Things I Could Have Done In The Amount Of Time It Takes To Straighten My Hair

I have very thick, wavy hair which I usually iron straight. I’ve left it natural for a few short stints in my life — a few months senior year of high school, a few days during freshman year of college and a couple weeks this summer. Even when I had a pixie cut sophomore year, I’d still blow dry and straighten the front into neat little segments.

A girl I dated used to mock me anytime I’d put straightener to tendril. “You’re succumbing to the patriarchy this morning, I see,” she’d tease. Which…Fair point.

I have spent so much of my life straightening my hair that I have started to actively resent it. I like the outcome, but I hate the process and I especially hate how careful it makes me. No one wants to be that girl shrieking in the rain about droplets ruining her hairdo. My sister had one of those chemical treatments but they’re freakin’ expensive and I a) don’t want to spend the money on something so frivolous and b) I want the option of having curly hair if I ever choose to leave it natural.

I did the math on how many hours of my life I’ve actually spent straightening my hair and oof, it’s depressing.

So I started straightening it when I was around 13 or 14. I am 24 now. That is 11 years of straightening, give or take. Let’s say I straighten my hair every other day. 365 x 11 = 4,015 days in 11 years. Every other day is 4,015 divided by 2 = 2007.5 days. If I straighten my hair for 1 hour every time I do it then I’ve spent more than 2,007 hours straightening my hour over the last 11 years.

MORE THAN TWO THOUSAND HOURS. That’s almost three months of my life spent in front of the mirror running an iron over my wavy locks.

Here’s what I could have done with those same hours:


Watched most of the AFI Top 100 Movies.

Learned beginner’s French.

Attended a session of summer camp.

Casually dated a new person.

Finished a level one improv class at Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater.

Sculpted some ab muscles.

Started a novel.

Painted at least 1,000 commercial art paintings.

Potty-trained a toddler.

Taken a Women’s Studies 101 course at the local university.

Became a certified nail technician.

Gotten rid of three addictions with three stints in 28-day rehab.

Became 20 percent an expert at anything, according to Malcolm Gladwell.

Read the collective works of William Shakespeare.

Finished watching all of New Doctor Who on Netflix.

Completed a first draft of an original screenplay.

Followed Phish on tour.

Grown a flowering strawberry plant on my fire escape.

Created and brewed my own beer.

Listened to the entire WTF with Marc Maron podcast library.

Built a computer from scratch using spare parts.

Wondered if ascribing to beauty norms is just a massive waste of time instituted to keep women from achieving success in the math and science fields or a conspiracy designed to sell, I don’t know, eyebrow pencil and low self-esteem. TC Mark

image – Gaby Dunn

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  • Hannah

    Story of my life. Seriously, you took the words outta my mouth. We are also the same age, and I started straightening my nappy ethnic hair at the same age as well. Thanks for writing!!!! <3 <3

  • Olive

    Au natural is the way to go…..

  • musabee

    Embrace it! I straightened my thick wavy hair up until my freshman year of college. Now, I am known for my hair. People literally stop me in the street and ask me to touch it. (And by people, it’s usually some fabulous tall gay man) But what’s better than a compliment from a fabulous gay man?
    All and all, I will never go back to religiously straightening my hair.

  • onyae

    hahah. I could have done so much as well. Sadly I now have to straighten my hair today >.<

  • ThoughtCatalog Reader

    Things I could’ve done in the amount of time it takes to read articles on ThoughtCatalog.

  • fina

    People need to leave their hair curly more often. I’m half asian so my hair is pin straight and in my opinion, incredibly boring. I love when people have curly hair, and am kind of jealous of it. let’s revive the 80s and make curly hair socially acceptable again, please!

    • Mercedes

      I’m half Asian and my hair is wildly curly. Had I seen this comment in my preteen years, I’d ask to trade places with you! Haha.

  • Olive

    Totally agree. My mom chemically straightened my curly hair since I was 15. I’m 20 now and I just let my curls go wild and free. Great article.

  • sharonunleashed

    My naturally curly hair has been the bane of my existence. While I don’t spend those hours straightening it, I probable spend that time thinking, “I hate my hair” or “my hair is hideous today.” On the other hand, when I have a good naturally curly hair day(about once every year), I think, “wow, my hair is the bomb.” Anyway, I wrote a blog on erradicating the naturally curly hair gene and meant it. Since it is a pipe dream and passing the gene onto me was really the worst thing my dad ever did to me……..I must conclude that I am a whiner and embrace my curly hair as the way it is supposed to be. To illistrate how out of control my hair is, my two sisters(who have beautiful straight blonde hair) saw a friend of our dads that we had not seen in 20 years, she really did not remember our names but she did say, “where is the one with the out of control wild hair.” Yep, I guess that about cover it.

  • narcissista1

    Let your hair go free. How we look is largely all in our minds. While I don’t know what you look like, I can almost guarantee your hair probably looks just as cute as it does straight. I figured that out for myself after only 40 years.

  • Tea R

    Yes! Straightening your hair is a complete waste of time, I’ve never felt better and happier about myself than when I let my hair free and wild! Now I wear it every day in it’s curly glory and don’t freak at rain or humidity. I’ve been growing out a japanese straightening treatment since 2008, I now have waist length, gorgeous hair. If you’re more curious about the beauty industry I would suggest looking into the movie Beauty in a Jar, the movie Good Hair, or Naomi Wolf’s, The Beauty Myth.

