Resisting the urge to straighten

I thought about not writing this post, but you know what? Hair has been on my mind.

I sometimes daydream about starting a separate beauty blog so that I can get sent lush PR samples from coveted brands while simultaneously lashing out at the industry, but I don’t have time for that.  Besides, other people are already doing it better than I could.


That doesn’t mean I don’t think about cosmetics, fashion, or the whole “appearance” industry from time to time, though. And, like everything, I have something to say about it.

When I was 12, I started straightening my hair. I did it for three reasons: 1). because it appealed to my inner sense of neatness; 2). because I felt that it made me look older, something I was always striving to do since I was (and am) very, very short; and 3). because I had deduced that it made me more “conventionally” attractive. Conventional according to the residents of mostly-white, middle-class American suburbs in the early 2000s, that is.

Throughout middle school, high school, and much of college, whenever I wasn’t sleep-deprived, I straightened my hair. Heat has a magical effect on my hair: it becomes obediently straight and shiny, much to the admiration of boys who later came out as gay in middle school, various crushes in high school, and adults everywhere.

Do you straighten your hair?
Yeah, I reply, feeling somewhat guilty about the fact that I rely on an iron to make it look this way.
Cool. I have to admit, I like straight hair better. It just seems more natural somehow.

That conversation, in various iterations and interactions, has taken place countless times throughout my life. I’m well aware that curls were an integral part of idealized femininity from about 1900-1960, but then modernism stepped in, and curls suddenly seemed stuffy and girly. Beauty trends come and go, but it seems like corporate culture has infiltrated every part of modern life–to the extent that it makes sense to say, “If your hair isn’t under control, then you’re not under control.” I remember stepping out of a theater and remarking to my friend that all of the good guys in the movie had normal, straight hair, while all of the bad guys had crazy, frizzy, not-perfectly-symmetrical hair. It even went a step further: some people were getting injected with a biological concoction that  made them go crazy, and by the time their “transformation” was complete, so, too, was their hair a complete mess.

I fought these ideas for a long time by fighting with my hair. I’ve gone through phases before where I’ll suddenly declare, “Why do I bother with this nonsense?!” and subsequently refuse to straighten my hair for 2-3 days. But it never lasts. That sense of being out-of-control returns, and I compulsively plug in my straightener.

At 23, I think I’m finally tired of putting up with that cycle. I’ve noticed my mom is susceptible to the same thought process; she prefers her hair to be straight, too. But I’ve always thought that she looks better with it naturally curly–it’s lighter, bouncier, and makes her look younger. Maybe if I hadn’t been so hell-bent on trying to look like Rory Gilmore in middle school, I would have realized that people liked my curly hair just as much as they liked my straight hair.

Two weeks ago this Thursday, I got 4 inches lobbed off my hair. It gets heavy in the summer, like a thick wooly blanket on my neck, and I’m sick of it. I’m also sick of straightening it, and I’m sick of waking up early to do so. I’ve never been able to get up on time in the morning. Leaving my hair curly means I can “fix it” in 5 minutes, thanks to the combined efforts of Bumble & Bumble curl defining cream and some moderately armor-like hairspray. So that’s the “natural” curl in the photo above. More natural, at any rate, than frying my hair at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes.

I have not straightened my hair in 12 days. It’s not a long time, but it’s a start.

P.S. I didn’t write this post because I was fishing for compliments. If you think my hair looks nice in the picture and want to tell me, go right ahead. But I’m cool if you don’t. Notice that I obscured my face with the camera. I was trying to write a post about physical appearance without fully revealing mine. Makes perfect sense, right? 


48 thoughts on “Resisting the urge to straighten

  1. Wow, this post spoke to me, I have naturally curly,thick, and kinky hair. I use to chemically straighten it, just like many women who have my hair type, cause I hated it. 2 years ago I stopped, and it was the best decision I ever made. Now, if I want straight hair, i’ll wear extensions, no more chemicals, flat irons or nothing

    1. My old roommate in college, after observing me whipping out the straightener day after day, once asked me why I didn’t get my hair chemically straightened. I told her it was because I was afraid it would ruin my hair! And after seeing the damage that a professional dye job did, I’m pretty sure it would have since I think chemical straightening is even harsher. Good for you for eliminating all of that damaging stuff 🙂 As for me, it’s now been 3 and 1/2 weeks of all-natural hair!

