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July 6, 2012

Girls with Curls

You twirl it, twist it, straighten it, and sometimes lop it all off and start over. Four curl-challenged women explain how they came to go with the flow.

caroline smith

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Subject

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By Caroline Smith

IN COLLEGE, I was known for my Astropuffs — clouds of bouncing curls that sprouted from my signature pigtails. A friend coined the term during freshman year and it stuck. To this day, the first thing people notice about me are my curls, and I love them. But I haven't always felt this way.

As a teenager, I was determined to coax my hair into whatever trendy style of the time: the flippy, feathered mullet; the sky-high shellacked bangs (mine, awkwardly punctuated with a spray of ringlets); a boy-short pixie that led to an episode where I was mistaken for "sir." I longed for sleek strands to my waist or a pristine Louise Brooks bob, anything architectural. I even tried smoothing it with the harsh lye straightener made for African-American hair.

But when I left high school, I finally changed my mentality: I no longer wanted to fit in; I wanted to stand out. I realized that straight hair didn't match my face or my personality. Curly hair felt quirky, eccentric, bohemian — all things I embodied.

By the time I moved to New York for my first job in 2001, my confidence had flourished. I admired the few actresses brave enough to let their spirals loose — Meg Ryan, Keri Russell — and vowed never to give mine up. Still, at times, especially at work, my curls have been a hindrance. I'm in a perpetual state of bed head and often don't feel polished.

Styling my hair is a true science: I've learned that most tools — blowdryers, brushes, combs — aren't for me. Don't even get me started on diffusers — they make my hair crunchy, big, awful. I rely on my hands instead. I shampoo my hair twice a week, tops. But every day I wet and condition, towel dry, scrunch, apply cream styler, and leave it. When it's precisely half dry, I add pequi oil and I'm out the door.

I have yet to meet a hairdresser who can get this right. Whenever I go to the salon, I pack an elastic and pull my hair into a pony as soon as I leave.

I admit I use my curls as armor. I feel exposed without them. The whole tousled thing makes me feel sexy, and my husband adores it. When we had kids, I desperately wanted them to have curls, too. My older daughter, Beatrice, has stick-straight (and beautiful) hair like her dad's. The younger, Vivian, is sporting a rather unfortunate combo at the moment: curly in back, straight in front. Maybe she'll grow out of it. Or if not, hopefully, like me, she'll learn to love it.

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