me dumb blond jokes. That was so not okay.

  13. Miss Julie on #

    I’ve always loved curly hair, too. My nephew is biracial and has the most gorgeous fuzzy hair, which I adore.

    When I first started teaching preschool back in 2001, one of the books provided to all classrooms was _Happy To Be Nappy_ by bell hooks and illustrated by Chris Raschka. It is one of the best picture books on the subject of hair, but unfortunately it is out of print, which doesn’t make any sense to me. There were girls in my classrooms that would carry that book around with them and read it all the time, relishing the fact that they could point at any given picture and relate it to someone they knew.

  14. tigressflowers on #

    I have sort of wavy brown hair, it’s curly when it is short, and straight when it is long, lol. My biggest issue is that at 25 I have several gray streaks. I started going gray in middle school, and it became very obvious when I turned 20. I love my gray hair. I think it adds character.

    I get two reactions to my hair. The first question is usually “Is that natural, or do you dye it gray.” When I tell people that it is natural, they either exclaim that it is beautiful, or look at me as if I’m crazy and ask why I *don’t* die it! In fact, I have had ‘so-called’ friends, beg me to dye my hair for me, and I hate that! I like it!

    I have never noticed the whole ‘you need straight well groomed hair’ for a serious job thing. But now that I think about it, I do see it. And I think it is portrayed in more than a few movies.

  15. Monica on #

    I’m reminded of an assignment in a women’s studies class (“Mothers and Daughters in Literature”) in which we were to write a hair story about our mother–and no one had to ask for clarification. Everyone had one–and it was interesting to see the common themes which emerged: bad haircuts, bad perms, arguments…hair can be about a lot.

    My story was about going to the prom, the one “normal” thing I did in high school, and asking my mother to do my hair, because I was clueless. Hot rollers, steam, potions–it was an almost alchemical mystery. And my hair looked lovely.

  16. Rebekah on #

    I’ve never really bothered with doing anything with my hair. It’s always been blonde and curly (but has become progressively less so as I got older and it got longer), and I used to wear it down until around age ten, when I started wearing it in a ponytail, which I did for about six years, upon which time I started wearing it in a bun (I’m about three months shy of seventeen now). My mom, whose hair is thin and brown, frequently bemoans her own hair and wishes she could have mine (thick, curly, darkish blonde) or my sister’s (which is a rich reddish brown with gentle, wavy curls and very thick), and I’m often told that I’m wasting my hair by wearing it in a bun, but I like it like that. I’ve always loved the old, stern, powerful female characters (personified perfectly in Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, or even Professor McGonagall, particularly as played by Dame Maggie Smith, whom I love), and wearing my hair like them makes me feel closer to their character and farther away from my own self-doubting adolescent one.

    I’ve never really paid any attention to my hair, though. I do whatever’s simplest, wash it regularly, and get it trimmed twice a year to keep it long enough to put in a bun but not too long to be convenient. I have the same general approach to getting dressed – I found a few items of clothing that are plain, serviceable, and durable, and bought multiple copies of each in the most comfortable size. Of course, being a teenager, I haven’t reached the age where the way I look could appreciably hurt my chances of being taken seriously anywhere it would matter (my teachers don’t care how I dress and I’m enough of an introverted nerd who’s used to being made fun of that the approval of my peers isn’t something I care about even remotely).

  17. jennila on #

    I had a white hair when I was 13/14 and my friend freaked out more than I did. She’s convinced to this day it’s physical evidence that I’m too stressed about school. I just plucked it. Issue solved. But other than that I have straight, black hair. And while I like that it’s easy to handle (although the amounts of conditioner I go through is disturbing), I think my curly blonde friend has the coolest hair ever. It goes boing! It bounces back when you tug lightly at it! There’s apparently a Curly Hair Salon here in NYC that she goes to a lot.

  18. Harmony on #

    I have the thickest, most curly hair in my entire county…probably.
    Well most of the time I absolutely dread my hair, especially because of the humidity of where I live. It makes puffy and then I just feel like putting a huge hat on. But when it’s winter, my hair is completely curly in small little ringlets (:

    But i’ve already wanted straight hair, maybe one day i’ll embrace my hair…sooner or later.

