I’ve had curly hair since before I was born. I know this because hair doesn’t get this spirited unless you have good (on some days) karma or bad (on some days) karma. And judging by my reaction to my curly hair, I must have spent my past lives beating the crap out of my people while they toiled and I waved around a mutton leg during a feast giving unreasonable orders—curly hair was my consequence, my comeuppance.
Now, I don’t really believe in past lives. I rank past lives right up there with trying to keep my hair straight on a humid day, neither gets you anywhere but back to where you are—in this century, with this head of hair. But when I look at the glossy, straight haired women in my office, it’s hard not to think that our hair was put on our heads for a karmic reason. The sleek blondes must have been good people in their past lives. They were meant to fit in— everywhere—the country club, sororities, through a doorway. But not those of us with our springing, frizzing, bursting-out-all-over curls. We were left to make our own path— after we’d spent the first part of our lives trying to fit in by trying to tame our Medusa locks.
For me, it all began with the almighty orange juice cans that promised straight hair glory… if I could manage to get my curls to curl around the curve of the can. A big if. The first rule of thumb with curly hair is that it will only curl the way it wants to curl, and guiding a curl will only lead to a feeling of hopelessness.
After the OJ cans, a Lebanese friend introduced me to the pull-wet-hair-as-tight-as-possible-into-a-ponytail-and-wrap-ponytail-smack-up-against-the-head-and-secure-with-bobypins-until-hair-dries-76-hours-later method. It was actually a pretty adequate method, providing the places where the rubber band and bobby pins crimped the hair weren’t too unattractive—and there was only 6 percent humidity in the air.
Segue to the TV show Charlie’s Angels, starring lovely haired Farrah Fawcett. Ha! For a brief shining moment, providing the humidity wasn’t too heavy and the stars and moons lined up the right way, those of us with curly hair had it over the stick straight haired girls. Our hair could hold the glorious tube curls that had to run up the sides of our heads just so. Spritz in a little Sun-In for some brassy red highlights (that were meant to be blond) and— oh yeah—hello, beauty. (Note: I burned my high school senior pictures.)
And for about ten brief shining minutes, curly hair was in. Unfortunately, so were perms, and naturally, the sleek hairs had it over us. They could get perfect (and, okay, perfectly ugly) ringlets, while those of us with curly hair were left with our mass of confusion.
Further proof that curly hair was a karmic thing. We were supposed to suffer to make up for past regressions.
Or so was my theory. And from listening to others in the same frizzy situation, it was obvious that my theory was as sound as E=mc2 science.
Travel did nothing to help me come to terms with my hair. As a curly haired friend of mine once said, “Having curly hair in Paris is about as acceptable as having venereal warts.” Not ever having had those, I could at least commiserate with those who had because I understood the full-frontal anguish that came with having curly hair. And she was right. I’ll eat blood sausage if anyone can send me a picture of someone with curly hair legging it up the Champs Elysees. When I lived in Paris, I slept with one large Velcro curler in my hair. If I could at least keep my bangs tamed, that would be fine. I was, after all, getting older. Hence, the battle of the hair cuticles was beginning to wear me down.
Cut to (bypassing years of desperation and frustration while trying anything that came down the pike that promised sleek, tamed hair) the beginning of the new millennium and the exquisite hair tool called the ceramic ionic flat iron. Of course, no tool under $100 would work, but I didn’t care if I had to spend $500 plus; if the tool really proved to make my hair straight and hold it through a deluge of rain and humidity, I’d steal from our daughter’s college funds if I had to. Easily justified. If Mommy is happy, Baby thrives. If Baby thrives, Baby will grow up to be a smarty-pants and win scholarships to Harvard.
Our daughter is only ten years old, and although she is not yet old enough for the Ivy Leagues, she is thriving. Naturally, I chalk this up to my $250 GHD ionic flat iron . I spend maybe 15 minutes over coffee and The Today Show straightening my hair, and after that, only a complete dousing of water will revive the curls. Living in high-humidity Maryland, I even put the hair to the test. A 27-block-walk down York Road in heavy fog landed me at Stoneleigh Bakery with spaghetti-straight hair. (Zoom in on a close-up of me with my fist in the air, going YES!)
Finally, after decades of hair discontent, I have found hair happiness. Or almost. Now when people give me compliments about my straight hair, I feel an urgent need to explain that I really have curly hair. And when I meet other women who wear their hair naturally curly, I feel I’m a traitor. I do have a medical reason, though, for needing straight hair. Or at least I think I do, or I did, or I dreamed it up or something. It sounds good, any way. Of course, I haven’t forgotten the karmic factor. My hair won’t let me. Just when I’ve gotten the kinks worked out, I started to sprout gray hair. What’s next, you karmic gods? Chin hairs? At what age do ear hairs cut in? And if I cut them back? Then what?
The moral of this story is: Be good in this life, so you don’t have to come back in the next life living bad hair days. I’d like to stay and try to explain, but I’m heading outside to my car. Someone once told me that the only time a woman will ever notice chin hairs is when she’s driving down the road, looking in her rearview mirror, and I want to catch this stuff early.
By Sarah Gilbert, Baltimore Style
Sarah Gilbert Fox first got her writing start as a beautician who had written a short story called “Beauty School” for Roy Blount, Jr.‘s book, “It Grows On You.” From there, she went on to finish beauty school, and cut hair at The Celebrity Styling Shop to earn money to make her way through college. Her Master’s Thesis was the book Hairdo, published by Warner Books (now Grand Central Publishing) to high acclaim; the book went on to be published in 14 different languages. She recently moved to Baltimore, primarily to test her theory of “High Humidity Effects of the Ionic Flat Iron on Curly Hair on York Road”.
Copyright © Sarah Gilbert Fox