How I Learned to Love My Curly Hair

How I Learned to Love My Curly Hair

It took many years to finally realize this unique feature was a true asset.

By Debbie Koenig

I’m a Brady Bunch kid. The show went into syndication when I was in fourth grade, airing every afternoon. I’d race home from school and plop myself down in front of the TV, enthralled by the fresh-faced family and especially Marcia’s pin-straight hair. I know exactly how Jan felt when she cried, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” That character represented perfection, and with my chubby cheeks and frizzy, mousy brown hair, I knew I’d never attain it.

When I was a toddler my cap of curls was cute, Shirley Temple-ish. But by the time I was old enough to care what I looked like, long, straight hair was it. I insisted on letting mine grow. But my mother’s hair was thick and wavy—she had no experience handling a mass of fine, easily-tangled curls. She tried to tame it with a wooden-handled round brush, but the coarse boar bristles would tug on the knots. No amount of detangler could save me. By fifth grade I had a rats’ nest on the back of my head so heavily thatched, it had to be cut out. My hair had one style for the next eight years: Short and curly. I hated every strand.

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I arrived at college in the mid-80s with the same haircut I’d had in elementary school. By then New Wave music had begun to take hold, and with it came extravagant—and huge—hairstyles. In my first semester, at least half the girls in my dorm got perms, trying to approximate the curls I’d been born with. For the first time, other people were jealous of my hair. And to meet the demand, hairdressers developed expertise with curls. By the end of my first year away at school, I’d learned to apply tons of conditioner in the shower, then carefully smooth out the knots with a wide-toothed comb. Mousse scrunched into still-wet hair encouraged it to form enviably perfect corkscrews. For the first time since my Brady Bunch days, I grew my hair past my chin. A long bob became my new signature look.

My curls stayed long for the next decade, at one point reaching mid-way down my back (and when it was wet, a good three inches further). Commuting to work on crowded subway trains, I’d get complaints when ringlets from my substantial ‘do tickled people’s faces, but I just shrugged. That long curly hair helped me stake my place in the world. And when I wanted to try being someone else for a day or two, I’d let my hairdresser blow it straight. The first time my then-boyfriend, now-husband saw me blown out, the change unsettled him so much he asked me never to do that again. He loved my curls. My curls were me. And I realized, I love them, too.

Have you learned to embrace part of your appearance that you didn’t always love?

Debbie Koenig writes about family and food, and is the author of the cookbook Parents Need to Eat Too. Find her at

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I realized that I was born with curly hair the question is to love oneself as one is.

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