When my friend Bryce announced she was going to appear on the season premiere of Patti Stanger’s Millionaire Matchmaker last October – as one of the millionaires – my sole thought was, “Christ.” Bryce is that “Only you…” friend, and I love it. I’d never watched Millionaire Matchmaker before, and I didn’t know jack about Patti Stanger, but I knew I was in for an entertaining hour of television.
What I didn’t know was that Patti Stanger would royally piss me off almost immediately after I’d begun watching. If you’re not familiar with the crass wannabe Cupid, a common habit of hers is pressuring women into straightening their hair for myriad shallow reasons. Wealthy men like it better. Men want to run their fingers through a woman’s hair. Curly hair is a “pubic-looking bird’s nest.”
Stanger’s irreversible opinion on the subject matter is offensive, but she’s not the only one who holds it. A 2008 New York Observer article observed the curl-hate imminent in Hollywood flicks – curly-haired heroine is a loveable scatterbrain until someone takes 350 degrees of heat to her head. (NYO calls this The Princess Diaries effect.) Presto-chango! A high-maintenance hairdo solves all of the hot mess’s problems and she’s now able to conquer the world. Simple, right?
Maybe when you’re on a film set and have several styling professionals anxiously awaiting for one goddamn strand of hair to fall out of place, at which point they can rush to the rescue with multiple elixirs and heating tools to once again assure that you’re the picture of composed perfection.
But if you’re a real woman with real curls and not a film character, straightening your hair is not a fix-all for the world’s problems. I was getting dressed one morning for a meeting with a corporate client of mine earlier this summer. There was something about me that felt off – aside from the fact that I was wearing Spanx, for christ’s sake – my hair was curly. I felt like I wasn’t “corporate enough” because I chose to work with the natural texture of my hair rather than steam it into something more “office appropriate.”
So then I thought of the alternative. Spending an hour in a bathroom applying hundreds of degrees of heat to my recently-rehabilitated hair, in a house with no air conditioning, only to step outside and watch said hair explode from humidity. My scalp began to sweat just thinking about it.
I didn’t always embrace my curly hair. For three years, I worked for a company that specialized in temporarily removing curl and frizz from hair. First, I was a salon receptionist, then I began selling the straightening solution to other salons, and finally, I became the marketing director of the company. I was responsible not just for the chemical straightening of my own hair, but also for the hair of thousands of women during that stretch of time.
The first time I had the process done myself, I was in awe. I could air-dry my hair without losing much curl, and it straightened within minutes when I ran a blow dryer over it. I didn’t even need to use a flat iron. My hair was frizz-free and required little work. It seemed like a miracle product.
But after a few treatments, my curl was good as gone. Did my hair look good? Yes. But I wasn’t me anymore. In fact, I couldn’t be “me” if I tried – the only thing I could do was wait for the treatment to completely wash out of my hair. It took six months and several haircuts.
Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary Good Hair explores the lengths women will go to – namely, Black women – for manageable hair. I think what a woman chooses to do with her hair is her business. My mother has worn her hair a number of ways that I’ve never had to consider in the name of manageability: braided extensions; keratin treatments; natural; blow-dried and flat-ironed; relaxed; permed; you name it. I’m not knocking it, and I know I’m lucky to have the option of wearing my hair natural with very minimal effort.
There is nothing wrong with wearing your hair the way you like it. I don’t care if you spend eight hours in a salon, I don’t care if you roll out of bed and throw it into a two-minute top-knot, I don’t care if you spend hundreds of dollars chemically erasing what nature gave you. What I do care about is someone like Patti Stanger telling women (repeatedly) that natural hair is wrong. That I need to spend money and time (both of which I do not have) to be attractive. I’m tired of being seen as unprofessional because I care about the quality of my work more than forcibly altering the chemical bonds in my hair.
Straight hair and the pursuit of it isn’t wrong. But depicting women who choose to abstain from a superfluous grooming ritual as manic, sloppy, unattractive second fiddles, is. Shove off and kindly remove the flat iron from your ass.