  2. It looks good curl. That’s a statement from me because I always think straight looks better on women. It’s hard to imagine those big curls transform into straight and then that to look good. For my money, for what I think looks good on you, stay with curly hair.
    You’ve been teasing us with your whole persona. 😀 The name, your environment, and now a part of your appearance. Will the entire you be shown in the future … hmmm ? 😀

    1. Yes, eventually! When it makes sense, of course. I do wish people didn’t just decide that they preferred straight OR curly hair, but instead just liked whatever kind of hair people have naturally. But I struggle with that, too. I’m not as picky about texture as I used to be, but I am firmly of the belief that long hair looks better on 99.9% of women.

      1. I also prefer longer hair on women. But my ex always tie her hair up because of the hot weather. I always try to take her pins or ponytails off :lol:, but then she gets mad. 😀

  3. This may be a long comment because I have oh so much to say about this. I felt like I honestly could have written this post. Like you, I started straightening when I was about 12, but it wasn’t because I thought it was more conventionally beautiful. My sisters and mother all have curly hair and I loved theirs but the problem was, mine didn’t look like that! So I started straightening in junior high and all throughout high school. People used to ask me, why do you do that? And I answered, because my own hair looks like shit. And it kind of did: it was frizzy and large and not defined at all. But when I got to college, I just gave up. Classes were hectic and I didn’t want to invest the time any more to tame my hair. I just dealt. And so I started to research naturally curly hair methods, and over time, my hair became exactly what I had always wanted: smooth, curly, but manageable (for the most part). I still have days where it’s huge and knotty, but on those days I feel like I love it even more. It’s so my personality now, this huge mane of hair that just has a mind of its own. And whenever I consider straightening it for a party, a night out, or something like an interview or something professional, I baulk at the idea because straight hair is now so not me. I don’t feel like myself! I think your hair is awesome actually, and it looks like the same texture as mine. So I’ll share a few weird tips I’ve acquired over the years to help you embrace those crazy curls: don’t towel-dry your hair because that dries it out and keeps it from forming a defined curl. Instead, use a clean t-shirt and do the scrunching motion. Also, try to use sulfate-free shampoos because sulfates also strip your hair of that natural moisture curly hair needs so much. I use Shea Moisture products. Over time, my hair has become healthy enough that I don’t need to use any curling product, not even frizz-ease (I have learned to embrace frizz 🙂 ) and my hair has been trained to be my friend.
    That was long. Hope you’re still reading 🙂 Also, I wanna see ya pretty face!

    1. Hello hello hello! Thanks so much for the long comment, and sorry for only replying to you now—I took a blogging break over the weekend. 🙂
      The first thing I did on Saturday morning was check the ingredients list on the shampoo I use (Pert). Wouldn’t you know, but sulfate is the 2nd ingredient! Darn it. So it looks like I will need to replace it with something better. Thanks for recommending Shea Moisture. I’ll swing by CVS and pick up some today, I’m eager to try it out! My other question would be, do you use a leave-in conditioner? I just ordered a big container of John Freida super skinny serum (which doesn’t have sulfates – I checked!) so I hope the answer to that is “yes.”
      Yes, all those years of straightening certainly took a toll on my hair. It DID kind of look like shit if left to its own devices, simply because it was so damaged from all the heat styling. The worst, though, was when I tried to dye it red a couple of years ago. All of that dye nearly ruined my hair! It was frizzy, dry, and very, very angry. Finally I decided that it was silly trying to look like Mary Jane Watson, and I got my natural color restored. Lesson learned: I should never dye my hair! Or straighten it, for that matter.
      I’ve always thought that your hair looks lovely on your blog. It also suits your style really well—classic with a bookish twist. I agree that it would be really strange to see you with straight hair! And I think our hair curls the same way—the hair at the top of my head tends to be flatter, while the curls get increasingly defined towards the ends. Which is why I flip part of it over the top of my head, giving myself an exaggerated side part—that way it looks more uniformly fluffy.
      Ok, whew! I think that’s everything. Hair stories, man. 🙂 And yes, I will definitely put up a picture of my face at some point! haha

