“She has naturally curly hair,” my mother would say with great sadness in her voice when she spied a young person with curls. She made it sound like a curse. Mother had curls of the type that sprang in tight spirals directly from the scalp and she hated them. She did battle with her hair daily. Her own mother urged her to wear her hair cropped short and just be done with the whole thing, but mother craved shoulder-grazing styles.
She was born at the wrong time for her hairstyle to be considered stylish. The only curls my mother’s mother wanted to see were the tiny half moons that women plastered to their foreheads while the rest of the hair was smoothed into a bob. Those little spitcurls in front my grandma called “beau catchers” and they were meant to lay there dutifully and not pop right back up like mother’s did.
Mother was a performer and hours before every appearance she could be found fighting to hold down her fluffy hair with Vaseline or other goop. She was often in tears as we traveled through the humidity of the deep south.
During my high school years, once again, naturally curly became an epithet. A yearbook reveals row upon row of girls with hair freshly flattened (ironed) and plastered as close to the head as possible.
“Naturally curly” was a good thing again years later, “natural” I guess, being the blessing, instead of the perms we felt we had to get in the 70’s in order to make our hair big and frizzy. We carried picks in our purses instead of combs or brushes, in a futile attempt to simulate huge Afros.
My granddaughter has naturally curly hair. It’s not like her great-grandmother’s. This little girl’s hair starts out silky and then waves and curls at the end. Instead of stopping in tight spirals just above the shoulders, the way mother’s did, the little one’s hair comes nearly to her waist. The four year old loves her curls. She treats her hair like a dear companion. There’s the occasional griping about sitting in the tub while her mommy conditions it, but overall, she likes and accepts her hair just the way it is.
We clip it back so the hair doesn’t fall into her cereal, and she removes the clips and expertly tucks the hair behind her small ears. She’s in control of her own crowning glory. For school we put it up high in ponytails because there’s so much hair we fear she’ll get caught up in playground equipment. But negotiation is required – about what color the ponytail holders and clips will be and how long they must stay in.
It’s good to see a little girl with no negative hair issues. In fact, so far we see no appearance issues of any kind. One day she wants to wear jeans and a tee shirt with a picture of construction equipment on the front, and tiny black “biker” boots. Another day it’s a dress over leggings and princess shoes. But always she prefers her hair floating free.
Curls are all around me these days. Women of a certain age are sporting silver and white ringlets. Some are worn short and bouncy while others are wild and long. All are beautiful.
There are whole books and plays and intellectual treatises about the significance of hairstyles through the ages, and what each one means. Women have come a long way thank goodness, and the way we’re choosing for ourselves how to wear our hair (without my mother’s tears) is another way we can see our progress.
Ó Anita Garner 2009