  19. Q on #

    I, too, have naturally straight hair. It’s ridiculously happy and too healthy to style (truly; I’ve had stylists complain). It grows 7-8 inches (18-20 cm) in a year. Every two years and a few months I chop it all off and donate it to a charity called Locks of Love, which makes wigs for underprivileged children with diseases that cause hair loss. Because of this, I cannot dye or bleach my hair, and I don’t blow dry or curl it often to keep it healthy.

    My only problem with my hair is that I wish it would curl when I asked it to nicely. Oh, well. There are worse things than having to sleep in braids or sponge curlers.

  20. susan on #

    Hey Justine,

    I ran into a co-worker from a company I left about five years ago. We chatted and during the conversation she casually said, “Well, girl you know they were never going to give you your due respect nor a position because of your locs.”

    Now, I paused and was shocked but she didn’t notice and continued to rattle on. Now I’m not naive and I’m a little older so I know black women will catch it for their hair but this was one of those very liberal, diversity rocking places so yes, I was knocked off guard by her comment.

    When I took a job with the county, a clearly blue-collar job I got looks and attitude from both black and white co-workers and management. Take your pick among the reactions: a) she must be militant, pro-black b–ch. b) she think she’s better than; who does she think she is not pressing/relaxing her hair? c) why is she throwing her blackness around with that hair? d) don’t know, and because we don’t know, not going to trust her. One supervisor was brazen enough to say to an employer that he didn’t understand why I wore locs and he subsequently always acted uneasy around me. Can anyone explain to what’s there to understand?

    Sounds ridiculous? Well, ridiculous or not this is what I get simply for opting not to straighten my hair.

  21. Maureen McGowan on #

    I, too, have very straight hair. And it’s so fine, it barely takes a curl. That’s not true. It takes a curl, just doesn’t hold it, even with products. Products often make things worse. I swear some of them are designed to make your hair collapse seconds after you leave the salon.

    I had poodle perms (that relaxed in a day or two to something less poodle-like that I could style with a curling iron) through the eighties and an embarrassingly long part of the nineties. (Quit my perms around ’93?)

    The only thing I’ve always loved about my hair is the feel of it. Fine does translate into baby soft. It’s one upside. And I used to like the colour, too… A kind of golden blonde.

    But now that I’m a decade and a half past my chemical dependency on perms, I now find myself with another dependency, hair colour. I never thought I’d be one to dye my hair. (Natural blondes can be a little judgmental about these things.) But now I LOVE hair color. Currently have layers of strawberry blonde, bright orangey red, and a burgundy red underneath. Fun, fun, fun.

  22. Shari on #

    I have naturally messy hair. Mostly wavy, partly straight, partly curly. Oh, and frizzy, thanks to living at the coast. I’m okay with that, though, cuz I don’t really have the personality to match a perfectly-coiffed look anyway. πŸ˜‰

  23. Wendy on #

    I love my quite curly hair (nice ringlets just after I was it) and never straighten it, though it gets sort of straight if I braid it when it’s wet and let it dry and take the braid out–then it lies flat against my head and is curly below.

    Yes, I love my hair, but people never get tired of telling me “I love your hair, but I bet you hate it. Girls with straight hair always want curly hair and girls with curly hair always want straight hair. Isn’t that the way of the world?” (Just like they never get tired of telling me that my name comes from Peter Pan.)

    When I say “no, I love my hair too, thank you”, they seem disappointed.

  24. Justine on #

    Wow! Thanks, everyone, for all the hair stories. Fascinating.

    Susan: Thanks for this. I’m so sorry you have to put up with this shit.

  25. Susannah on #

    ‘Why is your hair so curly? It’s because you get up so early.’ That’s what my grandfather used to say to me. That and, ‘You have your Granny White’s hair.’

    So, yes, I have curly hair (whether it’s Granny White’s or my own)and I will never forget the woman in a class at university who said to me (UNPROVOKED), ‘It’s a well-known fact that men find straight hair more attractive than curly. They just do.’