      1. I don’t use a leave-in but I used to. As my hair texture changed because of the lack of sulfates (which is basically hair detergent and so harsh), I stopped needing that extra bit of moisture to make my curls more defined. I did used to need it though, so you might too as you make the switch from sulfate to sulfate-free. Other brands to look for are Deva Curl and Loreal Ever Creme, both of which I used for a while before finding what worked best, which was the Shea. It might be a lot of trial and error, but never having to straighten again is a great end goal! I literally wash my hair at night, pin it up, and pounce into bed. I wake up and take it down, shake it out, and leave. Also I found it hilarious that you dyed your hair red because I was the exact same way! I still want to have gorgeous red hair but my family keeps telling me to discard that dream 😦 .

        1. Yes, don’t dye it!! Because my hair is such a dark shade of brown (really similar to yours), I had to KEEP re-dying it so that the color would show up. It faded like mad – within two weeks it was a dingy red color. If I’d really wanted the red to shine through, I probably would have had to bleach my hair first – and no way was I going to do that.

          I did end up buying a Shea shampoo yesterday 🙂 It smells really good, like coconut, and it felt quite luxurious to use! I’ll report back once I’ve used it a bit longer.

  4. Curls rock, so hard. I, too, have had difficulties with understanding their place in the scale of attractiveness, but finally said ‘screw it’ and let my hair do its own thang. The one issue that has arisen a few times has to do with work in a professional atmosphere – but, again, if people don’t want me natural, then I assume they don’t want me at all.

    If you’re interested (and maybe you’ve mentioned it in the comments section already), I would definitely recommend the Curly Girl Method. My hair has become like a glistening goddess where it was once a fuzzy, dried up piece of angry fuzz. I will never go back!

    1. Hello there Jess, and thanks for commenting! I was curious to see your curls, so I clicked on your gravatar photo and man, your hair is gorgeous! Your curls look bouncy and lively and under control all at the same time 🙂 Good for you for going all-natural, and if people think it doesn’t look “professional,” well, then, that’s their shortcoming.

      I hadn’t heard of the Curly Girl Method, but I looked it up and saw the advice about using a shampoo that doesn’t contain sulfates. Wouldn’t you know, but the 2nd ingredient listed on my shampoo is “sulfate.” Argh! Are there any shampoos that you would recommend? I have tried the Organix line before, but sadly it doesn’t really work for my hair (very oily scalp, in spite of all the curls/waves). I am happy to try something new, though!

      1. Well, I really like anything by Nature’s Gate – they’re an organic, natural brand that doesn’t use sulfates, but I’m not sure if they’re available where you are. For conditioning, I really enjoy TREsemme Naturals Moisturizing conditioner. It’s silicone-free, and smells great, AND is usually fairly inexpensive. My blog talks about different products and reviews, but another good resource is Curly Girl: The Handbook by Lorraine Massey. It seriously changed the life of my curls! Best of luck if you decide to embark on this hair journey, and please let me know if you have any more questions/need any more assistance. I love helping curly friends. 🙂

        1. Many thanks! Would you mind providing a link to your blog? Usually when people leave comments, their name is a hyperlink, but for some reason it didn’t happen in your case. I also checked your Gravatar profile but your blog isn’t there, either. I’d love to check out all of the advice you’ve posted about curly hair!

          1. Ha! I’ve had this told to me before but never bothered to fix it…what a lazy blogger I am. My site is and all of the hair stuff is located under the ‘curl’ section. Please do not hesitate with any curl questions – I live and breathe this stuff!

  5. I wish I had beautiful natural curls like yours! My hair just looks like a big old trapezoid-shape if I don’t do anything to it. It looks like an ancient Egyptian death mask. So I have to braid it before I sleep to avoid looking like King Tut. But at the same time I feel lucky that my fringe doesn’t need straightening. The grass is always greener!

