The Passion of the Curls (Screw You, Robin Givhan)

Thoughts from a boho, kooky, unserious, curly-haired woman.

If I’ve learned anything from the News of the World hacking scandal, it’s that if I’m ever called to testify in front of Congress, I really should stop and get a blowout first.

Because like former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks, I have very, very curly hair. The kind of hair where each strand twists and contorts itself until they all join up to form a labyrinthine web of kinky corkscrews. The kind of hair that is, by nature, untamed and wild.

The kind of hair that Robin Givhan, writing about Ms. Brooks in The Daily Beast, characterized as “boho,” “distracting,” “look-at-me hair.” “It was a ballsy rebuke of our expectations…There was no suggestion of humility, timidity, or caution…no attempt to disappear into doleful anonymity.”

Basically, Givhan argues that by virtue of its natural existence, Ms. Brooks’ hair sticks a finger in the eye of all things proper, righteous, and upstanding, and that if she cared about looking like a real CEO, she might have put it in a bun. I can’t speak for Ms. Brooks, but when you have the kind of hair that prompts entire columns about its perceived implications, trust me – doleful anonymity sounds pretty good.

I don’t mean for my curly hair to be a declaration of my identity. I didn’t ask for it to be this way. But whether I like it or not, my hair walks into the room before I do. It is and always has been the singular defining feature of my physical being, and it’s all people want to talk about. I have been forced to discuss it in job interviews and at funerals. When you have curls, no one cares about your big heart or your big thoughts; you are reduced to a person with big hair. My curls signify to the world that I am kooky, scatterbrained, free-spirited, unconventional, unruly, unkempt, unprofessional, un-corporate, rebellious, eccentric, quirky, and nonconformist. Or at least that’s how people like Givhan interpret them.

The idea of a curly-headed woman as distracting and unpolished is well-woven into our pop culture fabric. On any makeover show, the hair transformation will always involve a straightening iron. As they say, Messy Hair = Messy Life. In The Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway isn’t princess material until she tames her frizz into a sleek blowout. On Friends, it’s no accident that ditzy Phoebe is the only female character with long waves. Even in the Harry Potter series, whip-smart Hermione is considered downright fugly until she emerges for the big dance with her usually wild hair fashioned into a demure straight style. I’ll stop here, but believe me – I could go on.

But curly hair isn’t just a semiotic concept; an idea to be parsed and analyzed in a what-does-it-all-mean kind of way. It’s personal. It’s personal every time I see a news segment showing how employers are less likely to hire curly-haired women, and men are less likely to want to date them. It’s personal when my husband asks, “If we have kids, what’s the chance they’d have hair like yours?” as if it were a disease. It’s personal when I assure him that genetically, it’s unlikely, and realize that I’m relieved, too. And it’s personal when fashion editors write columns decrying women who look like me as messy, defiant, and brazen.

Mostly, it gets personal every time some random stranger comments, “Oh, I’d love to have hair like yours!” Trust me – if people really wanted curly hair, fashion magazines wouldn’t be so full of blowout tips. Curls may be okay in theory, as long as they belong to adorable orphans or cartoon characters, but not on an adult woman. That is, assuming she wants to be taken seriously.

I was walking with my best friend once when a little old lady stopped me on the street to regale me with stories about how much she paid for perms, and how I was just the luckiest gosh-darned girl in the world. As we walked away, my friend said, “I have to tell you – your hair is great, but I would never want it in a million years.” I really loved her for that.

Image: lupzdut

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6 thoughts on “The Passion of the Curls (Screw You, Robin Givhan)

  1. Woah! That Robin Givhan really needs to get a life. The fact that Brooks has made a mockery of democracy and acted like the mafia seems to mean less than what her hair is like. That could be inserted into the Oxford English Dictionary under definition of ‘shallow’.

    My friend argues that nobody keeps women down as much as other women. Believing in the sisterhood I argue against this, but then I see this kind of stuff and everyday I lose a bit more faith in before mentioned sisterhood.

  2. My husband 100% prefers my tousled curly locks to a the sleek blowout look any day. They are hot and hedonistic! (why they are, I don’t know) When I wear it loose and natural I guess I look like a handful. It’s okay. It’s true.

    As a fashion industry veteran, I too have suffered the pressure to streamline and tame my locks (and to lose 30 lbs….) Others do not understand the insurmountable task. Anymore I do a reality check before I style my hair. How much humidity, will it rain, will I overheat and perspire…? If any of these are a “yes” I am better to go as I am. Nature will win.

    At least my husband loves me with curls. Even if everyone else thinks I am a wreck, he thinks I an the sexiest woman in the room.

  3. I once had a taxi driver demand to know why I wear my hair “like that” and that where he’s from it would be considered bad luck and I would have to cover my head.

  4. I have had a love/hate relationship with my hair, my whole life.  Yes, I’ve had complete strangers touch my hair which completely freaks me out since I don’t know them let alone where their hands have been!!!  I’ve had to plaster a fake smile while they gush about how lucky I am.  I have to spend a fortune on products to keep it from ballooning into a giant frizzy afro (which happens at the slightest humidity/breeze/movement).

    For a professional woman like Robin Givhan to make a comment like that is downright offensive!  Rebecca Brooks wears suits, had a professional job which she may or may not have done well but she is being judged because she didn’t straighten her hair or at a minimum put it out of sight?   That’s as ridiculous as telling Ms. Givhan she should try to appear more white.  It’s as if she’s saying that people should not accept the way they were born but should do everything in their power to make themselves look like a clone of someone else’s “acceptable.”

  5. I never did either until one person I once worked with was discussing another colleague with curly hair and said “But she’s really smart and grounded too even with all the messy curls”. As if curls make you not smart and grounded?

    Now redheads…oh the stereotypes.

  6. I’ve got curly hair.  Past the duches in middle school, I didn’t realize there was curly hair discrimination.  


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