This article is part of Hair Care, our month-long investigation and exploration into our relationships with hair and the cultural implications that come with it.
Like most children of busy parents, I used to be a member of the bowl cut bob brigade.
My hair was chin length with a fringe, under the assumption that it could be left to dry naturally and look perfectly neat and tidy.
My mum has naturally straight hair, so for a while, we all just thought I’d be the same.
I was not.
My mum would blow dry my hair for me into a sleek bob twice a week, and, for the most, part it would stick. I assumed I had naturally straight hair. So did everyone else. My mum was pretty great at blow-drying.
But then, as anyone would, she got fed up of it. It’s pretty tiring – and mind-numbingly boring – to blow dry a child’s bob.
I was left to my own devices, which is when I made a startling discovery.
My hair did not naturally fall into a sleek, straight bob. My hair was – whisper it – curly.
I had no idea what to do with it.
My fringe began to curl outwards, leaving me with a delightfully curtain-ish effect. The rest of my hair started wavy, then gradually, over the years, fell into ringlets.
I read girls’ magazines, desperate to find some secret pathway to having the glorious hair of all my friends, and tried all the ‘hacks’ in their pages – plaiting my hair so it’d form neat waves (I may never forget the Hermione comments), twisting it in a bun as it dried (one. giant. knot), and battling with my mum’s hairdryer to try to copy the ‘easy step by step guide to creating a salon-worthy blow dry’.
I could never nail it.
Instead I pushed back my hair with headbands, started tying it up in a daily ponytail, and basically did whatever I could that took under ten minutes and didn’t reveal my true curly state to the world.
That went on for a few years, and then, everything changed.
Straighteners became a thing, right around the time I was hitting my emo period. I was obsessed.
With a pair of Remingtons and a bottle of heat protectant spray, I set to work.
I would let my hair dry naturally (the effort and skill required for a blowdry still put me off) or point a hairdryer at my head while using a straightening brush (literally two brushes that you could sandwich together and yank through your locks). Then I’d straighten. I’d straighten out every kink, every slight wave, and every curl, until my sideswept fringe sat flat and my hair was smoothed onto my skull.
Said straighteners were not the most effective (that’s not a bash on Remington, we’re talking about the very early straightener days), and by the end of each day my hair would be a frizzy, puffed up version of the smooth style I’d left the house with.
It was only when I got my first GHDs that I really fell into the straightening hole.
I was entirely convinced that the only way I could be inoffensive enough to leave the house was with straightened hair. A hint of curl was hideous, weird.
As I grew out of the emo phase, I started to want hair that had a bit of volume, rather than being flattened straight. But I’d never learned how to properly style my hair in any way other than clamping it between straightening irons.
It made me feel like I was failing at being a woman.
While everyone else knew how to correctly apply foundation and contour, I was still faffing about with translucent powder.
While my friends would tipsily apply a smokey eye, I could only do the same flick of eyeliner I’d been wearing since my early teens.
And I couldn’t do my hair.
It sounds ridiculous, but I felt frustrated. I resented my mum for failing to teach me ‘girly’ stuff like getting nice clothes or giving myself proper volume (my mum is fairly minimalist when it comes to beauty routines). I was angry at my wrists, which didn’t seem capable of doing artful flicks of brushes or even holding a hairdryer aloft for longer than 10 minutes.
I put up with having hair that was too curly when natural, and too flat when straightened. I wasn’t happy with either option – I still hated my curls, but I could see that my flattened hair was unflattering, dull, and becoming increasingly brittle from heat damage – but I continued onwards with straightening, out of habit and an acceptance that I couldn’t really do much else.
Every few months, I’d decide that this would be the month I started to properly blow dry my hair.
I used it as a marker of adulthood. By 25, I imagined, I’d be living alone, working a brilliant job, and being able to turn my hair into volumised lengths with a bit of curl through the end.
I’m now 24, and I still haven’t mastered a blow dry. I feel like a failure.
My current hair routine is either rough drying my hair upside down and then straightening it, or rough drying it then placing it into rollers (a new addition to my heated tools collection that I actually kind of love).
I dread each morning that I have to battle against my hair, knowing that I’ll end up hot, sweaty, and with an aching arm. Hair drying is officially my least favourite act of self-care, in violent opposition to the peace of painting on my eyeliner or smoothing on a face mask.
It’s no wonder, then, that I’ve discovered a new addiction to paying to get my hair done.
No longer having my mum to deal with my hair for me (you know, because I no longer live at home and my mum has other, much more important things to do), I’ve found surrogates for adulthood in the form of hairdressers near my office.
I’ll attempt to wake up early to do my rolling or straightening routine. I’ll ‘accidentally’ oversleep. I’ll tell myself that I pretty much have to drop cash on a lunchtime blowdry.
I justify the expense (which is becoming increasingly excessive) by telling myself it’s a time-saver*, that it’s practical, that it works out cheaper than buying a daily coffee.**
*It does only take 30 minutes on my lunch break.
**Maybe, but I’d need to stop buying burritos post-blowdry to get the benefits.
But really, I just like the feeling I get when I walk out of a salon.
My hair is bouncy and glorious. I get endless compliments. I feel put-together, fancy. And most importantly, I feel like a proper grownup.
I’d still like to figure out how to actually style my hair into some semblance of a mane I’m proud of. I’d still like to learn to be comfortable with my natural curls.
But for now, I’ll happily accept the occasional blow dry as a stop gap, a fake glimpse of the grownup version of myself I could be.
I’m sure that soon I’ll realise exactly how much money I’m spending, sort my sh*t out, and either go back to accepting my flat, straightened self or learn to do some type of a blowdry.
Until then, though, at least my hair will look glorious. Professionally, expensively, irresponsibly glorious. And that’s just about the level of adulthood I can deal with right now.