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How Having Curly Hair Impacted My Self-Esteem

When it comes to hair, the grass is always greener. Someone with straight hair will say how much they wish they had curly hair and vice versa. Though, I believe people with curly hair actually have a reason to want straight hair; they long to rid themselves of the burden with which curly hair provides them on the daily. To my fellow ladies with curly hair, I understand the struggle. And if you’ve got straight hair, let me catch you up to speed. Unlike those with straight hair, curly hair can only be brushed when it’s wet. It knots easily, but there’s no way to brush it when it’s dry because it will only create more frizz, which is essential to avoid. Frizz and curly hair go hand in hand…it’s never a good look. Our hair gets frizzy and then we long to wash it, but since curly hair lacks moisture, washing it all the time is forbidden. For example, I wash my hair no more than twice a week, and every time I do, I spend an hour combing through tangles and applying all sorts of products. My hair routine is daunting, and it’s very hard to style my hair in a bun, ponytail or braid — it doesn’t always appear presentable, so the whole thing seems to be more trouble than it’s worth.  

So all of the challenges — washing, styling, applying products, de-tangling — are solely in an effort to prevent frizziness. Yet, our curls are instinctively prone to frizziness, especially when they interact with the humidity in our everyday climate. So why don’t we embrace the natural state of our curly hair, frizz and all? One reason: societal beauty standards condemn not only frizzy hair, but curly hair as well. 

The top models (Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Cara Delevingne) all have one thing in common: straight hair. Even models who aren’t so prominent, models who merely advertise everyday products, usually sport stick-straight hair. Mainstream female singers like Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, and Taylor Swift lack curls. In fact, some may remember early Taylor Swift rocking a blonde, curly head of hair, but now, she denies her hair’s raw form and straightens it. These examples culminate to suggest one social implication: what society deems as beautiful (according to the media’s influence on American beauty standards) is a female with silky, smooth, straight hair. Therefore, girls with curly hair feel inferior because their genetics fail to comply with the strict standards of beauty. And, as a result, we lack confidence in the organic characteristics of our hair, decreasing our self-esteem. 

In addition to the absence of curly-haired models, celebrities and public figures in the fashion and entertainment industries, films and television have negatively depicted curly-haired individuals, contributing to the societal beauty standards. For decades, characters on screen who wear frizzy curls also possess negative traits such as awkwardness, social inadequacy, stupidity, and annoyingness. A commonly known example is the character Tai in the 1995 classic, Clueless. When Tai is introduced, she is an awkward, naive, and uncultured social outcast. Put simply, she’s clueless! Tai does have one distinguishing feature: her curly, bright red locks. The movie diminishes the beauty of her hair because, in comparison to the gorgeous Cher and Dionne who have straight hair, Tai is quite unattractive. And throughout the film, she’s seen as the odd one out. Therefore, Tai’s character indicates that girls with curly hair will never equate to the beauty of their straight-haired female counterparts. 

Another instance in which curly hair is rejected by the media is in the film, The Princess Diaries. Mia Thermopolis, a gawky, awkward, “frizz ball” (the mean girl, Lana’s words, not mine) has frizzy curls at the beginning of the movie. Once Mia finds out she’s the next heir to the throne of Genovia, she must be transformed from a below-average-looking teenage girl into a proper princess. Her hair, along with the rest of her image and disposition, is revamped by Paolo, the royal stylist. As Paolo is brushing through Mia’s hair, he says that her “big” hair is “like a wolf.” And then, his brush gets stuck in her tangled curls, causing it to snap in half — rookie mistake: never brush curly hair when it’s dry! Eventually, Paolo remodels Mia into a princess with the distinctive feature of royalty and beauty: straight, frizz-free hair. And as Paolo reveals Mia’s new makeover, the music swells and the strings on the violins buzz daintily. Basically, the music is screaming, “look, she’s so gorgeous now!” Once her image is altered, her cringeworthy personality starts to evolve as she becomes a spunky, fun-loving young adult. The message here implies that curly-haired girls are weird and unsightly; but once they straighten their hair, they become beautiful and “quirky” in the best sense. 

Watching both Clueless and The Princess Diaries — as classic and iconic as they are — definitely impacted my self-esteem in detrimental ways. Additionally, viewing advertisements for beauty and fashion products in which models have straight hair made me question my worth as a girl with curly hair. I began to believe that I wasn’t beautiful, and that because I didn’t conform to the standards set by society, I should be ashamed of my natural hair. The amount of times I’d cry in frustration while spending countless hours in front of the mirror trying to get my frizz to be complacent was just making me feel miserable and insecure. 

I’ve since realized something: I must embrace my curls, frizz and all. I know it sounds almost too simple, but adopting this mentality has made such a stark difference. The second I stopped being embarrassed about or uncomfortable with my hair, I became a changed woman. I started experimenting with my hair, finding new looks, unique styles, and various forms of haircare. And as for my hair’s frizziness, I’ve come to accept it; it’s part of the deal, and it doesn’t diminish my character or self-worth. We live in a world where outward appearances dictate so much about a person. Society may make uneducated assumptions about our curly hair, but that doesn’t mean that we should too. We must radiate confidence and feel good about our hair because our curls are beautiful. Yes, they give you personality, but also allow others to see you for who you are, not who beauty standards are telling you to be. Let us redefine how society perceives curly haired individuals. We don’t need widespread media representation to show the world how beautiful we are! 

Elizabeth is an intended English major at Kenyon college hailing from Westchester, New York. In her free time, Elizabeth loves listening to music (and singing along sometimes), having fun with friends, and watching movies and tv shows.
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