Over Thanksgiving break, my friend Sarah spent a few hours straightening my wild and unruly curls. That night when we went out, no one recognized me.
The reactions ranged from surprise to disgust, and one friend summed it up perfectly:
“It is really impressive,” he said. “You mange to look white trash and Jewish at the same time.”
I was born with white curls, my parents tell me. For the first few years of my life, I had to endure strangers touching my hair everywhere I went. At the grocery store, the old women would ruffle up my hair while I’d glare up at them with daggers in my eyes. When we went to family outings, my mother had to pay me a dime for every time I didn’t growl when someone touched my blond coils. At the end of the night, I’d whisper in her ear: “You owe me 120 cents.”
I will probably never forgive my parents for all of the awful haircuts I was given as a child. When I was 4, I rocked a mullet. When I was 8, I had a haircut so absurd that it can only be described as a demented Carol Brady cut. Strangers would mistake me for a little boy, and I am pretty sure a live fish got stuck in my hair one summer at the lake.
Later on, I spent weekends at my father’s house dreading the moment that my stepmother would brush the snarls out. Sometimes the brush wasn’t enough, and she had to cut the knots out with scissors. At 11, I began brushing it out myself. My hair was a frizzy pyramid atop my head.
Once when I was 12, my mother noticed a short sprig of hair sticking up at an odd angle. Someone had cut off a sun-kissed summer corkscrew, and she was furious. She blamed my brother up and down. She questioned girls at a sleepover I’d attended. I am sort of surprised she didn’t hang up posters in our neighborhood, demanding the culprit come clean.
A few months later, my father confessed. He’d deemed the curl too perfect to stay atop my head with the rest of my hair, cut it off and preserved it an envelope. To this day, he still will pick a single curl out from the pack and joke that I will wake up tomorrow without it.
He is not joking. He has a collection.
It is because of these bizarre experiences that I share a bond with my curly-haired friends. My friend Ana and I talk about it often: You have to be okay with strangers tugging on your curls without asking. You have to be okay with people asking incessantly if you’ve “ever considered getting your hair chemically straightened.” You have to be okay with people asking if your hair is a product of nature.
It took me a long time, but I am at finally at peace with my curls. I don’t even own a hairbrush. My hair has become somewhat of a trademark, a true indicator of the personality beneath its roots. My friends tell me they can spot my curls bouncing from across campus, and I swear my mother asks me more about my hair than school when I call home.
Oddly enough, Frieda, a character from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip, sums it up perfectly:
“People expect more when you have naturally curly hair.”
Sarah James is a sophomore public relations major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]