The letter below is part of an ongoing series featuring letters from authors to their teen selves. If you're a published author who'd like to participate in this series, we'd love to have you. Just click here and let us know you're interested. Today's guest is Hayley Krischer, author of The Falling Girls, which comes out this Tuesday.
Dear 18-Year-Old Hayley,
About four months after this picture is taken, you will buy a hair straightening product, smear it all over your curls and burn your scalp. You will also burn the pads of your fingers because someone told you to pull the straightening chemical through each curl. (They forgot to tell you to wear gloves and you didn’t think of it.)
Hayley, my sweet, you don’t have straight hair. When you get older there will be inventions that help take the frizz out of your hair. If you were 18 today? Please, you’d be on a curly girl Instagram page so popular that you wouldn’t know what to do with all those likes.
But let’s stay in the moment. Let’s talk about now.
I want you to love the hair you have.
You had long hair before this picture was taken, remember? Long curls that you pulled back in a ponytail to stretch it out. Long curls that you had straightened at a salon and it didn’t work. It did damage your hair. So there’s that. You hated your hair. It was unruly. It was damaged. Your arms hurt from blow-drying your hair in the morning. An hour a day to straighten your hair just for it to frizz back up by fifth period!
So you went to a new hairdresser. You brought along a photo of Whitney Houston in the “How Will I Know?” video and you commanded him: “I want my hair like this.”
You did it because finally someone had hair like yours. Because Whitney Houston gave you the confidence to wear your hair natural. She was Black, and you are Jewish and you shared a similar curl pattern.
You were one of a handful of Jewish kids growing up in your very blue-collar town. There were a lot of anti-Semites in your town. And often people would say to you, “You don’t look Jewish.” What did that even mean to them? What did that mean to you? Did you think that you had to straighten your locks to assimilate like your mother did in Brooklyn back in the 1950s when she got her hair “ironed?” Yes, ironed, just like Barbara Streisand in The Way We Were.
You blew your hair out. You had layers cut. You spent enormous amounts of money on mousse. Straightening cremes. Giant roller brushes. All for what? To change who you are?
So what that the guy you were always in love with walked into your house the first night you cut it and said, “What did you do to your hair?”
What did he know about cool hair? That guy had blonde straight hair. Come to mention it, everyone in his family had blonde straight hair. He knew nothing about curls. He knew nothing about being a non-conformist.
You went into the bathroom that night and you looked in the mirror and you cried. You sprayed it, you zhuzhed it, you moussed it. But you couldn’t get it to look like Whitney’s hair. No matter what you did.
Can I tell you something about Whitney’s hair? It’s fake. It’s a wig. It looks that good because it’s not real. I know this is heartbreaking, but one day in the future, you’ll read Shonda Rhimes’s autobiography (she’s a very famous television writer and producer) and in high school she wanted her hair to look like Whitney’s too.
Here’s what Shonda Rhimes wrote:
"I spent an hour every single morning of all four years of high school trying to get my hair to look exactly like Whitney Houston's. Hours and hours of my life given over to a hot curling iron and a bottle of hair spray and burned fingertips. To me, Whitney's hair was the definition of flawless...
Her hairdresser broke the news to her. That hair is a wig. And now I’m breaking it to you. I know that’s hard to hear. I know you thought that once you cut your hair like Whitney’s, that you’d finally have a hair solution.
Hayley As A Teen