Edition 2 2021

Curly Hair: An Analysis

23 April 2021

“Your hair is so cool! Can I feel it?”

These are words I have grown accustomed to hearing throughout my entire life. Growing up in a predominantly white community, my mixed-race curly hair was seen as somewhat of a novelty. Friends, teachers at school, other adults and passersby all seemed to be drawn towards it. Eyes would constantly wander, and hands would constantly reach, everyone so fascinated by the texture. You would think it was as if my hair was dyed bright pink, or grew so long it touched the floor. 

“I can always spot you from miles away, Gemma,” people would tell me, “because I always recognise your beautiful big curls!”  The attention had never bothered me—I liked that I was memorable. But something about the way in which this tended to be posited always felt off-putting.  Was it only this feature which prompted such recognition? Did my hair define me more than my actual characteristics did? 

To be frank, I’ve never seen my hair as being all that special.  Combining my dad’s super-tight curls with my mum’s blonde wavy locks created my hair, with its innate ability to spring back when you tug on it. At home it was never a big deal either; my sisters both have the same. I sometimes wonder, if I lived somewhere else, with different people, would my hair still be considered this unfamiliar? Or would I just be another curly haired girl, one among thousands? 

“Have you ever straightened it before?”

This is another common one. 

“Yes,”  I tell them, “ a couple of times.” Which is true.  When I was younger, I would plead with my mum to straighten my hair for me. There was something so attractive about what everyone else had: sleek, shiny hair that was easy to brush and easy to braid. 

What an odd reality we live in, where the desire to assimilate is so commonplace. At breakfast, Mum would tell me that eating the crusts of my toast would make my hair straight, just so I would finish my meal. And of course, it worked. Primary-school-aged Gemma had already flagged herself as “other”, and had begun to look for ways to become immersed in the mainstream.

However, I think it’s safe to say that applying excessive heat to my very curly hair did not, at all, result in the effect my thirteen-year-old self desired. The dry, boofy clumps were still so different, and even worse than before. And after a few days, I would shower and it would return to its regular ringlets—this impermanence reminding me of my individuality. No matter how much I tried to change it, my hair would never be straight. 

“Your curly hair is beautiful!”

I guess I have never really considered the novelty of what I have. Most of the time, I just worry about whether it looks nice, or whether I should brush it. 

“Is it too frizzy? Should I wear it in a ponytail?” 

My hair is just my hair. Tufts of it grow out of my scalp, and sometimes, I tie it back from my face so it doesn’t get in the way. It is me, and I am it.

Really, it’s all about perspective. Viewing yourself as an outlier, as a point of difference, does no good for anyone. Rather, if I have learnt anything, it is that embracing your own individuality is paramount. I have accepted my hair, not as a major distinguishing factor that makes me dissimilar, but instead as just another aspect of who I am. 

At the end of the day, you can try and straighten the curl, but you can never truly take the curl out of the girl. 


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