    I didn’t have the wherewithal at the time to respond with anything other than a withering glare.

  26. Kaia on #

    You know, I never understood why people with beautiful, curly hair straightened it, but now it kind of makes sense…

    The last time I had mine cut it came out looking ALMOST WAVY, so almost that nobody but me could tell, and it made me ridiculously happy.

    I read some interesting blog posts a while back on black women and their hair, and found it absolutely fascinating – of course, I don’t have to live with it (I’m white, and mostly straight haired), so it’s easy for me to say.

    Interesting conversation, this.

  27. Julia Rios on #

    I have slightly wavy hair that doesn’t like to hold a curl, but doesn’t like to lay completely straight either. I have grown to like it, but when I was younger, I used to pine for glorious curls. Now I just admire them on others. Prejudice against hair styles is ridiculous, but I can say for sure that people have taken me more seriously when I’ve let my sister style my hair with sleekening products–and I’m a white woman with straightish hair! It pisses me off that you’re right about Michelle Obama, and that things like what Susan deals with happen all the time.

  28. Megan on #

    I have really long dark brown hair (it looks black in some light, but I swear it’s brown!) with natural red highlights that I used to think was straight, but I was informed in middle school by a friend (who happened to be half-Asian like me, go figure?) that it was slightly wavy like hers. It’s funny, my hair is one of my favorite things about me but I don’t give it too much attention – mostly just wash, condition, brush and go. I never really saw the point in paying too much attention to hair, no offense to those who do. I have a friend with great hair, really wavy but not quite curly, who straightens it and highlights it till there’s no tomorrow and I think it’s just silly because she looks great without all that work too!

    Also, your mention of Gina Torres’ hair made me squee in a very embarrassing manner. I miss her (and Zoe).

  29. Alissa on #

    I guess I’m on the fence on this one, because my hair is somewhere between curly and straight. Growing up this was an issue, and it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I finally made peace with my hair. Growing up there were times when I felt my hair wasn’t curly enough, and I did once get a horrible perm. There were other times when I would go to great lengths to make it straight, which usually just resulted in frizzy hair. The only constant is that I have always preferred to wear it long, always regretting those times I went and hacked it off.

  30. Natasha on #

    I am bi-racial, so I know all about the curly/straight issues. It takes me a blowdrier and a flat iron to get it straight, 3 hours of work. So needless to say, it doesn’t happen very often and its always up in a bun or a ‘tail.

    I have had soo many issues with my curls its not even funny, it’s routine now. My hair is always tied back in a pony-tail and the few times I’ve left it out in curls(which start out as nice ringlets, then self seperate leaving me to resemble Don King’s smaller lil sister) EVERYONE has to touch it. WHY?! It takes a ton of product for my curls to stay the way I want them and it drives me nuts when people touch my hair. It makes it frizz beyond belief.

    That said, I’d never want straight hair because I can do soo much with my curls! Just wish I didn’t resemble a poodle half the time! lol

  31. Sam on #

    My hair, like my mother’s hair when she was young, was pin straight from when it first grew in to when I was about 12. And then I hit puberty, and my hair grew out with waves. It was funny because all my life I was envious of my sister’s naturally curly hair (and, of course, she was envious of my naturally straight hair) until my hair was sort of curly. Then I cut it real short and dyed it because the waves bothered me. πŸ™‚ But yes, I’ll have to agree with you that I find beautiful curls way more appealing than Megan Fox’s slicked-back hair. πŸ˜‰

  32. Mia on #

    I figured I’d jump in with my curly hair woes. When I was growing up I had straight hair and mourned for the curls all the other girls had (the natural and not so natural ones). Then I hit puberty. My hair has been a curly head of disaster ever since.

    I think my biggest problem is that I am a control freak and curly hair is uncontrollable. It does what it wants when it wants. I’d rather have straight hair that I could curl the way I wanted. Which is why I spend so much time killing my hair with straighteners and curling irons.

