Dear Beauty Industry: Stop Trying to Tame My Curls

What do you go through to tame your curly hair? Why do you do it? (Photo: Getty Images)I didn't love my curly hair until after my youngest child was born. My hair is long and dark, kinky and curly, and when I was three months postpartum, about a quarter of it fell out. When it grew back in, it was silver and nearly straight. Finally, I had what every hair product on the market had promised -- and failed -- to deliver: Hair that was shiny and sleek and bouncy and biddable. Hair that was "good." Hair that I finally loved, even if it was grayer than before.

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The curls reasserted themselves a few months later, but by then it didn't matter because I had crossed over my hair-hating barrier. I'm as curly now as I ever was before, and I still love my hair. Ads for beauty products are inescapable, though, and since I no longer buy into the straight-hair hype, I can't help but notice the negative language that the beauty industry uses when marketing products to curly girls.

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Our hair is "unruly" and "wild." It needs to be "tamed," "relaxed," or "controlled." Women with fine hair crave body, but women with curly hair are supposed to hate that theirs is "thick." Even products meant to celebrate our curls don't really do so; the pretty young women in the commercials have big bouncing curls that rarely occur naturally -- it takes a set of hot rollers and a lot of product to get that effect. Curly girls who aren't African American still can't escape the "bad hair" vs. "good hair" battle: If your hair isn't biddable, it's bad.

My hair is super-curly (kinky-curly, really), and very long— pull a curl straight and it reaches nearly to my waist. I can't tell you how many times a stylist has offered to straighten my hair before she cuts it, in order to make it "easier to deal with." As a bridesmaid at an old friend's wedding, the hairdresser looked at me as I sat in her chair and muttered, "I don't even know what to do with this," a comment that stuck in my head throughout the ceremony. Once, before a big on-camera interview, the hair and makeup team ignored my request to leave my hair curly and went at it with a wide-barreled curling iron; when the frizz started to reappear before they had even finished putting on my makeup, the flustered stylist wailed, "I didn't know what else to do! All the pictures of you I could find online had your hair looking natural!" As if it was some sort of oversight, instead of simply the way I wear my hair.

The lengths to which curly girls go in order to turn "bad" hair into "good" -- willingly damaging it in the process -- is astounding, and the fact that the need to do so is rooted in a kind of pitiful self-hatred makes it all worse. Take, for example, the way Racked Philly editor Julie Davis beats herself down as she endorses a pricey hair product:

"In my head, I like to imagine that my hair is silky, shiny, straight out of a Pantene commercial—wind machine and all. In reality, it's a hot mess of Medusa curls that either remains pulled back into a ponytail or is subjected to a tedious heat-styling ritual necessary to make it presentable," she writes. And then, her tedious hair routine: "I let my hair air-dry, then I comb a quarter-size dollop of the leave-in treatment throughout my hair before attacking with my flat iron and curling iron (yes, both). The stuff smells strong—kind of like men's cologne—but it somehow makes my wavy, crazy-thick Helena Bonham Carter 'do a little more manageable."

"Hot mess of Medusa curls?" Needs to be "attacked" in order to be "presentable" and "a little more manageable"? Why does "loving yourself the way you are" refer to our body image but not our hair?

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