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A Curly Hair Peace
When I told three friends at a recent luncheon that I exfoliate my scalp with brown sugar they nearly choked on their chai. I smiled patiently through their yowls and yucks and their addition of whipped cream and chocolate syrup because only I knew the battle that recently ended between my curls and I, a surrender that was anything but sour.
I developed contempt for my spiral locks at an early age. Kids poked fun and even grown-ups would kick in as cliché a comment as, "Did you stick your finger in a light socket?"
When I was six my mother, tired of wrestling a comb through my disobedient tresses and fearing I'd catch her putting water in the No More Tears bottle, coaxed me to the hairdresser's to watch her get a haircut. After overdoing the comeliness of her new ‘do' she and the beautician lured me into...the chair. Minutes later my long, blonde locks lay on the floor and two little strips of pink tape held new pixie curls against my cheeks. I felt like a queen! Mommy clapped, the beautician beamed and I pranced to the car. The first remark back at the kingdom? "She looks like a boy." I felt a cheek curl spring loose with contempt.
By third grade, left unattended, the curls had grown and reclaimed their territory, and as far as managing them I was on my own. All I learned was to keep them from showing.
"I used to wet my hair and sleep in a swim cap," my Dad, the bringer of the curl, shared. So I tried it. My curls were flat but the faintly embossed ‘Speedo' distracted the boy next to me in math.
In high school, while others paid outrageously for curls, I smacked mine down monthly with dollops of home straightening kit goop until I finally realized the stuff didn't work. In a week my hair looked static, the second week a confused state as hairs tried remembering their old route until finally, by the third week, they conquered their original state with a vengeance.
I used blow dryers set on the strongest, hottest heat with enormous round brushes of every bristle type as well as enough lotions and potions to write for Consumer Reports. Still, when the fog rolled in I became a troll doll.
Having pity on me, my mother ordered a hair straightening iron. It was the eighties; you didn't find those things in any store. It became my best new buddy until those mortifying words years later, "Well, it's a goner." My dad couldn't fix it one more time. I wanted to bury it next to my favorite hamster.
Determined to win I decided on professional help. But after the haughty hairdresser realized I'd been right in suggesting that the part stay put as he taffy-stretched my hair back and forth on top of my scalp (insert David Bowie photo comparison here) he resentfully began another torturous round of combing and pulling. My follicles screamed for help.
"That'll teach you," my mom muttered the next day as I swiped blood from my crown. My hair was definitely flat. Lifeless, more like. It flopped like a dead fish under a blow dryer and dodged a curling iron quicker than Ali, but I liked it. And I think I was the only one who noticed my nose looked bigger now that my hair was smaller.
Now that ‘reality' seems to be the hottest thing going on the planet, I decided to get real and face the curl so I'd never again fear that first report of rain. A friend recommended the book Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey. By page one I was a convert. Finally, someone not only addressed the true structure and needs for the curly hair fiber but was teaching a revolutionary program for its care. I must confess that going without shampoo had me grimacing. Using scant amounts of conditioner like Massey recommends though has created softer ringlets, more time for luncheons and I haven't had a bad hair day since I tossed the ‘tergent. I am now happily, thankfully poo-free.
Throwing out my relaxing, glossing, freezing and shaping products was another story. But one by one they went out the door, some winding up in my daughter's room, another curly who's still choking down the fact that Mom never shampoos and uses funky ingredients on her head.
After years of tears and self-torture I learned one thing; they're not going away. Oh, my hairs may eventually jump ship, leaving me with a scant trace of fibers, their farewell chorus of ‘I Did It My Way' fading in the distance and I can't say I wouldn't deserve it. So why not make it a sweet departure? I will take that whipped cream with my brown sugar, thank you.