My hair is curly. I was born with white blonde curls (picture a q-tip), and although my hair darkened and straightened to brown waves throughout elementary and middle school, puberty made it spring back up until I was finally settled with my “adult hair”, so to speak—Shirly Temple-style curls with no regard for physics and gravity. Although frustrating at times, it hasn’t been all bad; my hair has been my defining feature, so much so that I probably shouldn’t have even bothered garnering a personality. Although I’ve now contented myself with the unpredictability of my hair, it was an annoyance for me at the age of fourteen. The world of high school was cruel when it came to looks, and although much of the cruelty came from within, my hair and its inherent frizz and gigantism did not spark joy. Because of this, I was delighted when my mom let me have my hair professionally straightened for the Sophomore year winter formal.
Straightening my hair is no easy task—for context, I can now do it myself but it takes the better part of two and a half hours. The JC Penny’s stylist who straightened my hair did not take nearly as long, but even she made mention of how thick and curly it was as she ironed. It was worth the wait and the forty dollars though—once my hair was finally straight, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Or my hands for that matter—I could run my fingers through my hair! While it was dry! And I actually had to loop the hairband to get it into a ponytail! What magic was this that other girls were privy to and I never had been before!
The dance went wonderfully. My courteous date said I looked really pretty and slow danced with me to “All of Me” by John Legend. And I found, delightedly, that when I woke up Sunday morning, my straight hair was still there. Glorious day! I was able to live another day with my swishy hair. I’d like to report that I felt like a princess, or like the prettiest girl in the world, but instead, I just mostly felt normal. For once, I looked like “every teenage girl” (a stupid notion, to be sure—I was just happy because I looked like the really popular class president) and I was delighted.
Monday passed without consequence—my hair was straight, and I got more compliments than I ever had before (a demonstration of Eurocentric standards of beauty to be sure), and although I cleaned my body, I made sure not to wash away the look that had become the only thing I cared about. Tuesday, however, became interesting for me once I hyperfixated on a comment my classmate made in Honors Sophomore English. I’d taken out a hairbrush (I could finally brush my hair when it was dry!) and a little bottle of argan oil that my grandma had given me and was brushing away when a good meaning friend turned to me and said “Are you going to wash your hair soon? It’s starting to look a little greasy.”
I honestly didn’t know what to tell her. She was one of the most fashionable people in our class, so I knew she knew what she was talking about, but greasy? How was that bad? My hair was so soft now, and even softer when I put the oil on it. It was so much straighter too, the longer I kept from washing it. It was so smooth and nice and limp—not like my old hair, which curled up wherever it pleased. The greasier and oilier it got, the softer it got. How could that be bad?
Now, before any of you naturally straight haired people get on my case about how gross oily hair intrinsically is, keep in mind that it is in fact not intrinsic, as indicated by the fact that I had no idea it was bad until specifically told so in my high school classroom. This is because my experience as a person with thick, curly hair had never provided me with the context needed to understand the evil that apparently was greasy hair; in short, my natural hair doesn’t get greasy. The curls just get less tight if I let days drag on. My mother had hair just like mine and my father’s hair was short and always gelled—my concept of greasy hair lived mostly in the character of Severus Snape. Personally, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to have dry, frizzy hair when they could have hair that so easily slipped between my fingertips, so smoothly slid through my brush. How could that possibly be bad?
My hesitation didn’t end up mattering. The minute she said something, I had to change my appearance because I now knew I was wrong and my appearance was bad. I took a shower when I got home and my curl came back, as always. I’m always very conscious of the texture of my hair when straightened now and I never let it sit more than a day without taking a shower, lest the echoes of a prettier girl’s reprimand echo in my ears once more. Secretly, though, I still love the moments before I shower, when my hair is smooth and falls across my shoulders in perfect accordance with gravity. I love when my hair starts to get oily, even when my hair is curly, and the grease makes my girls tangibly softer, tangibly smoother in my hands, or when it starts to naturally unwind my tight spring-curls, leaving the closest I can get to waves.
Like all nonfiction writers, I knew that before I wrote this piece (if it can be called that) I needed to do some research—after all, there must be a real reason that people hate having greasy and oily hair, right? A Google search of “Why is greasy hair bad” revealed mostly strategies for ridding the grease from your hair, not actually why it was bad to be there. Traditional research being a bust, I went to primary sources—my straight-haired boyfriend and his straight-haired roommate, who both divulged to me that it felt gross. Finally, I was getting somewhere! It felt gross, they told me, like a covering on their head. However, after more prodding, they both admitted that most of the reason they hate having greasy hair is that they are aware that it looks bad, to which I had no argument simply because I don’t think it looks bad. I love my boyfriend’s hair in the morning—I love the way it feels to run my hands through it, I love the way I can mess and rearrange his part and bangs. I’ve never had the, uh, privilege of running my hands through my boyfriend’s roommate’s hair, but I’ve been around him enough to note that I don’t think his hair looks bad when it’s greasy either. To me, it just looks normal, if a little shinier.
That presents my other problem—I always thought hair was supposed to be shiny! Looking up “greasy hair” on Google images just presents people with shiny, silky looking hair. Is that greasy? Because if it is, sign me up.
I know I must sound insane, treasuring these moments I’m supposed to hate and actively avoid. I’m supposed to buy dry shampoo and make sure my hair is free of sulfates and do all kinds of beauty routines designed to de-oil my hair. But the truth is, I don’t want to. I’m perfectly happy loving greasy hair. Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe it’s unhygienic and gross, but I love it. I love the way it looks and feels, and I wonder if maybe this war on greasy hair is self-made, that maybe if we stopped teaching kids greasy hair was something to be ashamed of, it would stop being so ugly in other people’s eyes.
I probably shouldn’t love greasy hair. I should probably stop loving the moments in the wee hours of the morning when I’m awake and my boyfriend isn’t and I get to play with his laden hair to my hearts content and delight in how smooth and silky and shiny it looks. I should probably stop waiting until the last possible moment to wash my hair when I straighten it, and I should definitely stop dumping argan oil onto the ends so when I brush through it, I feel like a princess of old. I shouldn’t love greasy hair.
But I’m not going to stop.