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Curls vs. Waves

By Eulalia Benejam Cobb
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I went on YouTube for advice on my pandemic hair, which was last cut on February 5, 2020, and found dozens of sites that help women to deal with curly hair. And not just deal with it, but enhance it, embrace it, and glory in it. 

I learned a lot. There are no fewer than nine levels of curliness, ranging from loose waves to tight curls. Although I came into this world with Level 3A, “soft curls,” almost a century of blow-drying had reduced me to Level 2A, or “loose waves.” But since I’ve been letting my hair dry naturally during the pandemic, it has breathed a sigh of relief and, all by itself, risen to Level 2B. According to the websites, with just the right kind of care (and products), I could aspire to Level 2C, or “almost curls.” The process sounded kind of like taking care of a plant, so I decided to give it a try. 

But then I realized, from the hundreds of comments on the instructional videos (who knew there were so many women out there worrying about waves vs. curls?) that for a woman with wavy hair to strive for curls can be regarded as a kind of cultural appropriation, and makes her vulnerable to something called “wavy-hair shaming.” 

If you don’t believe me, here is one of the exchanges, with the incendiary bits snuffed out: “Just because tighter curls are now starting to become popular doesn’t mean you wavy types can pop in and try to call your hair curly….” To which a wavy-haired person responds, “You’re the prime example of wavy-hair shaming by a lot of curly-haired people… People with curly hair are self-entitled [horrible individuals] who think their hair is really unique and special…” 

Why am I tormenting myself and you with these trivial tales? It’s because the curly/wavy hair wars spring from the same aspects of human nature that are responsible for the other kind of wars, the ones where people actually die. 

Even if we someday attain racial equality and gender parity, even after we grow to accept transsexual people and people with handicaps, and old people, and people of other nationalities, religions, and socioeconomic levels, we will be sure to latch onto something else to make us feel apart from and superior to the rest of the herd. 

Here is one example, drawn from the supposedly innocent realm of childhood. My first-grade class, most of us barely old enough to tie our shoelaces, is marching single file out of the classroom into the schoolyard, and as we pass the kindergarteners going in the opposite direction, a scornful chant erupts from our ranks: lit-tle ba-bies, lit-tle ba-bies… 

The urge to distinguish, to separate, to draw a line between “us” and “not us” is deeply embedded in our DNA. We are born with a depressing zero-sum mindset: I can only be beautiful/good at math/chosen by God if you are less beautiful, less good at math, and unchosen by God. This may have survival value for some species—if I push my fellow hatchlings out of the nest there will be more worms for me—but it’s threatening to do us humans in. 

The day may come when, out of boredom, the wave/curl warriors will put down their weapons. But then, what? Perhaps pendulous earlobes will emerge as the next badge of beauty, and those with low-hanging lobes will feel proud, and those without will feel miserable, and tug on theirs to make them longer (which will make them subject to earlobe-shaming), until the short-lobes decide to exult in their status and proclaim their superiority, and it’s the long-lobes’ turn to feel bad.

Me at Level 3A

 

 

5 comments

  1. I love love love this, Lali! From a fellow 3A as a toddler to a 2A now – but not nearly so glamourous as the photo. lol (I discovered the \”curly\” pages last year after lockdown when I discovered all the \”going silver naturally\” pages.) I desperately wanted straight hair when I was a kid, because all the other girls at school had long straight-ish hair, even though my mother envied my thick wavy hair and told me I should be grateful for it. There are always new fashions (my mother was derided for being \”skinny\” as a young woman, and yet today her figure would be held up as \”ideal\”), and the result of making people conform or feel \”other\” is infuriating.

  2. Great post!My hair was STRAIGHT as a child, had a tiny bit of not-straight in my adult years, and has gone to 'will wave a bit if you don't sleep on it.' As with the color, I decided to just let it be many years ago, and I've learned to cut it myself so most of the time I do nothing but let it dry.Saves a whole heck of a lot of time.

  3. Hard not to laugh at the \”wave-shaming\” comments. I agree. There will always be ways to make other people feel bad and there will always be people who delight in it.

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