Thursday, May 20, 2010

Curly Girls

I have to admit that I was thrilled to see Michelle Obama sporting a curly hairstyle at the state dinner last night. Yes, it is presumptuous of me to assume that Michelle (may I call you Michelle?) has had internal battles about her hair, but anyone born with naturally curly kinky hair has had that internal battle, that "I hate my hair" sentiment. And clearly, Michelle has chosen for the most part to have gone on the defense and fight as hard as she possibly can against that with which she was born.

I did the same thing for many years. My ninth grade school photo shows me sporting straightened hair with a center part, all carefully shellacked in place. It took so much work, but I believed at the time that it was worth it, that having straight hair would help me fit better into the world, would make me more popular, more lovable, more desirable. No more labels of "brillo head" for me; straight hair would be my key to confidence and success. That mythology kept me out of swimming pools for years, and slave to miserable nights sleeping on hard oversized hair curlers.

One fateful summer day I had enough, and decided to plunge into the ocean with my friends, let my hair get wet, and live with the unruly consequences. My boyfriend of the time didn't quite know what to make of my transformation, but I didn't care. I had jumped off the straight hair dock forever.

The funny thing is that my curly hair became a definer - a positive definer, in fact - for me. In the late 60's and '70's, everyone wanted my hair, or so they said. And throughout my corporate years, my curly hair, though short and tidy, remained for me a reminder of individualism. When I let it grow to its current unruly length, it was a conscious move, a move meant to express my comfort with being me as well as a symbol of my arty side - and I've never looked back. The fact that I am a devotee of hair salons that cater to curly hair has a lot to do with there finally being a club which I was meant to join!

Who knows if Michelle Obama is truly embracing her inner curly girl, or if perhaps, for one night only, she was just trying her on. But I was tickled to see this photo of her, and I imagine a lot of other girls and women were, too. Hell, if Michelle can make it OK to be tall like your husband, to wear clothes that show off your body, to eat healthy foods, to be a great mom, to speak your mind, and to let your curly hair be itself, what a great message of self-esteem she is sending!

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