There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.
It’s a consequence of having curly hair and an advanced degree in literature, maybe, that makes me wonder, when I’m cleaning the shower and a curl falls into my face, whether this rhyme really originated with Longfellow, or if he simply wrote it down, pulling it out of tradition and adding the second bit — which I haven’t typed here — about her going upstairs, standing on her head in her trundle bead, “hooraying with her heels,” and being disciplined for such unladylike conduct, so that now we put his name on it.
Only once in my life have I straightened my hair. More precisely, my college roommate straightened my hair while I uploaded photos to her facebook account. When — after a very long process — it was straight, I donned an outfit of hers, and sunglasses, and some of my closest friends walked past me without knowing it was me.
Eric Kincaid gives the little girl brown curls, her face scrunched into a grimace, a smear of jam on her white pinafore — presumably this is one of her horrid times, but, because of her curls, I have always identified myself with her.
The first edition of the hair-care book Curly Girl, which transformed my hair routine six years ago, includes testimonials from various curly girls and women. The claims make me laugh: women with curly hair cannot be politically conservative; they must dress more flamboyantly; curly hair makes them more approachable. I might contend with those claims, but I do know that the curls further curtail my already tenuous chances of anonymity. In my college cafeteria, a boy I’d never met was able to find me because his sister told him to look for the girl with curly hair and white eyelashes.
Bronson Alcott held the view that dark-haired, dark-eyed children naturally tended to darker dispositions than their fairer counterparts, so that his daughter Louisa May had more natural badness to overcome than her blue-eyed sisters. Did Longfellow suppose that crooked hairs signify a crooked soul, as the Curly Girl authors seem to think that wild hair accompanies a wild nature which must be freed?
I learned to stand on my head in gymnastics in the first grade, but you won’t find me hooraying with my heels these days, nor, since I’ve always preferred my peanut butter without jelly, am I likely to be smeared with jam. You couldn’t call me wild. Though the curls curl unsuppressed, I’ve not felt any need to make my life match them.
Indeed, on afternoons in the country, when I drink my third cup of tea, a cat suns its belly on the pavement, and ruby-throated hummingbird gets its little needle beak stuck in the window screen, I’m inclined to the view that things are very, very good just as they are.