There are women who barely think about their hair, I am told. They wake up and they wash their hair and air-dry it and it looks like it did the day before and the day before that. It looks neat and glossy and lovely. I am not one of those women. I do not have that hair.
Growing up, I was the only one in my family with curly hair. My mother treated my hair the same way she did my sisters’: she ran a brush through it morning and night. Take a brush to head of curls and you get a head of frizz – and so, for years, that was my look: a shock of long brown frizz.
I was always envious of the girls at school who had sleek straight hair, the girls who wore Alice bands and had hair to their bottoms. My own frizz was unruly and unmanageable, unkempt and unloved. Then, when I was around 15, I discovered that I could tame the frizz by ironing my hair. This was before I could afford hair straighteners (and the models available back then were almost useless, anyway) and so I used an actual iron. And an actual ironing board. I would lean my head onto the board and press the iron along my hair, wielding it dangerously close to my ears and my face.
Finally, in my late teens, a friend’s sister put me out of misery and gave me a crash course in caring for curls. Don’t brush your hair, she said. And use lots of conditioner and a little styling product. And so, just as Sex and the City arrived on our TV screens and with it, Carrie Bradshaw, the queen of curls, I got a handle on my hair. Sort of…
There is something retrograde, sinister even, about the conflation of the blow-dry and professionalism
Curls look easy, carefree, rebellious even – but they take time and care and a commitment to products. There are exceptions – sometimes, once a year, usually when I am on holidays by the sea, I emerge from the shower and half an hour later, my face is framed by a head of shiny curls, the result of the heat and the sea air – but generally curls require care. They need sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner. Plopping is a must (plopping is, for the uninitiated, a method of drying curls involving wrapping wet hair in cotton fabric.) A silk pillow is advisable so the curls don’t dry out overnight.
Caring for my curls is not something to which I can always commit. Most of the time, it is just easier to reach for the hairdryer and the straighteners. And if I want to look ‘put-together’, I’ll go for a blow-dry. There is something retrograde, sinister even, about the conflation of the blow-dry and professionalism: it’s as though only this archetype of super-groomed woman is deemed palatable. I hate that idea and yet, if I have an important appointment, I book a blow-dry straight away.
Nora Ephron once wrote, “I sometimes think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.” I feel her. But in the meantime, I plop and I straighten, I blow-dry and I condition. I keep longing for that moment when I look in the mirror and think: yes, that’s exactly what I wanted my hair to look like. It’s only a deep-conditioning treatment away, right?