    If I had Taylor Swift curls or Kerri Russel curls I wouldn’t complain so much, but instead of I have big headed, frizzy, uncontrollable curls. Too bad I wasn’t a teen in the 80’s. My hair is perfect for that decade.

  33. Faith on #

    My hair has been about every possible thing it could be in seventeen years of existence. The only constant is that it is really, REALLY thick. When I was oh, say 6-9, I had blonde hair (since birth) that was incredibly straight and went to my butt. I was a skater in the Sun Valley Summer Ice Shows for two summers in the little kids group, and both years for our costume we had to have high ponytails on the top of our heads. Because mine was so long, it couldn’t be combed up, so I would lie on my back on my mother’s bed and hang my head off the edge with my hair brushing the ground. she would comb it over the edge of the bed until my eyes started feeling a little too bloodshot from being upside down for so long and then she’d put it into the ponytail. Every saturday night for two summers… hoo boy I haven’t worn a high pony since. When I turned ten, it started becoming brunette.

    (I should note that my mother’s hair was not quite any color, but was more red than blonde or brunette, and was insanely curly. like, literally an afro when she was in a humid area. she’s irish. My father, and my aunt and uncle and grandmother, all have BLACK black hair, incredibly thick and straight. except they were all blonde until they were teenagers. we’re an odd bunch, eh?)

    I cut it to my shoulders, and it kept on being straight. 8th gradeish I started dying it a bit redder.

    THEN, all of a sudden, somewhere around freshman year it started being wavy. (I grew up in Sun Valley, Idaho, by the way, basically one of the driest places ever without being a desert. so this was strange) I stopped dying it in tenth grade. this had no effect on the texture whatsoever. The summer after 11th grade, we were putting on a production of HAIR, so I grew it out all that year in preparation. Over the next few years, it became curlier and curlier and I let it grow more and more, until I finally moved to Oregon for my first year of college this year. it’s down to my midback, super curly in the climate, and sometimes it pretends to be blonde or red. I still kind of long for the jet black waves that cascaded down my aunt’s, uncle’s, father’s, and brother’s backs in their twenties. (yes… uncle, father and brother. like I said, we’re an odd bunch)Maybe it’ll happen.

    What I have learned from this all is simply this: expect nothing, and you will always be pleasantly surprised. Though redheads are stereotypically angry, blondes foolish, curly haired girls crazy, and short haired girls lesbians, what your hair looks like (naturally) says nothing about you as a person. it’s just another body part. my hair has always been a nuisance, but it’s always been my best feature in any of its incarnations. I think we all have a love/hate relationship with our hair, and thus should be more understanding about others’. Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by black hair. it looks so fun to me! but I don’t have it, and apparently its quite political.

    This is so long it could be its own blog post. but hair is something that fascinates me because it’s all so different for everyone and everyone has such strong opinions about it. so sorry for the lengthiness!

  34. Faith on #

    *edit- I just realized that I referred to “BLACK black hair” in my family and “black hair” that interests me. by “BLACK black hair” I mean incredibly black. really, truly inky dark color. By the second option I was referring to african-american hair. That which is usually fuzzy, kinky, nappy, or whatever other things its called. sorry if that was confusing.

  35. danielle on #

    You do NOT want curly hair in this day and age, when “pretty” hair is considered to be flatter then paper. I myself have the Most Holy of JewFros (the Female Addition) and I do my best to keep it plastered to my head in an attempt to save what little dignity I managed to keep after that toilet paper incident in third grade…but that’s a tale for a later date.

  36. Meagan on #

    Two of my sisters have absolutely gorgeous dark brown curly hair that they sometimes straighten because they think it’s too out of control, which I don’t get. I adore curly hair, I think it’s beautiful, and much more so than extremely straight hair. (My hair is neither – it does this kind of indeterminate wavy thing.)

  37. Erika on #

    I had straight hair until I hit puberty, then it turned curly. About the only thing I didn’t like about having straight hair were flyaways when I tied my hair in a ponytail . I didn’t really like my hair curly growing up. It had too much volume, it was frizzy, and I couldn’t stand it. For six years I pulled it back tight in a ponytail or with a clip. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I stopped being so ashamed of my mane and let it out. Of course, I didn’t realize my real problem was not knowing how to take care of curly hair!

