Why Is Straight Hair The Epitome Of 'Style'?

Brazilians: Always trying to tell us what to do with our hair! First it was the bikini wax, now today's New York Times "Thursday Styles" section has a story about the new Brazilian hair treatments. Unlike Japanese thermal conditioning, which can cause damage, the Brazilian method can be used on most hair types — even previously color-treated hair — without causing harm. The process takes 1.5-4 hours and costs $150 to $600, depending on hair's length and thickness. The formula used is made from keratin, which is a protein that's healthy for hair, and uh, formaldehyde, a carcinogen that can irritate eyes and lungs. And it's all sealed into strands via a hair-iron set at a startling 450 degrees. Fun! Well, probably not, but the results are so dramatic that a woman interviewed in the Times actually cried.

"I got very emotional," she said. "It was mind-boggling how beautiful my hair looked: straight, shiny, sleek and more important, healthy."

It sucks to have hard-to-manage hair, of course. But the paranoia surrounding curls and frizz is troubling, to say the very least. Why is straight hair considered to be "polished" and curly hair often described as "wild"? In movies like The Princess Diaries, when the character goes from geek to chic, there's always a scene where they take her crazy, frizzy curly strands (which just need a little deep conditioner and some spray gel) and make them straight... and therefore, pretty. Let's say you had a choice between curly hair and straight hair. If you were going on a job interview and you wanted to seem serious and businesslike, which would you choose? Does straight hair seem more professional? What if you were going on a date? Does curly hair seem exotic, sexy, fun? And is there a subtle racism in this type of thinking? Some curly girls (this writer included) occasionally get a blow-out to change things up. The compliments are overwhelmingly positive ("You look amazing!"), but force the curly girl to imagine the unspoken subtext ("You usually look like a sea hag!") The Times uses words like "unruly," "thorn bush" and "tumbleweed" to describe pre-Brazilian-ed hair. They don't come out and say "ugly," but isn't it kind of obvious? So why is stick-straight hair so desirable? Because it's rare? Because it blows in the wind? Because you can run your fingers through it? Because black people don't have it? We need to know. Because honestly, some of us kinda want to try this Brazilian thing.