  • Wesley

    I think curly hairs really cute. I don’t know why so many people choose to straighten it.

  • Emily

    I don’t know whether I’m horrified at how much time you (and I) have spent flatironing our hair or happy that someone else has had a girlfriend who referred to it as “succumbing to the patriarchy”. Gaby, did we date the same girl?

  • Kevin

    It’s much worse than you even made it look. It only takes 200 hours to take a college course-including learning beginning French and gender studies. 2000 hours is a full-time job for a year, which is a lot more than casually dating someone new-more like the time between meeting and marriage! As a guy and a math person, on your last point I might also say that’s about how long it takes to write a Ph.D. thesis once you finish your Master’s.

    • Mercedes

      That’s so depressing to read. LOL

  • Everett

    There are 365.25 days in a year.

  • Mercedes

    I have naturally curly hair. Ever since I could remember, my mother spent every morning painfully brushing out each and every curl. When I was eleven, she bought me a hair straightener. Then, at twelve years old, she paid for my Japanese straightening treatment. However, what seemed like an innocent preoccupation with wanting me to have straight hair turned out to be a projection of what she was actually feeling – she wanted me to look more “Asian” (I am half White/Asian). For the past two years I have been embracing my mixed heritage and saying “fuck it” to straightening hair. Moreover, I’m growing tired of my peers saying my hair looks much “neater” when it’s straight. As if having curly implies a messy person. (And you can read hundreds of articles on that topic too) Who invented that mindset anyway?

    Anyway, sorry for the unrelated shpeal. I’m just happy people are embracing their natural hair. ^o^

  • AI

    It would help if stylists were actually trained to cut/style curly hair. I’ve known so many professional stylists and people going through beauty school who openly admit they were never shown how to work with natural curls/waves. There ARE specialized stylists, but most charge an arm, a leg, and a portion of your first born child. That and curly hair products are inexplicably always thrown in the “ethnic” hair care aisle and usually cost twice as much as regular stuff. Why our society is deluded into thinking only “ethnic” (read: black and mixed race) women posses naturally curly hair, I will never understand. I’ve had cashiers look at me sideways buying a “black” hair care products cause I’m a white-skinned Latina (I can seriously pass for Greek or Italian). I can only imagine what a blonde, blue-eyed girl might go through trying to buy the same stuff cause it’s the only thing that works. I recently switched to Mixed Chicks (awesome stuff) products, but they cost so much. Three products for roughly $40. I used to spend maybe $20 on the same amount of non-specialized hair care. With shorter hair, I can manage the cost but my hair is almost to the point where it basically absorbs its weight in conditioner every time I wash it (not to mention daily leave-in). I’ve spent more time trying to get my hair to look decent only to tie it up in a messy bun than I would care to count.


    • uggh

      anyone else have a stylist tear through their dry curly hair with a fine toothed comb and tell you the resulting frizz was your own fault because you must be doing something awful to your hair? every haircut until i said fuck it and learned how to cut my own hair.

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  • Tori

    I straightened my wavy/curlyish hair throughout middle school and and high school. Then I just decided that it was a waste. I get way more compliments when it’s just natural. Although If I have to blow dry my hair I will straighten it, because it gets so thick it looks like a lions mane! If I don’t have time for it to air dry then I end up having to staighten it. It’s such a hassle though! Just stop doing it, I think curly hair is beautiful :)

  • maybeemily

    hey girl, that cheap ass keratin treatment from organix, actually sort of works and shaves SO much straightening time out. so if you’re into straight you should definitely go for it.

  • Chloe Miriam (@chloemiriam)

    I have never really straightened my hair as it’s super thick and I am lazy (as well as awkward, many straightener burns and getting my hair caught in the wrong end of a blowdryer, yay) but I used to always tie it up almost every day, never leave it out. Now I know how to take care of it I get more compliments than I used to and wear it out a lot more. I get my hair from my Dad’s side and he’s been bald for years (and when he did have hair he didn’t quite manage the styling it thing, but it was the 70s…) so my mum with her super fine, straight, thin hair spent my childhood almost scalping me trying to de-tangle my hair, to the point that I’d regularly have to cut tangles and often a trapped comb or brush out of my hair!
    I’ve never had a stylist give me a good haircut ever, never had that loyal to a stylist thing I hear other women talk about, most seem confused by my hair and never know how to handle it ; de-tangling with a fine comb on hair that isn’t covered with tons of conditioner etc. Not many have been amazingly bad but it’s always only ‘ok’ and 99% of the time they style it straight and/or assume that that’s what I want, which I never do! The one time they did it curly they straightened out my natural curls and then curled new curls into my now straight hair, wtf?

  • SaraLily

    don’t worry about not being able to afford the chemical things. i got one done and even though it improved my hair, it hardly tool away the curl the way i thought it would! it did improve my drying time (i have EXTREMELY thick hair and blow dries in 10min now after the treatment) but it definitely didn’t “straighten” my hair like i expected it would. I actually love my curls and just wanted a change for the summer. but i feel you!

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