    I learned how to instruct stylists to cut it and eventually found some products that helped keep it shiny and bouncy.

    The only thing I get frustrated with is how people can’t seem to resist touching my hair. I’m used to it by now–they’ve been doing it for years, but it’s not good for curly hair! The oils in your hands make it frizzy, something that’s taken me years to manage.

    Sometimes I miss my straight hair, but I’ve come to love my hair like it is, despite being made to feel unprofessional or messy when I wore it down during my retail-working days. Maybe that’s why I got my BA in English Literature & Creative Writing instead of something else. :p

  38. Zahra Alley on #

    I myself have east African hair- it’s not nappy, and there are a few kinks here and there, but all an all it’s a thick mass of wavy to curly hair. Not to mention really frizzy if I don’t primp it to perfection most days.

    To be honest, African-Americans (or Canadians or wherever they’re from) think that straight hair is the right hair. Many are born with this mass of frizz and curls, and as kids we desperately want to look like those celebrities we see on TV, with long shiny straight hair, free of frizz.

    And I definitely felt this way too. I wanted to have hair like people of white race, asians, etc. When I was in middle school, I got a perm (and a perm in the African-American community doesn’t chemically curl your hair- it straightens it). The perm made the hair less of a jungle and I could handle it much easier than usual. It also gave me the hair that is categorized as ‘good hair’. I was happy with it, I really was.

    I only came to realize when I started highschool that I didn’t need to destroy my natural hair with chemicals and heat, so I let it go back to it’s natural state.

    You should definitely watch one of the Tyra Banks show episode all on the topic of hair and how it influences people one way or another. It was very insightful.

    Thanks again for the wonderful post, Justine!

  39. Julie Polk on #

    I have curly hair and I love it now, but all through junior high I tried desperately to brush and blow dry my hair straight. I used a curling iron to try to straighten my bangs and then flip them back, and wound up with two horizontal tubes, one on each side of my forehead. They looked like finger sausages, except made of hair and attached to my head. (Alarmingly, there is photographic evidence of me and my hair sausages somewhere.)

    I fell in love with it once I learned how to work with it instead of against it (how’s that for a good lesson?) Still do; it’s work, but it’s worth it. But I have absolutely felt the frustration of people responding differently to me when I’ve had blowouts — it stunned me the first time I felt it, I was just completely unprepared for how palpable the difference was. Even more frustrating? Telling people afterward that I was taken more seriously when my hair was straight, and being told that I was imagining things. (I should have made that point while my hair was still straight one time, just to see if people believed me then. Interesting experiment, that.)

    And you know who has my perfect haircut – ie., the picture I used to take to the salon before I found my fabulous hairdresser who I lovelovelove?

    Howard Stern. Think what you will, the man knows how to rock his curls.

  40. Miriam on #

    Wow, what great (and some sad) stories! I’m pale skinned with extremely thick, curly brown hair that takes two people two hours to straighten.

    Too much trouble, in my opinion.

    Funny enough, I did a blog post on this once. My mother brushed my hair my entire childhood, not because she had anything against curly hair, but because she grew up with straight hair and she didn’t know any better. After a few years of constant morning crying, she just cut it all off. I had short hair until college.

    Now I know how to care for it. I wash it twice a week, throw some mousse and leave-in conditioner in and DON’T TOUCH IT. It usually looks fine and if it kicks up a fuss, well a curly ponytail is cute too. πŸ™‚

  41. Elodie on #

    I had my hair go through a lot of changes over time, but through high school I kept it up and in braids, pigtails, etc, because it just looked awful down. I have curly, fine hair but a lot of it and with no gel in hawaii weather….well. Not pretty. I found a lot of awesome ways to make it pretty on the curltalk forums (over here:

    Now this is my hair: And although it is frizzy and takes a lot of time to fix, I like it! I still wish I had straight hair, but not for the look of it–just for being able to brush my hair and say, well! That looks good! I’m done! I’m off to shower right now and with the hair, I won’t be ready for at least an hour. Without putting on makeup or any thing like that.