    1. hahaha your descriptions made me laugh! But thanks for the compliment. My hair will likely assume more of a trapezoid shape as it continues to get hotter & more humid now that summer is underway. I have found that over-conditioning my hair helps a great deal—all that product helps to weigh it down. I’ve been using the Aussie 3 Minute Miracle Moist Deep Conditioner, which is ridiculously cheap (like $3 or something). I assume it’s available in Australia, right? (Isn’t it an Australian brand? I mean, otherwise that’s just sneaky marketing).

  6. Gahhh!!! You’re hair is gorgeous, and is exactly the kind of volume and curl I always wanted when I was younger. My hair on the other hand is so thick and straight that my hubby says it’s like spaghetti…and it’s probably exactly what you attain with your straightener. Lol. Isn’t it ridiculous how we always want what we don’t have? Honestly though, now that I’m 41, I’m just happy that I don’t have any greys. 😀 It’s funny how priorities change with age.

    PS: I think we might actually get closer to seeing your face in one of these posts? Maybe, just maybe??? 😉

    1. Oh my goodness, WAIT! You’re 41?! My gosh, this whole time I thought you were in your late 20s, early 30s!! I am being completely serious here. You and your husband always look so youthful and happy and adventurous in your photos!

      Also, yes: it is absolutely a case of wanting the opposite of what you have. I dreamed of bright red hair, blonde hair, but especially dark, thick, and sleek Asian hair. I always thought it was the most beautiful. So, yes, your “spaghetti” is exactly what I was trying to achieve with my straightener 🙂

      I don’t know about showing my face just yet… but maybe a some point! I assume that the need will naturally arise, such as it did in this post. It was impossible to talk about my hair without showing a picture of it – that would be too mean. 🙂

      1. Yes and Agri is 31. Lol yeah, I’m a cradle robber. Heh Heh. Maybe he keeps me young? Anyways, I’m convinced I’m gonna live till at least 100 and still traveling the whole time. 😉

        I will anxiously await the day we get to see your lovely face (because I’m sure it is) 🙂

  7. What is very very short? I am too. Very very short. I have straight hair and all my life I pined for a wave or curl.

    1. I am 5′ 2″ (or 1.57 meters if you are outside the United States – are you?). Not only did I not appreciate my wavy hair, but I was extremely jealous of my little sister when she was born a blonde. Ooh, I was so jealous for many, many years! haha

  8. Interesting post! My hair is fairly straight but I’ve always wanted curls/waves – a classic case of wanting what you don’t have. I remember (back in the day) braiding my hair to gets loose waves. Often my hair was too limp (it’s quite fine) so the wave wouldn’t stick around for very long, but still I persevered – so funny. These days I just don’t have the time. I say go for whatever feels right for you.

    1. Yes, we do always want what we don’t have! I will admit, my appreciation for my hair grew when I moved to Chicago to attend University. I managed to get away without wearing a hat most of the time – even when it was extremely cold – simply because of the pile of fluff on top of my head 🙂 If you do still yearn for waves, I have heard very good things about the Bumble & Bumble surf spray! I suspect that all of their products are very good.

  9. Funny, I spent most of my high school years waking up at 5:30 every morning to curl my slick-straight hair because I thought having curly hair would make me more “conventional” looking and blend in better. I stopped when I went away to college, grew out my hair, and somewhere along the way, decided my natural hair was good enough. I do love your wavy hair!

    1. Yes, I’m coming around to the waves/curls! I used to hate getting called “cute” – I was very short and stubborn and I wanted to be taken seriously, and I felt that the term “cute” was demeaning (sometimes it is indeed used that way, but I suspect that most of the time I was just being oversensitive). I thought my natural curls made me look cute and childish, while straight hair made me look more serious! I suspect that was more or less completely in my head 🙂

  10. My hair is naturally straight, so I envy your natural curls. 🙂 We always seem to want what we don’t have. It’s a rare day when I’m happy with my hair. Sigh . . .

