October 9, 2015

C is for Curls

Welcome to the Write On, Mamas! We are a writing group based in the San Francisco North Bay area. We will have 25 Mamas and one Papa writing on a different letter of the alphabet during the A-Z Blog Challenge. We would love to hear your comments.


Photography by Mary Allison Tierney

I can fix that, you know,” my stylist said, eyeing my curly bob as if it was a wild beast she needed to tame.

“No thanks,” I replied. “I’m okay with it the way it is.”

A look of shock flickered across her face. It wasn’t the first time I’ve had this kind of reaction to my hair. Vendors at those kiosks in malls that sell fancy flatirons salivate when they see me coming.

“Hi, Ma’am!” one called to me the other day, beaming as he ran up to me brandishing a flatiron. “Let me show you something that’ll change your life!”

I smiled, shook my head and kept walking. His grin morphed into a scowl of disbelief. How could someone in such dire need of help be foolish enough to turn it down?

His attitude isn’t surprising. Our society worships smooth hair. Especially if you’re a woman. On TV and in magazines, models and stars flaunt glossy, straight styles. Even celebrities whose curls I’ve always admired– Sarah Jessica-Parker and Taylor Swift come to mind —have gone straight in recent years. Blowout bars, Brazilian treatments and turbo-charged tools make it easier than ever for the average curly girl to follow suit.

There was a time when I would have jumped at any of these options. Every morning, I slathered my damp strands with one or more products guaranteed to banish frizz and deliver sleek locks. This was followed by a lengthy assault with a blow dryer and round brush. My efforts never produced the desired results.

When my daughter was born 12 years ago, I was forced to make peace with my curls. I could barely find time to shower, let alone spend hours battling my hair. Slowly, I discovered that the less I did to it—less washing, fewer products, no blow-drying–the better it behaved. There are still days when I look in the mirror and seriously consider shaving my head. But sometimes–when the stars are perfectly aligned, the weather conditions just right, and my hair is neither too clean nor too dirty–I actually like what I see.

Dorothy O’Donnell’s essay A Label She Loves appears in Mamas Write.


  1. I used to desperately want straight hair. Being a black woman, that was never, ever going to happen. Not without ridiculous amounts of products or faking it with a weave.
    These days I have locs (or dreadlocks, I guess) and not only does it seem the most natural state for my hair, but it suits me far better than any straight style I’ve ever had.

    Kudos for working with and loving what you’ve got.
    If more people did that the world would be far brighter, IMO. ^_^

  2. Sue Le Breton says:

    Dorothy: I grew up with a mom with gorgeous curls yet I recall her standing by the ironing board ironing it straight (t was the 60s). She has fought those curls all her life when I felt embracing them was a better choice. I sadly only got waves, yet when I live where there is moisture I let my hair do what it will. The straight gals wish they had curly and vice versa I guess.

  3. I smile as I read this, Dorothy, as I would have given ANYTHING for curls during the 80’s when poofy hair was all the rage. I even permed it a few times. Ugh! What was I thinking? Then I moved out of the desert into humidity (which is where my hair discovered a little bit of odd wave) just when flat irons came back. It’s easier just to make peace with what you’ve got on top!

  4. I have curls too, which I made peace with a long time ago. And only occasionally am I jealous of my daughter with her long, straight blond hair.

  5. Claire Hennessy says:

    How true that we are never happy with our hair. My best friend from school always used to straighten her hair and I didn’t even realise til years later that she had the most beautiful naturally curly hair, ringlets even, that I used to spend a bloody fortune trying to get my hair to look like! My sister has it right – she shaved it all off when she became a Buddhist nun!

  6. I LOVE your curls, Dorothy! Curls in general, in fact. I am thrilled that my post-chemo hair came back so curly.

    • Sue LeBreton says:

      Lorrie- did you have curly hair before chemo? Just curious because I have seen friends with straight hair end up with chemo curls.

  7. Sue LeBreton says:

    Claire you mention spending a fortune to get the curls- brings back memories of very bad perms. Anyone else had a bad perm?

    • Sue–yes!! Even though I already had natural curl, I succumbed to the 80s perm trend to make my hair as big and poofy as possible. My worst perm happened just before my wedding. Made the mistake of perming a pixie cut I was trying to grow out. A super-short head full of tight, over-processed curls was so NOT the bridal look I was going for!

      • Sue LeBreton says:

        Oh that is not funny Dorothy- so close to a wedding. I tried one during the summer at University and a fellow at a party came up to me & said I looked like the old ladies at Bingo. Was my last attempt- now I go with what my hair does depending upon the climate where live.

        • Teri Stevens says:


          I loved that you came to terms with your curls and I too am a perm victim of the 80s! My hair is so straight that it didn’t take the first time so I had it done again! Ugh. And if that wasn’t enough, then I also used a curling iron for more curls. If only I had all of those hours back now! And I agree, I still am fitting in time for a shower, so now it’s just pony tails (mom hair).

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