  42. Welshcake on #

    Elodie – if I could get my curly hair to look like that, I would never straighten it again.

  43. Elodie on #

    Welshcake, check out that forum I talked about. The methods I use (but the ones that will work for you are very likely to be different) are pixiecurling, diffusing, and applying all my products in the shower, just do a search for them. If you want to pm me on there, I am lody, so we don’t invade this post on curly hair stories with curly hair care. xD But you *can* get nice curls. Trust me, I’m not one of those people who steps out of the shower with perfect hair. xD

  44. Brynne on #

    I’m dead white (like, vampirically so) but I have very curly hair ( that I struggled with for years because throughout my childhood it was a one big fuzzball. Finally I figured out that if I stopped brushing it and using shampoo (!) (it’s not dirty without it . . . my hair never gets greasy), but rather drowning it in conditioner, it actually formed curls. This revelation came via the internet on August 10, 2006, and I’ve been curly ever since.

    But it IS hard. Getting less so, because curls are coming back in, but when I went curly at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, it quickly became clear that while everyone’s first question was “wow – is that natural?” their second was, “Have you ever straightened it? NEVER? OMG can I straighten it for you? It would be so pretty!”


  45. Morgan on #

    When I was a child, you couldn’t even tell I had any hair at all until I was almost four. It was really fine (still is), and that superwhite platinum color that usually comes from a bottle. Over time, it darkened into an ashy blonde color, until I was fourteen and my mother allowed me to die it. Since then, it’s mostly been red. I tried for dark dark dark brownblack once during my ‘goth’ phase, but it just made me look ill. I went back to red after that and had lovely copper-colored hair in my wedding photos. After I got married, I wanted to know what color my hair was, so I grew it out. Turns out it’s somewhere between dark ash blonde and light brown.

    As for texture, my hairs are superfine, but densely packed, so you could say my hair is thick. If I don’t do anything to it but brush it, some of it waves, some of it lies flat and some of it encircles my head like a halo. Occasionally, when it’s particularly humid out, it curls. Normally, I keep it in a ponytail, but I just cut the last of the dye out of it, so it’s kind of short, and follows my jawline. Now I bobby pin back the front part and let the rest of it do it’s thing.

    I do love my hair, but sometimes I wish it would settle on whether it wants to be curly or straight.

  46. angharad on #

    I’ve seen some really catty comments in response to my author photo. On the one hand, it makes me want to run right out to a hairdresser to do something about my hair. But on the other hand, it makes me want to do NOTHING to my hair because the words I write shouldn’t be accepted or dismissed because of how I look and I don’t want to cater to shallow people who think otherwise. So I am with you, swinging back and forth between Why should I spend all this money? and Whee! I love getting my hair done.

  47. Amber on #

    Really, people care about Malia’s hair?
    I didn’t even know this and had to google it. I will say, I think she looks very cute and while I’ve seen cornrows more (lots of little girls at my daycare wear them), I actually like the change. She seems to look cute no matter how her hair is done!

    As for hair in general, some people notice it way more than others. I certainly notice it but mostly I”ll think, “I like that style!” and then get frustrated when it doesn’t work on my hair. But I definitely don’t hate my hair, I just get frustrated sometimes when I’m figuring out what styles work on mine, and when one does, I get really happy about it. (I love doing hair, so it’s a big deal to me.)

  48. Jessica on #

    I have been a curly-haired girl for most of my life, and have a similar story to many who have already commented.

    I’ll never forget the time I was at the mall and this woman stopped me and said, “I love your hair!” I was flattered, of course… and then she brought out the straightener she was trying to sell.

    When I straighten my hair–which takes a LONG time–I feel like I look completely different, or have an edge that I normally don’t have. I don’t know if people treat me any differently, but I feel like they should! I feel more fashionable, and maybe more outgoing.

    And this from someone who loves her curly hair.