    1. Yes, like I was telling Cecilia below, I watched a hair tutorial on YouTube the other day and the girl STARTED with what I usually consider my end goal (shiny, obedient, straight hair) and proceeded to spend copious amounts of time, heat, and product making it look like mine. So funny that we often strive for the opposite!

  11. Your hair does look nice in the picture, but I love curls! I have naturally fine and stick straight hair, but I’ve spent the last two decades curling it! I guess we never really want what we have… 🙂

    1. I completely agree that it’s one of those “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” sort of things. I have desperately wished many times that I had calm, straight hair so that I could wake up in the morning, brush it, and be done! It’s impossible to use a brush on my hair – if I do, I turn out looking like a lion 🙂

  12. I’m not the kind of guy to say nice things to people but i love your hair! Even if you actually had a camera for a face i’d still think you were hot!

    My life has been a constant bad hair day. Born ginger (but i grew out of that), hair that grows into a big mushroom instead of getting longer, plus my hair appears to sentient and does it’s own thing because it hates me

    1. Aw shucks! Well, I promise I don’t really have a camera for a face 🙂
      I used to wish I had red hair, especially after reading “Watchmen” and seeing the Spiderman movies with Tobey Maguire. But I feel like brunettes generally get the least abuse. Anyway, I can’t really comment on your hair because I don’t remember it from the handful of pictures you have posted – I just know that I always thought you looked super happy and like you have a fun time!

  13. That’s interesting. I think the picture of you shows you have really nice hair. We have two kinds of hair in my family, the kinky strong dark Irish hair and the wispy brown uncontrollable German hair that goes back to what it was doing as soon as you finish styling it. I have the German hair, and I have always yearned for the Irish hair, which looks great as long as you keep it cut nicely.

    1. Aw well thanks. Funnily enough, I’m part German and part Irish, so perhaps I have a blend of the two types? My hair used to be a lot wispier, but it steadily got darker and curlier as I got older.

  14. I know you didn’t write this for compliments but I’ll share my first thought when I saw your post, which is that I *love* your hair. I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent over my life time buying and trying different rollers, curlers, and curling irons…and how much money I’ve spent (and how much hair I have burnt) getting perms. Now that those new ion-whatever curling irons are out, I am thinking about getting one of those, especially once my hair gets a little longer.

    It’s so interesting how we women struggle with our hair type, isn’t it? I loved Julia Roberts’ long, big, and curly hair in Pretty Woman…I think hair like that says freedom and sensuality. I’m glad you’re beginning to embrace your inner curly! 😉

    1. Aw, thank you Cecilia. Yes, I should really be better about appreciating what I have. But that’s the eternal dilemma of which you speak!

      The most expensive Christmas present I ever received was a top-of-the-line straightener. Absurd, isn’t it? A few days ago I watched a hair tutorial on YouTube called “How I fix my short hair.” The girl started off with calm, flat, straight hair and proceeded to curl, fluff, and spray it for an extended period of time until it ended up looked almost exactly like *mine.* And I could not believe that I’ve spent years trying to get my hair to look like hers did in the *beginning* of the video–calm and straight. If that wasn’t an illustration of the ridiculousness of my efforts, I don’t know what was.

      Julia Robers in Pretty Woman will always be a classic 🙂 As for me, I absolutely love this girl’s hair:

  15. As a 24 year old man…I would never have thought that so much thought goes into this daily decision. My hair becomes aggressively curly after it reaches a length of about an inch so I cut it every few weeks to keep the curls at bay.

  16. I straighten my hair on a daily basis because, well, I’m a frizz ball naturally and it just looks messy. I hate that I’m tied to doing it though. Your hair looks great unstraightened because you have a great natural wave. I would love to have those 10 minutes every morning to do something more productive, but I’m ties to the straighteners for now I think!

    1. You know, I’ve noticed that if I give my hair a break and stop straightening it, within a few days the frizz dies down and it becomes more cooperative. That was my strategy following this last haircut–I got the super-damaged hair cut off, and just refused to mess up the rest of it. Perhaps that might work for you as well? I also can’t recommend the Bumble & Bumble curl conscious defining cream enough! I know it’s expensive, but the same bottle has lasted me over 2 years.

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