The Never-Ending Pursuit of “Perfect” Hair
“When standing among many people, I’m hardly difficult to spot. I have a wild head of curly hair with a mind all its own.”
I wrote those words 33 years ago. They formed the first sentence of my college application essay, but still describe me perfectly today. The difference is -I’ve since made peace with the way I look.
I didn’t get the “good” curly hair. You know, like actresses Andie MacDowell and Keri Russell. Their beautiful tresses grow shinning and cylindrical down their backs. My type of curly hair, on the other hand, shrinks up to half its length while drying, reminiscent of 1970’s male rockers. Bette Midler’s does too, which she admitted in a film to her straight-haired costar, “at least you have hair with weight.”
Since I also have hair without weight, I have opted for hair with height. For the last ten or 15 years, I have worn my curly hair in a ponytail on top of my head, with tendrils hanging down around the sides and front. My husband calls it the ‘Rare Tropical Shrub Look.’ He can always find me in a crowded room. Recently watching a televised gymnastics meet, I noticed the girls competing from of the University of Auburn and Florida State also wear their hair, straight or curly, this way.
Perhaps that should have tipped me off. At the age of 51, I know I am too old for this hairstyle. I was probably too old at 40. But the curls hanging down frame my face, and my delicate features aren’t overwhelmed by a hair explosion.
Being blessed with naturally curly hair is challenging and time consuming for me, perplexing to others. Millionaire Matchmaker Patty Stanger claims men hate curly hair and forces her female candidates to have their hair straightened before they can attend her Choose Me mixers. “Men want something they can run their fingers through,” she says.
Despite the challenges, curly hair is a big part of my identity, which is perhaps why Stanger’s comments hurt. When I tell people that I am an artist, they often say, “you look like an artist.” I’m guessing this is because of my hair.
There are many women with curly hair who choose to wear it straight, including my friend CB. Her hair is silken and shiny, reaching down to the small of her back. If my hair behaved like that, perhaps I would wear it straight more often. But my hair has no weight. When straightened, it quietly curls up at the ends, hour by hour, until I end up like the model for the 1970’s hair spray advertisement: Self Styling Adorn.
Curly hair is messy and naughty. Washing my hair, coating it with product and getting a comb through it takes time. (I am amused when women ask me if I simply get out of the shower and shake my head.)
On the other hand, it doesn’t need to be washed every day. My roots do not show as readily as they would if I had straight hair. It can also predict the weather. Having curly hair is unique and fun- a little wacky even.
It’s taken me a long time but I now embrace my hair. And despite Stanger’s theory, I had no trouble finding the love of my life. Like blue eyes or a bubbly personality, curly hair is an important part of who I am.
Beth Herman is an artist, painter and essayist based in Charlottesville. She enjoys running with her husband every morning, home renovations, and oil painting. Visit her website www.bearpainter.com to view her artwork. You can also find stories from Beth in each issue of Bella Magazine. Go pick up your copy today!