  49. 52 Faces on #

    My straight yet unruly Chinese boy hair has been the bane of my existence my whole life, especially since I’m a girl. I discovered Asian perming almost ten years ago and I haven’t stopped since. I love curly hair! Not only is it wash and wear, but it fits my personality more.

  50. Wonders of Maybe on #

    Hmm — I’m multiracial (Black/Native American/White) and very, very light-skinned with extremely thick, curly hair. I’m talking spirals on “good” days and fluffy frizz on “bad” days! When I was young I wanted to straighten my hair because of how much I got hassled but once I turned 12, I was intent upon my hair staying natural. With such light skin, I feel it’s an honest indicator of what I am and who I am since I so often am mistaken for being Latino or Italian or Jewish or “something.”

    Have you all heard of the “pencil test”? I learned about it as a child and it was, apparently, used in apartheid South Africa. If a pencil was stuck in your hair and it fell out, you could be counted as white (or coloured, if you were darker skinned). If it didn’t fall through, if the pencil simply stayed right in your hair, well, you were coloured or black. As a youngster, I was obsessed with learning about the various tests governments, leagues and clubs had through out history to determine someone’s background based on their hair. Interesting hobby, kid!

    So for me, taking care of my natural hair is part a matter of respecting my history, as much as it is part of trying to look nice.

    Thanks for the post, Justine.

  51. Danika on #

    I’m a curly haired girl who used to hate her hair. Part of the difficulty is that I, too, love Art Deco, and I always wanted one of those chic 20s bobs. πŸ˜‰ The other part is learning how to look after curly hair. Not for me the blowdryer, or wantonly brushing my hair whenever I want. Blowdryers frazzle my hair and lead to an untidy cloud of frizzed hair. Brushing my hair simultaneously straightens my hair into a wave and froofs it out all over the place.

    So yes, learning to care for your hair properly, and learning what cuts suit in instead of trying to make it fit things it does not, all this helps.

    Oh, and as someone who used to draw a comic, straight hair does have the advantage of being easily captured with simple lines. Curly hair, not so much. It’s far too chaotic (in the best sense, perhaps) for that.

  52. Anna on #

    I’ve had very short hair (going about to my nose in the front, and buzzed in the back) since about the beginning of 8th grade. About two days ago I had it cut extremely short – still buzzed in the back, but with my bangs lopped off so that my hair goes to just about my forehead. It has a little spike on top. I loved it initially, but just yesterday I realized that I literally cannot wear T-shirts anymore, because many people think that I look almost like a boy. Despite grooming my eyebrows and wearing mascara and having not-unpleasant (if I do say so myself) facial structure, I can’t wear comfortable, roomy shirts because I’ve been told that I look either unfortunately butch (example from a real passerby’s train of thought: “Wait…she’s hanging out with girls…and look at that hair…she MUST be a lesbian.) or like a boy. (Another example, from a girl whispering to her friend at the movie theater while I washed my hands: “What is this boy doing in the girls’ bathroom?!”)

    My point of all this is that society has a lot of instinctive prejudices against certain haircuts/styles, and they definitely do affect how they view a person. So it’s not just you thinking the world of hair is insane. It really is.

  53. Kirsten on #

    Two things: One; as far as I’m concerned, the most beautiful hair is long and straight and “black and shining as a raven’s wing”. More anon.

    The second is that when I was a little girl my mom once told me that I had “lion-colored” hair. (Which I do. Or did, rather) so my favorite hair on myself is sort of shaggy-curly, because when it’s curly I think of myself as having a lion’s mane. The which is, really, pretty frakking cool; even if I don’t think it’s Pretty Onna Stick. So never underestimate the power of an imaginitive (kindly-meant) word in the ear of a small child.

    But I was mad for the the Andrew Lang fairy books as a girl, and also for Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS. The ideal of beauty there was long straight black hair, or as the princesses in the fairy books would have it “as black and shining as a raven’s wing.” And that stuck, too.

    Go figure.

