First impressions count. Many closet curlies are married to a flat iron because they think men prefer the smooth, straight look over curls or kinks. And when you can maneuver your mane in either direction, you have the option of changing your visual impression when meeting someone new.
But should you? And, would it really make a difference?
To find out, I embarked on an unscientific social experiment. Newly single in New York City, I joined a popular online dating service and posted two profiles. They were identical in every way—except one.
The first profile included a picture of my hair flat-ironed straight. For the other, my hair was naturally curly.
After one month showcasing the straight profile and the next month curly, more than twice as many men responded to the straight look. But this experiment is far from over.
There’s a twist. On my dates, the plan was to find out what they really think when I show up as the opposite of what they expect. If they reach out to my straight profile, I would meet them as a curly, and vice versa.
Would my hairstyle really affect their attraction? It was an adventure that was full of surprises. My one rule: I vowed to only date
men I was truly interested in. This is the real deal, real dates, real men.
Bachelor #1: Financial-Services Executive
This is my first date. I’m nervous on the entire cab ride to the restaurant, wondering if my date will even recognize me. He expects stick-straight locks. I’m curly. I quickly phone a friend for reinforcement. I’m connected to voicemail, hang up, then glance at the cabbie. He seems nice enough. I bend his ear.
“So, which do you prefer, a woman with curly or straight hair?” I ask, hoping for curl confirmation.
“It depends,” he says.
We’re almost at my destination. I press him. He begrudgingly admits to leaning on the straight side. Geez, why did I push?! I’m more nervous now, but there’s no time to think. I’m here.
I see my date at the bar. My approach is hesitant. I say hello. He looks at me, his eyes widening. Now, he’s nervous, at a loss for words. I think I know why, so I mumble some lame excuse explaining why my hair is curly, not straight like my picture. I’m not even sure why I felt compelled to explain. It’s just hair, right?
“Does it matter that my hair is curly?” I ask.
“Well, no, I guess... I’m just surprised,” he says, voice trailing off to a whisper.
Uncomfortable, I quickly change the subject and turn the attention to him and the hobbies listed in his profile. We order drinks and he finally seems to relax, as he shares stories of his mountain-climbing adventures.
We laugh, sipping sangria. But we never quite recover from that fumbled first impression.
Bachelor #2: Italian Business Owner
It’s a late-afternoon lunch date near the shore, so I decide to show up straight (just like he expects) knowing the beach air always performs tricks on my tresses. I purposefully forget my clips, headbands and emergency-fix spritz so I’ll be forced to accept any twists and turns the day may bring.
We sit at an outside table overlooking the water. A damp breeze is blowing. After the first bite of risotto and sip of Sauvignon Blanc, it happens. I can’t see it, but suddenly I feel my stick-straight locks expand, to the right and left, up and down, like they’re waving hello. My date banters back: “Your hair, it’s transforming right before my eyes!”
I stop eating, my fingers now entangled in a tress tug-of-war. And as I’m about to pipe in with an explanation, I look up and realize he’s already back to enjoying his meal, unfazed.
Later, he curiously asks me why I bother to flatten my curls. “You have great hair,” he says. “Do you know how many people would love to have curly hair?”
“Yeah, I do,” I say, with a smile.
The day continues, we decide to have dinner. No time to freshen up. A friend of his joins us. As we enter the restaurant, I excuse myself in search of a mirror to manage my mane. Still frizzy! I give up. I’m on my way back and tap the back of a towering man, who’s partially blocking the archway entrance to the dining room. He turns around, flashing a gorgeous smile, his sapphire eyes sparkling in the dimly lit space.
I tell myself this is not happening. Me — and my big hair — are standing face-to-face with Alec Baldwin. Yes, the actor. And yes, this IS happening. Flushed and flustered in frizz, I mumble hello with my hands over my head and race back to the table, my cheeks are flushed like vine-ripe tomatoes.
