I never really noticed I had curly hair (and therefore hair that had a mind of its own) until I was in sixth grade and desperate for bangs. And not just any bangs. Waterfall bangs, like the ones the girls in my school had, all of them boasting hair they could contort into large hair-sprayed sculptures on top of their heads. Those kinds of bangs.
When I asked my hairdresser to cut me some bangs, she just smiled and said, "Honey, you can't have bangs with your kind of hair." Instead she offered to take a "little off the sides" so that the top of my hair would be "higher" and therefore give the appearance of bangs. What emerged an hour later didn't resemble bangs at all but looked more like a shocking mop. It was a look that pretty much guaranteed I'd be wearing a hat for the remainder of the sixth grade.
Being born with curly hair is like being born into a special tribe. You are bonded together forever with fellow "curly girls." You each innately understand that with curly hair, you have to play by a different set of hair rules:
1. All curls are not created equal: Curls are as diverse as body shapes.
2. Avoid going out on humid days. (Growing up in Florida canceled this one out for me.)
3. Your hairdresser must know curls! (See above account of sixth-grade bang disaster for details.)
4. Don't overdo product: Drowning your hair in crunchy gel isn't the answer!
Growing up, I would spend hours complaining to my friends about my curls, limiting our conversations to little else. And I secretly coveted everyone else's hair, a trait that left me spending lots of time bathing in jealousy.
Now, given the wide availability and popularity of the flatiron, it's harder to spot my fellow "curly girls." It's easier for us to try and hide behind a blowout (guilty!) than to admit our natural state of hair. In fact, after many years of blowing out my own hair for TV appearances and the like, I received this voice mail from my mother:
"Jess, it's Mom. When are you going to wear your hair curly for TV? It's so beautiful. I remember seeing you as a baby with those wavy locks and just wishing I had your hair. Don't forget, people pay good money to get perms. I did. Remember those bad apple-smelling perms I'd come home with? Anyway, just be yourself. Oh, and call your aunt Sheila. She misses you."
While I'm prone to ignoring my mom's long messages, this one stood out. It reminded me of my roots (literally). And it reminded me that no amount of heat or pulling with a round brush can erase who I am: a proud "curly girl" who has learned to embrace the head of hair she's been given, bond with her girlfriends over something other than hair products, and always, always speak up when a hairdresser is giving her a bad haircut!