Last week, I went up to New York on business, and my mother persuaded me to get my hair cut at Devachan, a salon that specializes in curly hair. Devachan isn't so much a hair salon as a cult, whose bible is Curly Girl, the how-to book written by salon owner Lorraine Massey.
As the journalistic cliche goes, I went in a skeptic, and came out a believer. My hair felt amazing. My curls were bouncy, and lasted for days. It was hands down the best curly cut I've ever had.
The requirements for being a . . . ahem . . . curly girl, are rather daunting. You don't use shampoo, only conditioner, and/or something they call "No-Poo", which seems to be basically lighter conditioner. This sounds completely disgusting, and maybe it would be on straight hair. But I haven't shampoo'd in over a week, and my hair looks and feels great.
You also don't brush your hair, just detangle with your fingers. This sounds as if it would lead to dreadlocks, but it doesn't, and it's infinitely more pleasant than painfully pulling a brush through the rat's nest that my curly hair turns into once I've slept on it.
So what's the problem, you ask?
It's the third rule: no straightening. There's no question that straightening your hair is bad for it--they cut off three or four inches of basically fried ends. However, it's also very useful for a professional woman. Straightened curly hair can go for days without much maintenance; curly hair always looks best on the day you wash it. Ever since the widespread dissemination of flatirons, I've been in the habit of straightening my hair for events at least a few times a month, and frequently every week.
Moreover, for better or worse, smooth straight hair has become synonymous with "professional" in America. Show up with curly hair, and you might as well show up with waist-length beads and an incense burner.
I would like to fight this, especially since it smacks so much of ethnic prejudice. Why on earth have we defined the hair type that most Irish, Jewish, and black women have as less professional than fine straight hair that can be blow-dried in 10 minutes? I know it's close to my brains and all, but they're not actually connected.
But I do not want to be a curly-haired revolutionary at the cost of my career. As one black female journalist said to me, "You don't want TV bookers referring to you as 'the curly haired one'." I want to be "the one who can talk about taxes".
Nonetheless, I'm experimenting. I went curly for a Cato event last night that I normally would have straightened for. We'll see how far I'm willing to push beyond the straight and narrow.
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is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down