  54. alisa on #

    i have reddish blondish brown hair (with some silver “highlights” that is also neither straight nor curly. i can make it wave if i “scrunch” it up when it is wet, but there is nothing in the world that will make it striaght – particularly this little bit at the nape of my neck. the top layers are healthy and pretty, but the bottom layer is so frizzy! it’s like i have three different people’s hair. i usually don’t mess with it much (bun)because i am lazy and i hate when it gets in my way whilst cooking or reading or writing or whatever.

  55. Morgan on #

    All of these descriptions have reminded me of a Shel Silverstein poem I loved when I was little:


    My skin is kind of sort of brownish
    Pinkish yellowish white.
    My eyes are grayish blueish green,
    But I’m told they look orange in the night.
    My hair is reddish blondish brown,
    But it’s silver when it’s wet.
    And all the colors I am inside
    Have not been invented yet.

    -Shel Silverstein

  56. Sass on #

    I consider myself lucky that I have very sleek, straight hair. As much as I love curly or wavy hair (I would *kill* for Taylor Swift’s soft blonde curls instead of my mousy brown and boring hair), I know that I’d never take care of anything I couldn’t brush and forget about. I walk out of the house with my hair still wet most days and let it dry naturally on the train to work, but for six months one of the girls I work with thought I got up early every morning and straightened my hair – even when it was in a ponytail.

    Colour is an interesting thing, too. Mine’s kind of mousy and boring, but I won’t dye it because I love the red-and-gold highlights I get when I spend time in the sun.

    I’ve been putting off getting my hair cut for a while, because I have to find a new hairdresser again. Every time I get one I like, they move to Queensland (I’m in Sydney. It’s a little far to go for decent hair). The two before last butchered my fringe, and the last one yelled at me for letting my ‘colour treatment’ grow out, and wouldn’t believe me when I told her the blonde in the ends was natural.

    It wouldn’t be hair if it didn’t cause trouble, right?

  57. capt. cockatiel on #

    Bit late on commenting, but that’s high school for you.

    When I was younger I had very long, very straight hair. I donated my hair for the first time in the fourth grade, after which is was shoulder-length. In the fifth grade I donated it again and had a bob for three years.

    And then when seventh grade was over, I cut it all off. I remember this first foray into short hair as being very liberating, due to the no-work of it (although with that no work came unattractive hair-ness). Since then I have had countless hairstyles because I’m the sort of person who can’t stand to look the same all the time, I guess. I get a bit frustrated with people who have never had a different hairstyle, which I know is judgemental and mean, but really…
    Like Anna said about her short hair, I’ve also been called a boy for mine countless times in my life (apparently boys do get bobs, or something, although I’ve never personally seen one). I had very short hair last year in school and also last July and I loved it a lot… but I felt like even in the most feminine clothes all anyone was thinking about was if I was a lesbian or not, which I think is a ridiculous hair-standard. Sometimes that makes me jealous of girls with long hair because I’ll say to myself, “I could wear that sort of outfit if I had longer hair” which is completely unfair of myself. But then I’ll see a woman on the street with short hair and feel a lot better about everything. (:

    But I do love my hair, just the way it is. It’s thick enough that I can do most styles (growing it into a wedge at the moment) and it’s only gotten a little wavier over the years.

  58. Elle on #

    This was a really good article. My hair is naturally quite curly, as a matter of fact it has like three different textures, on the top it is wavy and then the back is very very curly and it all flows down to these big locks like very curly spirals. I was always around girls who had straight hair, and they always made fun of me and put me down for having curly hair. As I grew up, many people complimented me on my crimps and said my hair was unique and beautiful, but I still hated it, and I feel much more confident when I straighten it.

    Sometimes I do my hair in twists and things, but I still think I look much more beautiful with straight hair. But I don’t know if the reason for that is because every guy has always told me that I look much better with straight hair, and because society itself pushes curly haired girls to think that way, like you said curly hair has never been considered “professional” I almost feel like most people think that curly haired people have to be these wild, unruly, frizzy new aged people who can’t get a “serious” job, and this upsets me.

    But lately I’ve been feeling like a bit of a fake because even though I get furious when people, especially guys tell me my hair is better straight, the truth is I like it better like that myself. So why am I so angry?

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