Straight Talk About Curly Hair


As is the case with most of my deeply held insecurities, I blame my hair obsession on Marcia Brady.

The oldest daughter and resident femme fatale of The Brady Bunch, Marcia was the personification of mid-1970s grooviness; she was also a constant reminder of my own physical shortcomings. Marcia was graceful and perky with big blue eyes and clear skin, but the most obvious difference between us was the stick-straight golden hair that fell past her shoulders in a mocking curtain of silky blonde perfection. My own hair, at the time, was an unpredictable cloud of chaos – an ethnic riot of mousey brown frizz and unruly curls, an unflattering, hard-to-groom mess.

Like other coiffure-challenged girls of my generation, I was at war with my hair and tried everything I could think of  to beat it into submission. I ironed it, oiled it and wrapped it around my head (a look my brother referred to as “nature’s turban.”) I slathered on a fruity pink gel called “Dippity Do” and set my hair with orange juice cans. At one point I experimented with a home straightening kit called Dark and Lovely, although I was neither of the two.

It took many years but I finally reached an uneasy truce with my hair – it may be charred and somewhat exhausted now, but it is also relatively straight and well-behaved, thanks to my slavish dependence on flatirons and silicone gels. I have also developed a mild case of hair-dependent agoraphobia, which means that I seldom go outside during periods of high humidity.

All of which has led me to consider the latest trend in hair straightening – the Brazillian Keratin process. This salon treatment relies on formaldehyde, a substance that up until now was best known for stopping  decay in human cadavers. While technically an organic compound, formaldehyde can hardly be called “green,” since it is a known pollutant and respiratory irritant. It is widely thought to be a carcinogen, and is commonly found in cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, and smog.

I am at a point in my life where I am newly committed to keeping toxins out of my body and the world at large, yet I am seriously considering dousing myself in embalming fluid as a last-ditch effort to have pretty, shiny hair that won’t kink up in the rain or heat.

The foolishness of this is not lost on me, especially since I was not raised to be a shallow girl. My grandmother, who had a big influence on me, was a no-nonsense Russian immigrant, a natural beauty who taught me early on that the only cosmetic a girl really needed was a little Vaseline applied sparingly to the lips. Of course, that was easy for her to say – my grandmother grew up in late 19th century Minsk. She may have had famines and Cossacks to deal with, but at least she didn’t have to live up to Marcia Brady.

Image: d3I

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8 thoughts on “Straight Talk About Curly Hair

  1. Pingback: 18 Doll | America girl doll.

  2. I’m with Pam–I’m one of the women with stick-straight hair who looks at people like you with envy and longing, because nothing, no perms or products or anything, will give it any life or joy or any of that wonderful body and bounce.

    A few years ago, when I was sitting next to a friend with the exact hair I’ve always wanted, and she had flat-ironed hers into submission to look exactly like mine. That was the day I decided to embrace my hair, learn to love it for what and how it is, and get on with life. I hope you can do the same! Hell with Marcia Brady, be you! You have awesome hair.

  3. Hi Susan,

    I feel your pain! I have also tried practically every product on my hair, and have found no magic bullet. I now live on the west coast, so at least I don’t have to deal with the 100% NYC humidity where I don’t think I ever had a good hair day in the summer.

    I am also considering the Brazilian treatment, so I’d like to know what you decide.


  4. Why would you want to straighten your beautiful hair?

  5. Why would you want to have something other than curly, body-filled hair? I’m a straighty and have had dozens of perms trying to get my hair to look like yours!

  6. Susan, love this post! As a fellow curly girl I’ve tried just about everything. My current regimen includes “Nopoo” (as opposed to shampoo) from Deva Curl, and various thick-as-mud conditioners which I don’t entirely rinse out. I then slather some Morrocanoil through my wet hair and towel dry. After the horrible String Le Crunch years (thanks to mousses and gels) I’ve finally found a product that keeps my curls relatively defined and soft without being crunchy. Bumble and Bumble Curl Creme works great, too, but Morrocanoil is more eco-friendly and healthy.

  7. I only recently embraced my natural curls myself, and it’s not hard at all once you learn what your hair likes. So please, don’t resort to formaldehyde! Try sites like to learn about your hair type, what products to use for it and many women who are happy with their curls.

  8. As a fellow curly girl, I say don’t do it! I don’t believe in sacrificing health for beauty. (In this case, a European, impossible-to-achieve Marcia Brady ideal of beauty.) Embrace what nature gave you. There are tons of super moisturizing natural products out there that will whip your hair into shape so you can rock the ringlets without shaving years off your lifespan.


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