curly hair

Do you tame your tresses or let them run wild?


Define: "Clear, precise, unmistakable."

I am not one of those curlies who ever, ever wanted to tame my curls. Growing up poor, gawky, wearing hand-me-downs dresses accessorized by my brother's knee socks, you'd think I'd have had a complex about everything. On top of that, I lost teeth on a regular basis and got teased relentlessly about my name because of a popular brand of vegetables at that time: Libbi. Because I had five older brothers and sisters, almost all of whom have straight hair, I was the last in line for everything. No time for cute girly hairstyles in our house! But I had my curly hair, and I knew, inherently, that it made me different. Different than my classmates, and different even than my siblings.

The Curly '80s

I used to have much curlier hair than I have now. Coming of age in the '80s, big hair was, well, big. In fact, the bigger the better. Even the hair bands of the day couldn't compete with my curls and look—not without a lot of hair product and guyliner. For me, the wilder my curls were, the better. Sure, I used the cheapest products on the market. And then immediately upon washing my hair, I took the blow dryer to it to get even bigger hair!

If Curls Could Talk

In the 1970s, the afro, or "natural" as it was also called, was more than a hairstyle. It was a bona fide political statement. Wearing an afro allowed people to voice their cultural (and even historical) identity through their individual hairstyle.

Yet the trend for so many years of late has been to straighten, smooth, define and yes—tame—one's beautiful, natural curls, kinks and coils.

Let me be clear: I do not have the hair struggles that someone with much curlier hair has. I did not grow up with someone pressuring me to wear my hair a certain way in order to be "pretty." I was left to my own devices when it came to my curls, and we didn't have fashion magazines, so I never paid much attention to advertisements that told me what I should look like. That's not to say those pressures weren't prevalent for many people and very real. I'm just saying that I think this contributed to me walking a tad bit on the wild side.

curly hair

How fro can you go?

Don't Tame Me!

I have read of dissention among curlies who are divided on how much definition to give their locks. While the argument for "defining" your curls may come from experts suggesting products to keep your curls soft, smooth and "neat," how about a little abstraction to show who you really are?

No woman is tame all the time. Sure, we all have workplaces and mostly abide by standards of dress in the workplace. But curls are your natural birthright! If you are used to spending an hour or more a day on your hair, I say test the waters a little. Stick your big toe in once a week and go as natural as possible. While you should always take care of your curls with quality hair products, who says you need to tame your hair? Playing it smooth is not always the best for your self-esteem. Being real, being you, and learning to find the beauty in who you are is what it's all about after all.

Go Wild!

The trend toward unruly hair seems to be growing, and I for one, love it. If I could grow a big unruly fro I'd wear it wild and loose and let it compliment my slightly unruly personality. Away with the twist-outs, bantu knots, and satin pillow cases. Adios to olive oil, leave-ins, and detanglers. I would want my fro big, with its own personality, emulating how I feel inside. This whole topic sends a song through my head: Aretha's cover of Carole King's Natural Woman, one of the most beautiful and down to earth love songs ever recorded. I mean, really, how simple is that love song, and yet how much does it sum up the natural hair movement? "You make me feel like a natural woman." Done.

Having said that, I have great respect for those who choose to, and even have to, define their curls for any reason. I am truly in awe of the hard work, the care, the cost, the time and the ups and downs involved. But, admittedly, I long for the fro. And I will never have the fro I so badly want. I will never be Pam Grier in the 1970s. I'm more like Sally Field stuck with Jackie Gleason but secretly having the hots for Burt Reynolds and all his "natural" hair (translation: chest hair, remember that stuff?). I feel wild on the inside and think that those who can express that with their hair are lucky indeed.

Whatever side you are on, remember this: you are still on the side of naturally curly hair, so you are on the same side. Both choices are equally important and everyone is different and has valid reasons for the choices they make.

Now, tell me something good: Do you define your curls, or do your curls define you? Or both?

Okay, so maybe she's wearing a wig, but it's ARETHA! Sign of the times? I think so. Not many escaped the pressures, did they?