When I was a young girl I was an avid reader of the wonderful comic strip Peanuts, and I remember the arrival of Frieda and her tendency to remind anyone who’d listen that she had “naturally curly hair.” At that time my hair was dead straight – or, to use my Oma’s expression, I had ‘nail curls’ – and it seemed to my girlish understanding of femininity that having naturally curly hair must be pretty special, even if it made you a bit annoying.
Then the hormones kicked in during puberty, and on that eventful day in 1978 when I went to the hairdresser and asked for a perm, she laughed and layered my hair instead. And I didn’t want it layered, dammit, I wanted a perm like the models in Cleo magazine. But layered it’s been ever since (apart from a few short-short years), releasing my inner bounce so much that even by the end of high school a friend was calling me ‘ovine’.
Fast forward 30 years or so and I have fully embraced my Frieda-ness and I know that my hair helps define me – more so, I suspect, than how the straight hair of a lot of my friends defines them. I can’t explain why this is, other than it is just so much more out there and in everyone’s face (if they’re up close) and certainly in mine. If I had a dollar – literally – for every time friends and perfect strangers have told me (and continue to tell me) “you’re so lucky to have those curls / you have such beautiful hair / your curls are just right, not like my waves/boring/straight/kinks/[insert horrid hair adjective here]” I would indeed be rich in hair products.
But not everyone wants curly hair in their face, or anyone else’s, which brings us to the hair-straightening trend of white western popular culture over the past decade or so (alongside the long-present hair straightening within African-American culture), which shows no signs of abating.
And just in case you think, at this stage, that I’m getting a bit too carried away with the whole curly subject, let’s take a look at Our Very Own Nicole Kidman, and remember what she used to put on show. The ‘nail-curled’ Ms Kidman was recently (re)interviewed on 60 Minutes by Karl Stefanovic and it’s Australian pop cultural cringe at its finest, including this exchange:
KARL STEFANOVIC: We’ve got some vision of you – the first interview you did with 60 Minutes when you were 21.
NICOLE KIDMAN: Oh, no. Really?
KARL STEFANOVIC: It’s very cool. It was like, “Wow! This hair!”
NICOLE KIDMAN: Yeah, I now blow-dry my hair and I’ve actually had the Brazilian Blowout. Have you heard of that, Karl?
KARL STEFANOVIC: Do I need to know about it?
NICOLE KIDMAN: It’s not… You mention Brazilian and guys are like, “What?” No, it’s the hair blowout thing. So I had that once but my whole life has been trying to get rid of curly hair.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Really?
NICOLE KIDMAN: Yeah, any curly-haired girl will tell you that and now I’m like, “Oh, I wish the curls would come back.” But they don’t come back in the same ringletty way. So, anyway, hair’s a whole other conversation.
Well, it’s this conversation because if you go to the Brazilian Blowout web site, there’s a page dedicated to Befores and Afters and the message appears to be “we can fix this problem [curly hair] and make you better [with straight hair].”
Which brings us to Rebekah Brooks. Now she has clearly not invested in a Brazilian Blowout – quite the opposite, I’d suggest. A recent Jezebel article (‘Everybody Watch Out For Rebekah Brooks’s Hair!‘) looked at the way that Brooks’s hair has been reported, and commented on the stereotypes of curly hair and the dangers of endowing a hair style with too much meaning.
But c’mon! This is where I’m going to draw a long bow as a curly-haired sister and say that hair is as deliberate and overt a statement of personality as you can get. And what clinches it is that she doesn’t emphasise her make-up or fashion choices (that I can see from my thorough research via Google images) so in fact it’s all about the hair. You don’t keep that amount of hard work on your head without wanting it that way.
And if by now you really think I’m off the rails, I dare you to read the Peanuts strips above again, and this time change the name Charlie Brown to Rupert Murdoch. Fun, huh. I liked this one too:
[Thanks to United Features Syndicate via the lovely Snoopy And the Gang! site]
Intersestingly, in the comments section below the Jezebel article, there is a discussion between UK and US contributors on the perceived professionalism of straight hair over curly hair, with some US women saying they’d been pressured professionally to straighten their hair.
So it’s tricky. There are issues of self-esteem, genetics, cost, pop culture, careers (for heaven’s sake) and anti-frizz at play. However, none of these things will, in the end, protect or excuse Rebekah Brooks from her actions.
And I have a confession to make. In recent years I’ve made a habit of getting my hair blow-dried straight when I leave the hair salon after *ahem* colour assistance. The first time I did this when Brownie was old enough to notice (about 3), I came home just as he was nodding off to sleep, and he took one look at this woman who used to be his mother and burst into tears. That demonstrated to me the power of straight v curly.
Finally, how do you know if you can proudly announce, Frieda-style, that you have real naturally curly hair? Well, you go to naturallycurly.com of course, and classify your curls. For the record, on a good day I reckon I’m a mix of both 3a and 3b. I’ll never have the choice of whether 2b or not 2b (okay, that was more than a bit annoying, sorry).