In my childhood, I compulsively watched Hindi films. Not because I was interested in their plot points or storylines. Rather, what appealed to me was the fashion showcased in those movies. Particularly, the hairstyles of the female leads. This was an era big on curly locks. Every celebrity actress worth her salt was meant to have curly hair. Remember Nargis? I always aspired to have curly hair like Nargis’. The ’90s was a decade that belonged to actresses like Madhuri Dixit and Karishma Kapoor, patron saints of curly hair. Even international icons, like Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow, glammed up their on-screen presence by putting on the curls.
But as time passed, something happened to our collective fashion sense. All of a sudden, curly hair was out and hair straightening became all the rage. These days, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t got her hair artificially straightened. Hell, even Karishma and Madhuri have straight hair now!
The appeal of straight hair might have to do with how conveniently one can manage it. Brushing, combing, washing become simpler with straight hair. But does this justify spending big bucks every year on hair-straightening? Sumedha Awasthi, a college student says, “I had huge long wavy hair. It used to take almost one hour to settle my hair and I had totally given up. Then I decided to straighten my hair. Earlier I was bit reluctant to do so but now I feel happy about it. It’s manageable and easy to comb. Apart from this, I look prettier!”
Straightening one’s hair is not easy, though. The process, for one thing, is complicated and time-consuming. A Delhi-based hairstylist, who did not want to be named, has this to say about the process: “Chemical straighteners contain sodium hydroxide, lithium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide which breaks down the hair strands. The curl pattern is relaxed or loosened through these chemicals causing the hair to straighten which is harmful to the scalp if not done professionally and can burn the scalp.”
Ritika Thapar Puri, who is a frequent visitor to hair salons and a mother of a one-year-old, says, “It is very difficult to look after yourself when you are a mother of a toddler. You don’t get time for yourself. And when you have straight hair, you are 50% ready. I have done got my hair straightened almost five times and my hair quality has not been affected. It is because you have to get it done by professionals who have expertise in it. Also, you have to take care of the hair by proper oiling and going to a hair spa regularly. Use professional products with proper consultation.”
Famous hair salons like Habib’s and Affinity are veterans in this field. Zoya Habib, director of Habib’s South Extension branch in Delhi, says, “Straight hair is fashionable because you can manage it easily. But the grass is always greener on the other side. For example, girls who have straight hair always want curly hair and curly ones admire straight ones. But when it comes to straightening, it is a craze as you don’t have to do much styling after going through straightening. Just shampoo your hair and leave it.”
The manager of Affinity Salon, Akash Makhija, “Straightening brings shine to your hair. It is less of frizziness and is long-lasting. Girls opt for hair re-bonding because it works. If taken proper care, it even lasts for one year.”
“Straight hair is fashionable because you can manage it easily. But the grass is always greener on the other side. For example, girls who have straight hair always want curly hair and ones with curly hair admire straight hair.”
But there’s also the aspect of peer pressure to be factored in here. Straight hair is no doubt easy to manage. But let’s face it, most girls do it because everyone around them is doing it.
I am reminded of Kangana Ranaut’s film Queen where she is first rejected by her husband-to-be due to her supposed unattractiveness: she is seen wearing long, curly hair. However, in the climax, she gets a makeover and is accepted by him. No prizes for guessing that her hair had been straightened in this part of the film.
Lavanya Sarkar, who is in her first year of college in Delhi, says, “I always liked straight hair. And most of the popular girls of my college had long straight hair. So, to conform to this group and to look like them, I did it.”
Of late, hair straightening has also become big business. Urvi Chauhan, senior salon director of BBLUNT, says, “The fact that everyone wants soft shiny manageable hair that is low on maintenance makes straightening very popular. Young girls like to wear their hair straight as it is more manageable like that and they don’t really need to blow-dry their hair every time. The price for one sitting varies depending on the length and density of the hair. Women these days are open to experimenting and follow global trends closely. They are highly influenced by their favourite stars going straight or showing off their curls, urging them to try a similar look. Also, clients prefer straightening done once than regular, continuous blow-drying which can damage their hair. So over the years the market for hair treatments has surely grown.”
She also adds, “When we talk about its negative effects, I must tell you it’s not harmful if done professionally as the product contains an ingredient which also nourishes and conditions the hair. It also doesn’t lessen the hair volume if maintained and looked after well. We recommend using a moisturising shampoo and climate control leave-in creams for its best upkeep.”
According to Zoya, director at Habib’s, says, “We charge more for this hair straightening the proces requires hard work. It takes hours.”
Another makeup and hair artist, Shreya Chadha says, “Straight hair is always considered neat and healthy. Straightening gives full exposure to one’s hair and it suits both with long and short hair. In Asia, girls have frizzy hair which is not doable so they prefer to have straight hair. Straight hair seems voluminous and colours look more appealing on that than other forms of hair. Apart from this, girls can experiment different hairstyles with straight hair.”
She goes to on say, “It has profited the hair industry. Every trend which is good for consumers is profitable for the businesses too. The same rule applies in the hair and makeup industry. As women are more inclined towards straightening, it is obvious that somehow it is raising their satisfaction levels, and satisfied customers are always best assets for the industry. Introduction of innovative products and technologies has benefited both industry and consumers as after every six months one has to go to get the straightened hair retouched.”
Extra convenience also means extra care. “Straight hair needs extra care. It depends on how much care you give to your hair as it demands extra conditioning and care than usual. Keratin hair straightening treatment is always best as it includes less chemicals. Excessive use of anything is definitely harmful so you should always take the use of keratin treatment by an adept and skilful hair dresser.” Shreya adds.
All this does explain why straight hair has gained worldwide acclaim and acceptance. But what it fails to do is shed light on why curly hair have disappeared almost entirely from the world’s fashion landscape.