Round or Flat? The Age Old Question Rages On

scissors_hairI have mentioned the importance of a proper hair cut on a curly head many times, but I don’t think that the subject can ever be given enough justice. There have been times that I’ve looked like a worn out hag or a wet rat because of my hair, and times that I’ve resembled a movie star strutting down the red carpet of my overactive imagination (major creative liberties being taken here, but you get the jist). Make-up and general face-issues not-withstanding, hair can really make or break a look. It’s based on the curl pattern and frizz factor of the day, but mainly, it’s the cut.

Until now, I have faithfully returned to my beloved Devachan Salon in Soho, NYC. They just get it. They cut curls dry without question, and use my favorite conditioners and gels. For years I’ve tried to cultivate this sort of “Mick Jagger” curly/wavy shag that fits my face shape, and sometimes it’s great, but it grows out really quickly and needs more maintenance than I can afford. Plus, I like the shag because it feels carefree and fun, and you can’t be those things when you’re always worried about your hair.

I have the types of curls that can be really glorious and well-defined, but also tend to either frizz or lie flat. I hate flat. Frizz I can work with, since you can use good hair oils and lots of conditioner and the right gel to keep it in check. But flat, blah!

I saw a great curly hair cut on a woman at the gym, and it was short and super layered. Think Meg Ryan in City of Angels. I had to ask her who does her hair, and it was a woman named Amy at Arté Salon, also in Soho. I was displeased with my last cut from Devachan, where one of the stylists I used to love seemed to rush me and not really listen to what I was saying. They also charge a s&^%load, as anyone who’s been there will know. I decided to go to Amy for my first consultation ever, since it was free and why not. I am in the tricky stage between wanting a hair cut I can love on the daily, but that isn’t too short or sparse to be used in a romantic ‘do for my wedding this August.

Course, thick curls cut in the traditional accordion style.

Course, thick curls cut in the traditional accordion style.

I loved Amy at first sight! She was so perky and knew exactly what I was talking about. She truly listened, and even more, she explained something that I hadn’t understood before. She has gone to many curly hair cutting classes, and the traditional way to cut curly hair has been to cut curls in a pattern that falls down your head in an accordion style, meaning that each strand is slightly shorter than the ones just below it. The reason for this is that it allows curls to fall on top of each other in a less upward-direction, diminishing the dreaded triangle, but also squelching voluminous roundness. Since curls have only recently become socially acceptable (hissss), there isn’t as much request for afro styles in the majority demographic. But take my word, they’re a-comin,’ and they’re fantastic.

Curls scooped out from underneath, with the shortest layers toward the bottom. This can be done with longer hair cuts, too.

Curls scooped out from underneath, with the shortest layers toward the bottom. This can be done with longer hair cuts, too.

This accordion cutting style works perfectly for people with thick or course textures, since they have enough hair to support some serious shape. But for ladies like me who don’t have as much thick beautiful hair, and top layers that tend to be more wavy than curly when long, Amy says that you have to do the exact opposite. You want to cut hair as if you’re scooping it out from underneath, so that each hair is slightly longer than the ones below it. That way the shorter strands underneath are pushing the top layers up. She even showed me how to do it myself between cuts so that I’m not constantly coming back for a re-shaping. It’ll take some practice, but when I have it figured out I will post a video.

The moral of the story: If you’re not happy with your hair, you deserve to be for all that money you’re spending! Ask anyone whose hair style you like where they get it done and book a consultation. If you immediately click with the stylist, great! If not, try to find a way to connect so that he or she understands what you’re asking for. Pictures always help! And remember to be vocal: I had to speak up so that she’d cut my curls dry instead of wet, and told her not to use shampoo on me, with which she was happy to comply. My requests solicited an irritated side glance from a male patron to my right, but then again, his hair was super boring.

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Hair and Body Image

curly-heart-mdIt’s been so long since I’ve written a heartfelt post, so here it goes. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately pondering the issue of body image. I’ve been speaking to friends and reading a lot of articles, and have started following the Body Image Movement on Facebook. I am bringing this up in the context of a curly hair blog because I feel, personally, that our opinions of ourselves are so inextricably linked to what others seem to see in us and our appearance. What does our curly hair say about us? What do our wide hips say about us? What we see in popular culture, clothing ads, magazines, etc. has an undeniable effect on how we see ourselves.

I read an interesting article in May 2013’s Allure about body shapes throughout time, and they discussed the idea of a “period body” (not what you’re thinking, gross!) that represents the physical ideals of the time. In the Roaring ’20’s, it was considered attractive to sport a waif-like physique and small chest. In the post-Depression era immediately afterwards, it was en vogue to have larger hips and a curvier body. Throughout human history, sociologists have agreed that in a time when food and resources are scarce, it is a sign of wealth and well-being to have some extra meat on your bones. Conversely, when there is a bounty of sustenance, restraint is a valued commodity and those who are very thin represent the higher class. In the Suzie Homemaker period of the 1950’s, a woman was valued for her wide hips and large breasts; outward signs of a mother and homemaker. As women entered the professional class and went to work in what were once male-oriented jobs, a more boyish physique was considered appropriate.

Due to the prevalence of body image issues and dysmorphic disorders that are rampant among women and girls (btw, men don’t escape this either) of all ages, we have to question what is at the root of it all. Of course we want to feel attractive and desirable to our chosen mating pool, but there is definitely a degree of competition among women. I see it every day walking up and down 5th Ave in New York City, near my office. Ads in every storefront proffer aspirational images of bony women in loose, drapey clothing. Women hailing cabs on street corners are so thin that I often find myself looking twice and wondering how on Earth it is possible to have those legs after puberty.

Full disclosure: I, myself, have struggled with a mild degree of body image disorder. I am thin, due to genetics and my height, but there is always someone thinner. There is always someone with a “better” and a more petite bone structure. No matter how smart you are there is always someone smarter, and no matter how fit you are, there is always someone fitter. It’s the way of the world. I believe in setting myself up for success, so I asked myself how to escape this constant comparison envy and reach for something attainable that will make me happiest with myself?

The first step of my self-liberation — which I am still and will probably always be working on because I am human — came with setting my hair free. I used to straighten it all the time; had dreams of naturally straight, full hair. I’d lament its inability to grow past my shoulders because I was constantly blow-frying it. When I read Lorraine Massey’s quote from Curly Girl, “It’s your head that needs straightening, not your hair!” I knew that I had found my mantra. What did straight hair do for me that my natural curls did not? I knew that more men seemed to find me attractive when I had straight hair. I knew that curly hair was often viewed as child-like and messy.

My belief, based on a lot of reading on the subject, is that the assumption that curly hair is unprofessional and inappropriate for today’s professional woman has racist and prejudiced roots. Super-curly hair has primarily existed on the heads of African and Jewish people and their descendents. Straight, lank, light-colored hair was found on the wispy Eastern European goddesses who embodied the elegant high-society look for most of the last century. For a culture that values a body type that is straight and without curves, it makes sense that the same would be expected of one’s hair.

I love my hair as it is. I have accepted that it is curly by nature, and I’ve nurtured it into becoming the kick-ass spiral-y mane that it is today. It doesn’t take much work; certainly less than straightening it did. I now think that I look much more attractive with curly hair than I do with straight, and I feel more like myself. The first step to baring my true identity was to rock out with my curls out. Now if I can learn to accept my curves with the same fervor, and continue to exercise and eat well for my own health and not to try to mold my body to today’s ideal, I’ll be in pretty great shape.

More importantly — if I can convince just a few of the fabulous women in my life to do the same, we’ll be unstoppable.

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