The Conundrum of Curls

The Conundrum of Curls

Curls are a funny thing.  Take my dark brown, baby fine hair, for instance. Puberty hit around the time personaJennifer_Bealsl hair dryers infiltrated the home. That meant I learned to make my hair “Silky Smooth” as the Great Zohan would say.
I moved to Georgia, became deeply tanned, and permed my hair so I could look like Jennifer Beals as she moved into Flashdance. I was mystified why so many people said I looked like her (seriously, I didn’t), but she and I had the only brunette curls in town
The problem with perms is that they stink, and they grow out. They also can create racial identity issues, but I’ll discuss that later.
After a year or so, I decided to re-perm my hair. My stylist informed me that my perm had grown out, and “Honey, those curls are yours.”

What? I had curly hair?

I was thrilled. Move over Jennifer Beals. Now all I had to do was learn to dance like her. (It hasn’t happened yet.) I could hardly wait to return to Connecticut and show my curls to my family. Funny thing about my curls- the further north I go, the further south they go. My hair does not curl in the north unless it is hot and humid, but it curled all the time in GA. Bummer!
However, my daughter has a head of curls that won’t quit. becca harleyI love them.  A funny thing about her curls- all her white relatives loved them; all her black relatives stalked her with a hot iron. Her brown relatives didn’t seem to care one way or another.
When she got to school and made friends, her play group looked like an old Benetton’s commercial.
One little girl was Taiwanese, one was like a little blond Barbie doll, one was black with straight-ironed hair, one was Dominican, and one was a redhead. These were the little girls she chose to play with everyday at school.
One day my daughter told me she wished she looked like them. What? They didn’t look anything alike!  “Yes, they do, Mommy. They all have straight hair. I wish my hair was like theirs.” I was dumbfounded, but I kept calm and reminded her how boring the world would be if we all looked alike (which, of course, it would).
When we moved during her 4th grade year, she looked at her new city school and said, “What if nobody looks like me?” I suggested since no one looked like her in our house,  it shouldn’t be a problem.
She made new friends right away.
Her next birthday party was an updated Benetton’s commercial.

This time there was a Pakistani, a half Greek-half Hindi, a redheaded Jew, an Ecuadorian, and an African-American girl. I realized with both sets of girls, she had gravitated toward individuals who not only didn’t look like her, but also didn’t look like each other. But she still longed for their tamer hair so she could look like them.
I wish she could have seen this video back then:
Every curly-head has good hair. One careless statement creates a Ripple that can negatively affect a pretty little girl’s self-perception. Words can have a powerful impact. Today we see all types represented in the media. I wish they had been more common 20 years ago. Oh well, at least they’re here now.
The funny thing about my southern curls- they made me an enigma to the general southern population. I lived in Atlanta in the early 80’s where nearly everyone I met was either black or blond. We brunettes were a scarcity, so much so that a couple of times a week someone would ask me “What are you?”
Weird. What do you say to something like that? “Eukaryote Animal Chordate Mammal Primate Hominidae Homo sapien?”
“Nah, I mean, what are you?”
“Feminist? Geologist? Environmentalist? Scientist?”
“Nah, I mean, what are you?”
Thanks for clarifying. “What do you think I am?” I wasn’t being coy. Just trying to shorten the conversation. Whatever they came up with (Black, White, Italian, Jewish, Mulatto, Egyptian, etc), I said yes.
My vagueness drove my students crazy. They couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t claim a race. The white kids said, “Aren’t you afraid someone will think you’re something you’re not?” The black kids said, “Aren’t you proud of what you are?”
Curls are funny that way. When I’m up north, I’m just ordinary ol’ me. No one wonders what I am. But they wonder what my daughter is. I just hope she enjoys the absurdity as much as I did.
No face no race

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