I started straightening my own hair when I was in the seventh grade. Before then, I would ask my mother to do it for me. We started when I was just six, sitting cross-legged on our out-of-place Tabriz rugs in our quaint little Boise home. My mother would plug in a thick, two-inch ironing wand. While we waited for it to warm, she would pull my hair out from its elastic prison and begin to torture away its tangles. She would brush. I would scream.
I hated my hair. That’s an uncomfortable thing for me to think, let alone publish. I think it’s accurate though; I hated it. Once I was old enough to take care of it myself, I tied it up in as tight of a ponytail as possible until my curls were flattened by sheer tension. When it got long enough, I would force the ponytail into a Professor-McGonagall-style bun, hiding as much of it as possible. I used to brush through it right after I showered, when it was sopping wet, watching as it would straighten out with every brush, then squirm its way back into coils, sort of like how a worm contorts its smooth body into kinks and knots.
Straightening my hair became a skill. My mother and I moved on from the wand to a flat iron. We learned words like anti-frizz and heat-protectant. We were told about the pricier names like Chi and Biolage. We traded secrets and shampoos. I’m told I have the same hair as my father, but at this point he hardly has any hair at all. I feel as though I have the same hair as my mother, if you think about hair in a more abstract sense. As in, we don’t have the same curl type, but we have the same hair history. My mother told me how she resented her hair growing up, how her mother sat her down and brushed her hair just like my mother brushed mine. How she would cry, but how mothers in 1970s Iran were far less tolerant of whining kids.
Combatting our curls was our shared language. My mother is graceful, while I have walked into a pole more than once in the past month. She is conventionally feminine, while I spent most of my childhood eating dirt and wearing cargo capris. Nevertheless, I would watch as my mother would spend an hour with her arms up in the air, parting her hair and brushing down her tightly wound spirals.
Near the end of my sophomore year of high school, I walked into my mom’s hair salon of choice like a man with a plan, clutching a photo of Carey Mulligan that I printed off of the internet and a book I had to read for world history class. I was going to get a keratin treatment and make my hair permanently straight, then cut it like Carey Mulligan in the hit 2011 crime drama, Drive. A few important notes: this plan seemed absolutely horrible to everyone who knew me, I have never seen the movie Drive and my stylist found out I was friends with one of her clients and kept noting how handsome he was the entire time she was doing my hair. Despite these minor setbacks, I left the salon that night running my fingers through my new off-brand Carey Mulligan hair and feeling a resounding sense of victory. After I had had straight hair for several months, my mother decided to get the treatment too.
Over a year ago I stopped straightening my hair, partly because I was bored of it, partly because I felt fake. I didn’t want to hate my hair anymore. Why did I even hate my hair so much? I cut off the permanently straight parts and I read an entire book on curly hair. I took up a new skill. I figured out how curls should be cut. I googled videos on how to style spirals straight out of the shower. I read about what foods to eat for shinier hair. It’s a different kind of language, I think. It’s easier to speak.
The new word I learned was free. As in, sulfate-free and paraben-free. My mother asks if I want to go back to the keratin treatment anytime soon. I say no. Her permanent straightener is wearing off. You can start to see her curls again.
Pegah Moradi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays this semester.