One of my reading pet peeves is the way writer’s portray curly hair. Too often it is clear the writer has no idea what curly hair is like. So in the interest of authenticity, I thought I’d talk about it.
First of all, like most things, one head of curly hair is not necessarily like another. Since I didn’t have curly hair until my early teens, and no one in my family could help me deal with it, I became morbidly fascinated. Any time I got a chance to talk to someone who had naturally curly hair I would do so.
I did not find any universal techniques or conditions, but most of the people I talked to had a few things in common with me:
1] Do not have other characters mess around with the hair of a curly haired character. No running of fingers through the hair, no petting, and spring only when intended to give offense or testing issues of trust and respect. Every time I see a description of a hero running his fingers through the heroine’s hair I go “ouch!!” This in spite of the fact I finger comb my hair every day. Every person who has tried it on my hair has gotten their fingers stuck within inches. Petting makes it frizz. Springing makes the curls spread and frizz. Rings worn the the fingers running through curly hair are likely to result in pulling out a fair amount of hair.
2] No hair brushing or fine-toothed combing of curly hair. The teeth of combs break off. Brushing makes it frizz big time and tends to mow down the curls. If the hair gets mussed, it’s going to stay mussed until the character has access to water and/or styling products. I’ve never been able to get a straight answer out of other people about how they take care of theirs – with the exception of the lady on the roller coaster. I work styling gel and water into mine and comb it out with my fingers. I use a pick in the shower with a lot of slippery cream rinse to get the worst tangles out. Styling mousse isn’t anywhere near as useful as gel.
3] Putting curly hair up is easy. Keeping it that way is not so easy. I’ve had the kind of decorative combs that were popular in the 80’s fly across rooms. I’ve seen the teeth of them permanently warped from one wearing. I’ve had hair clips suddenly give way and fall apart. I’ve had pencils and chopsticks simply disappear, buried by hair. Rubber bands that are wrapped in thread work well. The ones without thread, like they used to put around newspapers, tend to take a lot of hair with them when they go and sometimes have to be cut out. On the other hand, I can twist it and skewer it with a pencil quickly and easily and it will look all right. Sometimes the pencil will hold it for hours.
4] Sleeping on unbound curly hair is a good way to start growing dreadlocks. Corn rowing curly hair and then leaving it that way for several weeks is a good way to start growing dreadlocks. Camping out for extended periods without braiding it up is a good way to grow dreadlocks. If the character is living in the medieval period and doesn’t have time to mess with it a lot every day or wash it regularly with special unguents, just assume it has either turned into dreadlocks, or become one nasty, solid mat of hair, or is kept very, very short.
5] Curly hair does NOT bounce with every step. It springs a bit with a good, solid jump, but not simply from taking a step, even stomping.
6] If a character with curly hair gets wind-blown, their hair is going to poof out like a dandelion and stay that way until it is put up or gotten wet. Most curly haired people are not all that enamored with convertibles. Blow dryers can have truly gruesome effects on curls. A diffuser helps a lot, but drip-dry works best.
7] Frizzy hair drifts in the slightest breeze. In a strong wind it can writhe around like Medusa’s snakes. When someone with curly hair is out in the wind people tend to stare and go “Wow” and mutter things about lion’s mains, wild and woolly, witches, or say things like “You look so… so… I don’t know but you really do!” They may even remember it and shake their heads in amazement weeks later. It tends to take on a life of it’s own.
8] People with curly hair are used to having strangers go out of their way to talk to them about it. Women are much more likely to do this than men are. Men tend to get annoyed with women who want to touch it.
9] Most people with curly hair owe some of the curl to frizz. There seems to be a notable exception. Some people have a kind of loosely looping curly hair. Individual curls can have a two inch diameter with this kind of hair. It tends to be smoother, glossier, and easier to manage. Those people can actually comb their hair and may not even need to get it wet.
10] Curls can do all kinds of weird things. They can wrap around one another, zigzag, and change the direction of rotation all on a single lock of hair. I have as much trouble with individual hairs tying themselves in knots as with split ends. The curls can curl more tightly on some days than on others. The differences can make the hair appear to lengthen and shorten by several inches. Some locks of hair are more likely to curl than others. I have a fringe of straight or nearly straight hair on the underside. I don’t know why. It just grows that way. Some people with curly hair will have it permed in an effort to make it more uniform.
11] Most beautician say they would love to get their hands on curly hair, but when they do, they haven’t the foggiest what to do with it. The one you want to cut it is the one who has someone with curly hair in their family.
12] Curly hair can itch.
Outside of that it’s just like any old hair.