I was born with hair dark and fine as crow down. Shortly thereafter, it all fell out and in grew my vicious, wild, and somewhat iconic curls. They were blonde then, and adorable, but stubborn. My great aunt Janice called me Goldilocks, though I don’t recall fairytales ever mentioning the pain poor Goldilocks must have had to endure each morning as her mom fought to arrange her golden rat’s nest into those beautiful satin locks. My poor dad was, on occasion, left to the same formidable task of doing my hair for school when my mom was out of town. He’d pull the brush through my tangled head, break several of its teeth (and occasionally the entire brush), before inserting a headband and declaring it good. I’m sure I looked homeless, but the lack-luster effect of my frizzy hair was fine with me. I was a tomboy and didn’t want anything frilly or too “cute.” My grandma did my hair once when I was around seven or eight. She was just French-braiding it into two strands, but I was convinced that from the amount of time she was taking, I was going to end up with braids all over my head, hanging down like the legs of a spider.
My less girly side has benefited from having curls, I think. I’ve always felt like I can get away with washing my hair less or not brushing it at all because I have curly hair. Indeed, science backs this up. Dirty hair curls better than freshly cleaned hair because it adds more texture and holds a better shape, and brushing dry curls can be very damaging. The shaft structure of a strand of curly hair is a lot rougher and dryer than a strand of straight hair, so brushing dry curls as opposed to wet ones can result in breaking them. You can bet Goldilocks didn’t wash her hair every day, though I assume that was left out so as not to encourage poor bathing habits among children.
I remember arguing with my straight-haired best friend on the playground when we were probably ten about whose hair was harder to do. I envied Helen’s glossy brown curtain of hair if only because I was sure her mom running a brush through her hair couldn’t hurt near as bad as the brushing sessions with my mom did. Mom had broken many a brush on my head in the effort of trying.
Helen said people don’t realize that straight hair gets tangled, too. I said my hair got too tangled for people not to notice.
Now, I’m not sure my hair is “harder” to do. Certainly I stand by my brushing argument – there is no way straight hair is harder to brush than curly hair – but my hair (when dry) requires so little effort to do that sometimes I pity straight-haired people. At least people expect my curls to be frizzy.
As I got older, I grew more conscientious. I didn’t want anyone to do my hair but me because they might do it wrong. I still maintain from this mindset. No one knows how to handle my curls but me. Another thing you don’t hear in the fairytales: a vast majority of curly-headed people suffer from severe cases of “triangle hair.” My hair may be thick and mild but, goodness knows, my roots lack volume, resulting in thin, wispy strands that stick to my scalp, then balloon suddenly outward in a dramatic slope as it hits my shoulders. I have to work volume in, otherwise my broad shoulders are emphasized and my round pale face stands out like a full moon. I envy those who can pull their hair effortlessly into a ponytail without looking boyish, like I do with my hair pulled tight against my skull.
It’s my junior year of high school, and the first formal dance I’ve been asked to. I sit in front of the big oval mirror propped up on the small end table that serves as my vanity and struggle with my wet curls alone. My mom calls through my closed bedroom door. “Do you want any help with your hair, Sis?”
“No, I’m fine!” She never rats her hair for volume, so she won’t do it to mine. Mine needs it. I know I won’t like my hair if anyone but me does it.
As if triangle head wasn’t a bad enough blight, my mom found my first gray hair around the time she found her own first one. I was barely fourteen and dismissed it as a freak occurrence because I was fourteen and no one goes gray at fourteen. But then there was another, and another, and another. I was mortified when my two best friends found out at a church activity. We were teenage girls and have arrived a little early, so we went to the gray-tiled bathroom to fix our hair and touch up our make-up or whatever. I ended up pulling my crazy curls into a messy bun on top of my head and asked how it looked in the back and they said fine and then Belana (the more honest and outspoken one of the two) asked, “Is that a gray hair?” It was, and they spent the next ten minutes picking them all out. I was just a freshman.
Despite the gray, I refused to dye my hair until I was a senior. I always had this weird thing against people who dyed their hair. I mean, what was wrong with anyone’s natural hair color anyway? Isn’t your natural hair color going to be the color that looks best on you? Why can’t we just be happy with what we have? So, despite the thin silver shoots sprouting from my part, I didn’t dye my hair for several years.
A gay guy cuts my hair every few months in Rexburg, Idaho. I find it a little ironic that I move from liberal Washington with a very straight, mother-of-ten hairstylist to Mormon-potato-farmer-town Rexburg and gain my gay hairstylist. But I like him. He always does a good job.
“Anything else?” He asks, after my hair is cut. Sometimes I have him style it.
My mom knows I feel self-conscious about my gray hair, have been feeling self-conscious for a while, and shoots me a look. “Do you want to dye it?”
I tentatively agree and conservatively settle on a brown only a few shades darker than my natural color, much to my mom’s pleasure because it is quite close to her own hair color. I wait with trembling fingers while my hairstylist brushes my hair with cold dye, wraps it with foil shoots, lets it set, rinses it out. Finally I get to see the end product. It’s dark, much darker than I was expecting, and there’s no gray now. I chuckle to think of my fictitious kindred spirit Goldilocks, desperately dying her own hair to maintain that iconic, youthful gold.
I dye my hair again, the same color, when it starts growing out and the gray is poking through again, but the next time around, I’m more adventurous and curious about the allure of colors not-my-natural-color and go with a slightly more lively reddish brown. My mom is a little disappointed, but I love it. I stick with that color much longer than the dark brown. However, when I went off to college, I realized hair dye was expensive. The red grew out, creating a kind of “accidental ombre” I got lots of compliments on, before I did one final dye to restore my hair to its natural color.
My hair, like my height, has been one of those things I’ve had to grow into. It’s been a journey figuring out the best way to style my curls, the best methods for containing the frizz, the best ways to hide the gray. I haven’t figured it all out yet; I’m not even twenty. But I keep trying, fighting the hair that seems to have a mind of its own. So here I am, a girl with ash brown, out-of-control curls. The curls are still obnoxious and the gray will come back again, but I can live with that. I’m too dark-haired to be Goldilocks anymore, but from one curly-headed soul to another, I can still sympathize.