I’ve been keeping a secret for a few months now. It’s a deep, dark secret that hits right down to my roots. And, come to think of it, my split ends, curls, and frizzies in between. A few months ago, I put on my sunglasses (prescription, of course), got in the car, and drove to a salon far, far away. Why such a clandestine operation, you ask? After years of looking like I stuck my tongue into an electrical socket, I decided to do the chemical smoothing treatment known as a Brazilian blowout.
I have what is commonly referred to as “Jewish hair.” It is dark—almost black—curly, and frizzes out no matter the weather. Now I know that plenty of Jews have straight, smooth locks akin to Rapunzel. After all, my own kid is a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed child who, if I wasn’t present in the delivery room, I would swear is not mine. Regardless of the many outliers like my daughter, when someone says “Jewish hair,” we all know what that means.
When I was in my 20s, I spent a fair share of time browsing profiles on JDate. I admit that I was picky—after a night out, my dad would ask, “OK, so what was wrong with this one?” I checked my inbox daily. Mr. H-C fit all my requirements: within appropriate age range, college-educated, liberal, likes animals. We decided to chat via phone. He said I sounded cute. I’m not quite sure how cuteness or lack thereof affects the vocal cords, but that’s neither here nor there. We decided to meet (in a safe, open, public space, of course). Since my photo was not part of my profile, I gave a brief description—petite, long, dark hair, carried an olive-green satchel—so Mr. H-C could pick me out of the crowd. “Wait,” he said. “What kind of dark hair?” I thought for a minute. “Well, the kind that grows out of my head. It’s a bit curl—” “Is it Jewish hair? I’m sorry, but I hate Jewish hair.”
I would like to say that Mr. Hairy Carey was an anomaly, one who just spews verbal refuse without thinking. Yet through my (let’s just say a few) years of dating experience, I’ve learned there are many Mr. Hairy Careys out there. And I get it. For whatever reason, gentlemen prefer blondes. But when it comes to the Jewish dating scene, I would have hoped that fellow members of the Tribe would embrace the many wonderful physical and inner attributes commonly associated with Jewish women. And sure, some do. Many do. Yet there’s still a good number of Jewish men wanting a Jewish girl to raise their Jewish children who just happens to look like the shiksa plastered on all the latest magazines.
I could go on about my endless frustrations with the dating scene, but I’m married now and would rather not relive the trauma. Besides, the issue of Jewish hair transcends the young and single days. I have a number of friends with similar hair who have spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours and dollars on ways to make their hair straighter, smoother, or more manageable. From flat irons of the late ’90s to the advent of The Dry Bar today, hair care is (and always has been) a growing industry.
Jews aren’t the only ones with curly complications. In the African-American community, hair has been a sensitive issue for a long time. Institutionalized racism created a xenophobic hierarchy, with “good hair” (along with lighter skin and European features) highly coveted and represented as the standard of beauty. It is only recently that darker, more “ethnic-looking” women are featured in magazines, and it’s still pretty rare. While struggles and prejudice surrounding physical appearances among Jews and African-Americans shouldn’t be compared, there is one main commonality: “ethnic” features, including dark, textured hair, is less valued and certainly not given the same screen time as silky tresses that blow majestically in the breeze or high-powered studio fans.
Even though my feminist, culturally aware self tells me to love my locks—after all, I was a women’s studies major—I can’t help but wish my hair was a little more Gal Gadot than Rhea Perlman. And, of course, it is this insecure voice that screams the loudest, which brings me back to my morning at the salon, shelling out hundreds to have a bleach-blonde douse the dark curls with chemicals and heat-blast each strand.
I came out of the salon a smoother, shinier me…at least on the outside. And while it’s nice to be able to wear my hair down or pull it back in a ponytail without a halo of frizz, I feel like a double-dealing defector. I stand at the mirror each morning, round brush in hand. With a little blow-drying, it doesn’t take long to manage my new mane. But as I gaze deep within each keratin-kept follicle, I can’t help but see a Jewish ringlet roaring to be free.
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