I can still remember the day I found out my hair was curly.
I was 12 years old and recovering from a terrible short haircut, the kind of close crop my mom called a “pixie” to make it sound better but that made waitresses direct me to the boys’ bathroom, or led my science teacher to ask, when I tripped down a flight of stairs, “Hey, is that little boy OK?”
So it felt extra cruel when my hair finally started to grow back, only to show up in ringlets. I couldn’t understand it. Where was the straight hair I’d had all my life? What about my bangs?! What had I done to be punished this way?
More salt was dumped on the wound in French class. We had to go around the room and communicate what type of hair everyone had. Of course, the French word for curly is just perfectly unflattering: “Frisée! Frisée!” everyone called out when it got to me. There was no escaping my frizzy new reality.
Worse than the frizz, though, was the loneliness: No matter how hard I flipped through the pages of my favorite fashion magazines, I couldn't find a curly-haired role model. The older I got, the worse it seemed — all the ladies I wanted to look to for style guidance were abandoning ship.
The most painful betrayal was Keri Russell, whose hair I fell in love with as far back as "Honey I Blew Up The Kid" and which made her a household name in "Felicity," where she played a lovable college student (and sort of a stalker). But her senior year, Felicity came back to school with her signature curls straightened to a sleek wave — a stab to the gut for me, who could not figure out how she had suddenly woken up like that.
The craziest part was that there was no acknowledgment that anything had changed — was I missing how to get my hair to look like that, I wondered? I started shelling out my allowance on hair straighteners and hemp seed oil, spending hours flattening in front of the TV. When my mom tried to tell me my natural curls were beautiful, I couldn't hear her.
Sarah Jessica Parker turned her back on us curly girls, too. Her wild, blond mane, which mirrored her fun, bubbly on-screen persona from "L.A. Story" all the way to the initial seasons of "Sex and the City" quickly vanished in the early aughts — a change I still don't think has been for the better.
As I watched her hair transform over the years, I too graduated to a curling iron instead of a straightener, trying to get those super casual, feigning-to-be-natural waves. Instead, I ended up with a lot of split ends and some permanent scars on my neck and arms from accidentally whacking myself with my 2" big barrel Hot Tools wand.
At first, I thought Debra Messing would be my savior. She landed in our lives and on our TV screens as a radiant, ringlety redhead in "Will and Grace", but then I blinked and suddenly she was looking less Lucille Ball and more Lana Del Rey. These days you'll never find her on a red carpet with those original wild tresses that won me over — she's all blowout, all the time.
And the list goes on and on. It's now like a rite of passage for female celebrities in Hollywood: Make your mark with memorable curls, and then flatten them out the more famous you get.
Taylor Swift: Made a splash with tight blond curls, evolved into a sleek, straight, frizz-free bob. Annalynne McCord: Came on the scene in the "90210" reboot with sexy, curly hair, and now shows up looking like every other starlet with straightened waves.
Remember Julia Roberts? Amy Brenneman? Julianna Margulies? Nicole Kidman, for crying out loud? One after another, they've all succumbed to the styling wand, and said goodbye to their original, sexy curls.
The message to girls with curls is coming across loud and clear: Straighten your way to success. Patti Stanger, Bravo's "Millionaire Matchmaker," is just one of the voices who's been the most aggressive about this theory, warning all of her prospective daters against showing up with curly hair for a first date.
"Silky Asian hair has been in for the last 100 years, probably for the history of style," she told TODAY.com back in 2011. "It signifies opulent wealth and sophistication. Men who are wealthy like straight hair, they like to run their hands through it, not get tangled in there like it does with curls. And honestly, very few women have perfect curls. Unless you’re Andie MacDowell, the curls just look messy."
Even though these curly-haired denier celebrities aren't as explicit about it as Stanger, their hair choices have the same effect: reinforcing the standard that straight and smooth is beautiful, and that curls must be tamed to be classy.
I've definitely subscribed to this notion, consciously or unconsciously. I always straighten my hair for job interviews, fancy events, and times when I want to make a good first impression. For most of my adult life, having someone catch me with curly hair was like that nightmare where you show up to school naked.
In a society where we spend a lot of (necessary) time talking about body shaming and the need for inspiring body image role models, it feels like we could make some room for more acceptance of all types of hair — and that these big stars could help us by accepting their natural hair, so we curly-haired girls could know it's fine to be frizzy.
At age 29, I've finally come to terms with my curly hair. I've found some good products (the Jennifer Aniston-endorsed "Living Proof" line is a gamechanger), I've started using a great giver-of-haircuts, I've gotten to the right hair length to make my life manageable, and most importantly, I've given up on thinking there will ever be a universe in which I'll roll out of bed looking like Gwyneth Paltrow.
But most of all, it took finding some real-life curly girls to show me what a good head of naturally wavy hair could look like. There's my friend Lauren (the beautiful fashion blogger behind The Marcy Stop), whose heat-free locks are totally awe-inspiring. No heat, no stress, just air-dry and go.
There's Claire Mazur, the founder of Of a Kind (one of my favorite start-ups), whose curly hair I have admired on Instagram for years:
And over on "Orange is the New Black," Natasha Lyonne is showing off her big, bold hair — inspiring me on a daily basis to step away from the straightener, and embrace the volume.
Thank you, ladies, for being the Batman of curly hair: You're the heroes we deserve.
TODAY.com editor Meena Duerson has been laying off the straightener since 2012. This essay is part of TODAY's Hair Essentials series, which you can find more of here.