Three-year-old me rocking my signature curls and a beret of ribbon
My older sister was born with a full head of Mohawk-shaped hair; I was born bald. When my hair did grow in, it abounded—and now, my plentiful, curly hair is reliable only in its unreliability. As a little girl, I loved headbands, berets, tying ribbons around my ponytail, and teaching myself how to braid. I even owned a pale-pink salon kit complete with a comb, a brush, and a fake blow-dryer, which I loved running through my mom’s hair.
By elementary school, my curls had unwound into long waves, and I wore a haphazard side part that matched my missing baby teeth.
It’s funny to think how much hair has been a part of my identity from the time I was a toddler to my late 20s. As I grew up, curls turned to long waves, and eventually my hair thickened. My childhood included a series of blunt haircuts ranging from shoulder length to bob. My mom, who blessed me with her hair genes, was my sole empathizer and knew that my hair needed more TLC than a paddle brush—a tool I enviously watched my older sister stroke through her thin waves—could offer.
This was the Friday night before my bat mitzvah, September 22, 2000, and I was 12. I wore my classic triangle blowout for the weekend.
Throughout early adolescence, I owned my signature blowout of shrublike triangularity, complete with a tuck under at the ends. It wasn’t Olsen-twins cool, but it sufficed for most of middle school. At sleepaway camp, I proudly mastered French-braid pigtails, thrilled with how sleek I managed to get the hair at the crown of my head. (Smoothness was a win, especially in the summer.)
My 2005 high-school graduation picture featuring my slightly wet, frizzy, long hair—I had to leave preseason soccer practice after a mandatory morning neighborhood run to go home, shower, and get back in time for my scheduled picture.
It wasn’t until eighth grade that I realized the literal weight of the curly hair I’d been dealt. According to some experts, your hair is its fullest when you are around 12 years old. My hair turned on me, becoming thicker, heavier, and frizzier. My round brush now failed me, and I spent the early 2000s covered in hair gel, the gloppy kind that turned satisfyingly crunchy once it dried. I can feel the stickiness on the back of my neck from the summer nights when I’d scrunch my hair and then throw on a spaghetti-strap tank top. Even after multiple attempts to learn how to properly use a Hot Tools flatiron—the heat tool du jour for high schoolers everywhere—I failed miserably, nearly burning off my ends on more than two occasions. I was playing sports, studying, and waking up early to catch the bus; I didn’t have time to be a slave to my hair, let alone some flatiron. By graduation, my weighted curls fell well below my shoulders (a less chic version of Felicity Porter’s hair, pre-apocalyptic pixie cut).
The first step of what became my half-up, half-down, heavily bobby-pinned prom hair nightmare. After my makeup appointment, my mom and I hustled to another salon, where a hairstylist pulled my hair into a sleek ponytail.
After a bad prom preparation experience—let’s just say that it’s hard if not impossible to make supercurly tendrils look good in dry June heat—I haven’t enjoyed getting my hair done. I no longer find blowouts to be relaxing; the probability of a poufy, frizzy outcome makes me tense. And haircuts have always been a slippery slope: Cut too much and my curls boing to my ears. Too little and what’s the point? When I arrived at college in 2006, I thought it was the perfect time to revisit the dreaded flatiron. After all, puberty must have had some effect on my motor skills, right? And my majorly judgmental classmates made me realize: George Washington University was no place for frizzy, untamed hair. Slowly, I reconnected with my brush and blow-dryer, and I bought a new flatiron. My alter ego “Straight-Hair Andj,” as one of my guy friends dubbed me, would surface on the weekends, even in the Southern humidity. I discovered the magical combination of a curling iron and Bumble and Bumble Spray de Mode. (Yes, I’d undo my natural curls in order to make waves. The man-made kind don’t flake on me.) Finally, the hairstyle all the Hollywood cool girls rocked was attainable and people took interest in my look. Unintentionally, I became a master of deception: A friend once confessed that he didn’t know my hair was curly because he’d only seen it straight. More recently, a coworker told me I looked different but he couldn’t pinpoint why. “Something about your hair?” he asked. (I was wearing my curls down, a rarity.)
I feel no shame confessing my hair insecurities. Truth be told, my hair often dictates my schedule. Spontaneity? Rain check, please. But I’ve also come to realize that my natural texture is a blessing. I have the ability to change my look regularly, and my superthick strands can last longer between shampoos. The hair I’ve spent years loathing has also helped me find a hobby. My friends request “Salon Andrea” help; I’ve become a master of braids and heat styling and even wedding-hair inspiration. I can finally say I’m OK with my current state of hair affairs (hairfairs?)—texture, unruly frizz, and all. It’s a part of me, and I’m just fine with that.