Month: January 2016

Very Curly Hair

I have curly hair.

When I was a child, my hair was a nuisance. It tangled easily and I hated it when my mother made me sit still for what seemed like hours so she could comb it out. The comb would catch a knot and pull at my scalp, bringing tears to my eyes and howls of protests. Even worse, strangers we met on the street wanted to run their fingers through my hair. I still detest my kindergarten teacher because she would comb my curls with her fingers every morning when I arrived for class. I became very good at hiding behind other children when we entered the door, in an attempt to elude her keen eyes.

As a teenager, my curly hair was the bane of my existence. I desperately wanted silky long straight hair like my friends. They wore shoulder-length bobs that seemed to float in the wind, silky strands of (mostly) blond beauty that I coveted with all my being. Or they pulled their hair back in smooth pony tails that bounced gracefully with each step they took.

My hair was a mess of thick ringlets, each coil doing what it wanted to do – bouncing off in a direction that I had no control over. At one point, I grew a pony tail, pulling it back as straight as I could, holding my breath and clenching my teeth against the pain as I pulled the strands back as hard as I could. I wanted bangs like my friends so I would smooth globs of hair product on my bangs, tape them down across my forehead and paste them in place with the hair drier. When I removed the tape, the bangs stayed where they were, thick strands of dark brown spaghetti plastered across my forehead.

But alas! In an hour the first hairs would begin to escape the ponytail, falling in curly whorls across my cheeks. By mid-morning, more curls would join them, some choosing to head up, down or across. About the time I sat down for lunch, the glue on my bangs would give way and they would bounce upwards to join the rest of my curly mop. When I finally cut off the ponytail and went back to curly bob, my friends sighed in relief and told me how much better I looked.

As a young adult, I not only came to terms with my curly hair but learned to enjoy it for the easy care it provided me. I kept it short and called it “wash and wear” hair. I even began to enjoy the compliments I would get from other women on my easy care hair. Then I gave birth to a daughter who was born with red curls. When the nurse brought her to me, she had tied a blue ribbon around some of the top curls and she was, without doubt, the most beautiful child in the nursery. I forgot about my early fight with my curls and was unprepared when she reached her teens and began the same odyssey that I had endured.

Like me, she fought her curls and worked even harder than I had at trying to tame her hair and force it into the long straight styles of her classmates. And like me, she was a young adult before she realized how beautiful her strawberry blonde ringlets were and began to allow the curls to cascade to her shoulders in a natural way that, to this day, elicits words of admiration from friends, family and strangers.

And now she has a daughter, our granddaughter, who turned eight last week. And yes, she has curly hair and yes, she hates it. However, our granddaughter (“S”) is part African-American so her curls are tighter than her mother’s and her grandmother’s and her hair has a different texture. It tangles very easily and is difficult to comb out. And, you guessed it, she desperately wants long, smooth shoulder- length hair!

My daughter has brought “S” to the beauty shop several times in an attempt to get her hair combed out but the experience has ended up with “S” in tears and her hair still in tangles. Finally my daughter brought her to a beauty shop that specializes in styling African-American women’s hair and for her birthday, she had an appointment at the shop. And I was invited along.

First, the stylist had to get the knots out. This was a long, arduous process that involved taking a small clump of hair one at a time, spraying it with water and lotion and carefully working out the tangles. It took an hour and there were moments when we wondered if she’d be able to finish but by the end, she proved to be a trouper, sitting in the chair with a look of determination on her face. Then the stylist combed a conditioner through her hair and had her sit under the dryer for thirty minutes. The next step was a shampoo. Finally, the stylist blow-dried her hair, then used a hot iron to smooth it, one small bunch at a time. By this time, we had been in the shop for three hours!

But the result was amazing. “S” slipped off the chair and looked at herself in the mirror. She had silky straight almost shoulder-length hair. When she twisted her head, the hair swung with her. It was the hair that she, her mother and her grandmother had always dreamed of having. She couldn’t stop looking at her new hairdo in the mirror and I didn’t blame her. “Who are you and what have you done with my granddaughter? I asked her.

Of course it won’t last. The first bath, the first shampoo and the curls will be back. She will be disappointed and eventually will have to decide if she can come to terms with the curls or if she will learn how to use the hot iron and be willing to spend the time to keep her hair straight. However, I think she’s beautiful no matter how she wears her hair. But I also know that she has to figure this out for herself.

One big thing that I learned during my afternoon at the beauty shop was how many hours African-American women must spend to wear their hair in a straight style. I watched several other women who were in the shop with us (and were still there when we left) go through processes like my granddaughter to straighten their hair. And I realize they will be back to repeat the process in two weeks or a month. I have a new appreciation when I see African- American women with straight hair and I wonder what I would do if my hair were that curly. I also wonder about women – all of us – and our battles with our hair! And for that, I have no answers. I only know I love my daughter and my granddaughter and no hairstyle can change that!