Happy International Women’s Day, everyone!
So, taking a break from movies and whatnot…here’s an issue facing some women I know. A lesser one when compared to many, mind you, but still obnoxious:
“I wish I had hair like yours.”
Trust me, ladies. No you don’t.
Having other women tell you how much they’re lusting after your “luscious curls” is well-meaning, but about as annoying as hearing, “When are you going to have children?” Or hearing an attached person groan about minor relationship problems when you yourself are unhappily single.
The first two phrases are often used as “small talk”, but I try to give the former a little bit more credit. After all, it comes with genuine admiration, and tends to evoke less of a “none of your business” reaction on the part of the receiver.
That is, until people start touching your hair without so much as a “by your leave”.
This is probably why I’ve started to dislike the comment “I want your hair”: the handsy-ness that accompanies it. Having curls means adjusting to friends and sometimes even total strangers playing with your hair when it suits them, much like how some people seem to think they are entitled to touch a pregnant woman’s belly, just by virtue of it existing.
A few weeks ago, while chatting with a friend who was getting her hair done (I wasn’t), I was only partially surprised by one of the other stylists appearing suddenly behind me, hands buried firmly in my ‘do’.
Scrunch scrunch. “I’m sorry,” she said happily once I had noticed her, not retreating in the slightest. “I just love the way you did your hair. These are natural, aren’t they?” Scrunch scrunch.
At one point in my youth, I might have asked back, “I’m sorry, are we talking about hair or breasts?” It would have seemed equally as impertinent of a question, if only because of the hands.
Instead, I smiled. “Yep, it’s natural. Sorry if it feels a little sticky. I gel the crap out of it just to keep its shape.”
Not that I felt that bad if she got stuff on her hands. If you choose to stick your foot on a mousetrap, it shouldn’t surprise you when it snaps down on your toes.
Hell, why was I even apologizing to her? “Sorry if you touched my hair without permission and didn’t like what you felt”?! How cowed am I?
She shook her head, not visibly put-off at all.
“Are you one with the curls?” she then murmured in a distinctly cult-y way, along with several other things like that. She made my hair sound like a state of being, rather than something that was on my head.
“Of course!” I tried to laugh jokingly, taking it in stride as I have for my whole life. As I said, that’s what it means to have curls for me.
In school, friends would bat at my ponytail, because it was “so soft and fluffy!” I was often pet on the head like a dog, as if my hair was actually some cute little animal. But hey, at least I knew who they were, and most of them asked first.
Having curls, for me, means being told I look “unprofessional,” or, at best, “cute”. The other day, one person actually used the word “precious”.
Women who aren’t white might hear the former or worse, just because they want to work with what they were born with. I don’t know who decided that straight hair obviously translates to having one’s life together, but I can tell you this: at the shortest (about shoulder-length), my hair takes nearly two hours to straighten. Unless I want that look on a given day, why spend all that time burning myself and my hair?
Having curls has often meant hating my hair on most days, because after a shower, my curls are good for precisely one, and then they become a tangled rats’ nest if I don’t sleep on them exactly the right way. And even then, as I mentioned, it takes a lot of product to hold them in the hellishly-oppressive humidity that naturally occurs where I live.
After one good brushing, my hair becomes a frizzy, wavy pyramid. Huzzah…
Having curls meant being bullied occasionally, because in addition to wearing glasses, I had weird, loopy, frizzy hair while most other girls had straight or wavy locks. Having curls also means being told by some of those same little girls how much they want my hair as grown women.
Oh, to hear what they’d do if they had it…
Having curls means tangles and snags, often painful to remove. I end up pulling it back after I inevitably exhaust all known tactics to try and tame it, and after people see it down for the first time, they remark what a shame it is that I don’t wear it that way more often.
If only I could.
Having curls means wanting to have your hair instead, because even if you say“Oh, no! It’s too flat”, “oily”, or “thin”, at least it’s under control. Trust me; I could make it work. Nice hair costs time and money, as I learn every time I go for a haircut.
If you’re shy, good luck not being noticed with curly hair. Corkscrews make a statement whether you’re trying to or not, so marvels and coos are sure to follow. And yet no one really exclaims at straight hair that looks like it’s straight out of a shampoo commercial, all sleek and shiny and gorgeous.
Imagine if curly girls started doing the same thing to straight-haired girls. Would this seem weird to you?
Having curls means reading magazines and watching movies and TV shows where straight hair is dominant or the only style shown, subtly reinforcing the idea that there must be wrong with my hair.
And before you start rolling your eyes, yes, I’ll admit that this is a mentality carried over from childhood. Which makes it hard to shake off, even as an adult. In 2015, a report by Common Sense Media found that “more than half of girls and one-third of boys as young as 6 to 8” have already developed issues with self-image, particularly that of body weight.
Even the more neutral excuse, “Curly hair is just not as marketable,” is an implicit dis that leaves many girls feeling like they have to change their hair, in order to be beautiful and fit in. The times are getting way better thankfully, but still.
It’s not like head hair is linked to obesity or anything. It doesn’t change much about you for the better if you burn it or perm it or shave it all off.
…Look, I’m not trying to be bitter, or bash other women with naturally straight hair. I know this is just yet another poorly thought out nicety that people pepper into conversations to be complimentary, polite, or just generally social. It’s not wrong to long for some simple human contact, even from people you don’t know, and sometimes we’re all just scrambling for ideas about how to start.
Or maybe you feel compelled to say something, anything, just to acknowledge that someone is, in fact, there.
What I’m trying to say is the same basic thing people mean when they beg you not to pry into their number of children, marital status, health conditions, etc.: don’t just assume, and try to think before you speak. Or in this case, touch.
It took me a long time to accept my hair, let alone love it.
*These images do not belong to me.