I desperately seek a pin, elastic, anything to tie back my haphazard do. My date’s friend agrees my hair would look better out of the way. But my date encourages me to set it free. “It looks fine,” he says, nonchalantly.
I take his lead, forget about my hair, forget about Alec and confidently enjoy yet another great meal.
Bachelor #3: Cuban Marketing Executive
On my next date, I vow to worry less and relax more, no matter where my locks lay.
I agree to afternoon coffee. It’s a drizzly day. Stepping into Starbucks, smiles and curls abound, he spots me and waves. He has only seen a straight photo, but there’s not even a hint of surprise. We chat. I’m perplexed. Did he even notice that I look different, very different? He says he did, but wasn’t surprised. Hair -- curly or straight -- didn’t seem to matter.
He’s silly. We laugh. The focus turns to fitness and nutrition, which he acknowledges is very important to me. (He read my brief profile.) Then, I learn Cocoa Puffs (breakfast) and Ring Dings (late night snack) are part of his daily rituals.
Bachelor #4: Music Executive
A week later, I schedule early evening drinks at a rooftop bar. As I step up the stairs, I again remember to approach the date as a confident curly.
No matter what his reaction, I will smile. And I do.
We chat and order fancy, fruity faux martinis. Still no obvious reaction to my textured tresses. I bring it up. Curly or straight, it doesn’t matter. He says it was my smile he noticed.
Bachelor #5: Sales Executive
The next morning, I head out for a horseback ride with a new date. Once again, he expects straight, but I arrive curly. We exchange smiles. Not sure if his is a happy-to-finally-meet-you smile or I’m-in-shock-and-don’t-know-what-to-say smile. In my mind, I choose the former. After a breezy, hour-long trail ride, we have brunch at a tiny French bistro. Still not a peep about my hair, until I speak about it. His response? Curls are “exotic looking” and, like most of my dates, he seems unfazed.
“Whether it’s curly or straight, it doesn’t matter — as long as there’s enough hair to hold onto!” he says. I laugh, not quite knowing how to respond to that one.
Bachelor #6: Italian Model
It’s month two, time to replace the straight photos with curly ones. Within days, frustration sets in. Not as many e-mails, even fewer winks. Then, finally, one response catches my eye and interest. In his email, he mentions that he likes my curly photo. We exchange numbers. He speaks in a charming foreign accent. Turns out he’s a model. We make plans to meet for dinner.
I’m waiting outside the restaurant with stick-straight locks. He’s late. I’m fidgeting. Within minutes, he arrives. He’s speechless and staring. “Something wrong?” I ask. “No,” he says, softly. He looks away and then faces me again, head slowly turning side to side, like a mime silently asking if I’m the same woman in the profile.
We both order the shrimp special. He asks for the cherry-inspired sauce on the side. I bring up my curls, or lack thereof. Does he prefer curlies? Apparently so. “I think curly hair is more natural and sexy,” he says. I tell him I straightened my hair, but it’s naturally curly.
He then proceeds to grab my hand and, unfortunately, makes an attempt at touch football when the plates are cleared.
Since he thinks curls are sexy, maybe he assumed curlies (even disguised by a flat iron) are more flirtatious than our naturally straight counterparts. Maybe he would have been aggressive regardless of a woman’s hairstyle, or maybe he was simply looking for love at breakneck speed. I do not know.
What I do know is that when it comes to voting for curly or straight, if a man says it depends, perhaps it really does. It depends on confidence. Stepping into a date with a smile can make all the difference.
It could also depend on culture. My family is from Argentina, and the men from similar cultural backgrounds -- like the Cuban and Italian men I met -- seemed happy and familiar with curlies like me, even in my most awkward, frizz-filled moments.
And while none of my dates developed into long-lasting connections, the experiment was enlightening. Whether you play it straight or crank up the curls, first impressions do count. But I’ve learned it’s also what you bring to the surface that really shines through.
Special thanks to Rodney Cutler of the Cutler Salon, who styled Teri's hair for the photos.