Defiantly Straight

Pain is beauty — but Velcro rollers and mimosas may help.

illustration of hair styling tools in a glass jar

Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins

You’ve got to invoke a little Southern Zen to endure the beautification process. Or drink. But we’ll get to that.

Sixteen hours. 

That’s how long I was in my mother’s home for a Thanksgiving visit before I found myself with not one but two different kinds of product in my hair.

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My limp, straight, ornery hair has been a source of consternation to my mother my whole life, and one day, by God, she will conquer it and give me the bouncin’ and behavin’ blonde locks a self-respecting Southern gal is supposed to have.

It started with my first permanent wave around the age of six. Mama managed to get one picture of me with a halo of golden curls. Then my hair went stick straight again. Defiantly straight.

For countless homecomings, holidays, proms, sweetheart dances, and cotillions, all the other girls would turn out with their hair jacked to Jesus. They had hair that exceeded the frames of our school pictures. Hair that refused to move in any amount of gale-force wind. Then there was me.

Over the years we have tried pin curls, pink sponge rollers, hot rollers, curling irons, back combing, teasing, rats (the kind for hair fixin’ not for killin’), chemicals, a thing called a hot comb, the dreaded bonnet hair dryer, crimping, those spongy twisty sticks, sheer will, and a whole lot of Aqua Net to make my hair big. And it will get big, gloriously big … for a little while. Then its stubborn straightness takes over making it point like an arrow to the ground.

An arrow bursting Mama’s big hair bubble.

But my mother will not accept defeat. And this Thanksgiving I was on her turf. With the turkey in the oven, appliances of hair torture at the ready, and time on our hands, it was time to try again.

That’s when the product came out. Applied only to the roots, mind you. Lifting the hair. You must lift the hair. Lift it.

Then came the heat. My right ear was nearly burnt slap off my head, but there is pain in beauty, y’all, and vicey versey. Deep, I know.

More heat. The pulling, tangling kind. The kind that feels like the devil is breathing his hot, sulfurous breath on the nape of your neck.

Then rollers. Lots of rollers. Unlike our hot rollers of yore, these Velcro thingies actually manage to grip my fine, wispy strands and bend them into submission. Plus they stick to your head so there’s no need to gouge those pin things into your scalp to get them to stay. Progress.

Then I had to go let it set for a while. That’s what the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is for. And mimosas. You need something, for pity’s sake, to make you forget how your ear stings and remember that you are just a hair away from real beauty — big hair beauty.

Not quite an hour later, giddy with anticipation, and certainly not with the aforementioned mimosa, we unrolled our way to the big reveal.

Will it curl? Will it at least wave? Will all this time and effort and product and heat and Velcro be for naught?

Voila! Big hair for me. Well, sorta. Comparatively.

Now I know my hair will never rival Farrah’s famed mane, but it was bigger than it normally is. Really. Downright puffy, I’d say. And it lasted. All day. Even in the South Alabama humidity.

Oh, sweet victory! Thank you, Mama.

Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog

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