I Quit Straightening My Hair Cold-Turkey

When I was really young, I hated mornings. I’d go to bathroom to be met by my mother holding a hairbrush soaked in water. We’d both face the mirror and she’d take the wet brush to my head, then would tie my hair back into a half pony. I looked neither bad nor good — just plain average, which is so much worse than either.

I bought my first hair iron from CVS at age 15. It was Conair (no relation to Nicholas Cage) and christened an extremely inefficient routine that I would carry late into my 20s. I would wash my hair, wait for it to dry (by air, never blow dryer) and then I’d start ironing, piece by piece, beginning at the nape of my neck and working my way up to the crown and my top-of-head roots. All in, I’d need about three hours to feel presentable enough to simply go outside — even if I was just running to get a coffee, or buy a grocery (singular). With straight hair, I felt much prettier, cooler and a hell of a lot more confident.

Not all hair struggles are equal. For so many women, hair is not just “hair” and the choices are much more fraught. For me, hair has always been directly tied to my vain side. Early on, I began to see “my best self” as the version of me with straight hair — and straight hair alone. I envied girls who could achieve this look by simply getting out of the shower; they never had to interfere with the natural course of time, air and how that factored into what their hair would look like. They didn’t have to manipulate the elements — say no to dinner this night, get home early that night. They just lived. Effortlessly. I, on the other hand, exerted plenty of effort. I revolved my week around the days I had to wash my hair, wait the two hours for it to dry and then spend another hour ironing to achieve a process that would yield the same carefree aesthetic result.

But I don’t have that kind of time anymore. I mean, I’m sure I could find it, but I’d rather not. So instead of waiting around for my hair to dry and then straightening it, I just get out of the shower. I apply two products — first a smoothing cream, then an anti-frizz serum.

Usually I’ll tie it back while it’s still wet because this smooths out the top, but sometimes I forget to do that. What I end up with is an equal parts wavy and frizzy mane that, at its very best, makes me feel like Russell Brand or, at its very worst, a poodle drenched in the rain. For whatever reason, I don’t hate it at all. As a matter of fact, I think I prefer it.

In many ways, it feels like its own character — like my hair and I are two separate entities who live together on one person but who hold disparate, if not illuminating, viewpoints. It doesn’t make me feel an untamed horse losing the love of her life to a woman with long, straight locks the way Carrie Bradshaw once felt (see: “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell”).

And where I used to think that it made me look messy, or like I had no concept of what it means to be “put together,” now it just seems right. Maybe this is because my style is growing up. In my closet, there are more matching sets and neat dresses and garments that require frequent steaming. These make room for more personality to emerge above the clothes.

Or maybe (and I’m really rooting for this one), this is what the start of “coming into one’s own” is like. Here I have spent the greater portion of a decade deliberately augmenting my most salient, inevitable truth — the hair above my head — because I didn’t feel good enough if I didn’t.

Photos by Edith Young.

It’s been about two months since I last put an iron to my head. My hair feels healthier, I have a shit ton more time in the mornings, but the best and most interesting piece of the whole thing has got to be that no one, not a single person, has even noticed that I stopped straightening my hair. Not my own husband, who usually recognizes so much as a new color on my toenails, nor my own mother, who weathered the coif-fostered tantrums of my youth. For something to have played such a significant role in the trajectory of my self-confidence, for me to have placed so much emphasis and conviction on looking a way I don’t and reject the way I do — how could it be that no one has noticed? Self-absorption, in its sometimes-delusional and always-misleading glory, is remarkable.

Do you have a thing like this?

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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