I have naturally curly hair and I am very proud of it. It suits me. I am of the belief that people who have naturally curly hair were meant to have it. I always assumed that everyone who looked at me knew that my locks were natural. It never occurred to me that people might think I have a perm, which is exactly what happens in Korea.
Perms (aka perm-uh) are extremely popular here. Toddlers get perms. Yes, I said toddlers. I would never even think of taking a child with straight hair and giving him or her a perm. I didn’t even know kids could get perms. In fact, I didn’t think adults really even got perms anymore because I thought that was a trend that went out of style twenty years ago. I stand corrected.
Two out of five of the four-year-olds I teach have perms. And I bet they think I have a perm too. I guess it only makes sense though. They are surrounded by people who are born with stick-straight hair, it’s all they know. And that is excusable in my head, but I was shocked to find out that my older elementary school students thought I had a perm. I was actually downright offended. Why I was offended I’m not quite sure. It must have to do with the fact that I love my curly hair so much and I am so proud that nature bestowed this lucky gift on me. I don’t have to sit for hours every few months with chemicals in my hair, nor do I have to pay for curls. I’m lucky and I don’t want people to think I am changing myself in the name of beauty. I like the all-natural look.
Once I found out that ALL of my students thought I had a perm, I made it my mission to make each and everyone of them (with the exception of the four-year-olds who speak almost zero English) understand that I have never gotten a perm. The first class I explained this to didn’t believe me. I said I was born this way, which made them imagine me as a tiny baby with a full head of very long curly hair. We then had an argument about baby hair; they tried to tell me that all babies are born without even the slightest bit of hair.
After exploring that avenue of explanation, I told them that I hadn’t gotten my hair cut at a salon in a year and a half. “How could I have a perm if I haven’t been to a salon?” I asked. This question resulted in screams of terror because they decided I wasn’t human because my hair must not grow or fall out.
I then asked them if they knew if black people had curly or straight hair. They said curly and I asked them if it was because they all get perms. They seemed to know that they didn’t get perms, so I said, well I’m not much different. I have a different type of curly hair, but it’s not from a perm. Which I could see was an odd line of reasoning for them because they were trying to figure out how someone so white looking could be black.
After five more minutes on this topic I finally convinced my students that I have naturally curly hair. It seems silly for this to be so important to me, but I just couldn’t handle the idea that these kids thought I had a perm-uh. I have told almost all of my classes that I have naturally curly hair and I make them repeat sentences about it when vocabulary words like natural come up in our books. “Ms. Danielle will not get a perm because she has naturally curly hair. Ms. Danielle will not get a perm because she has naturally curly hair. Ms. Danielle will not get a perm because she has naturally curly hair.” I have drilled it into their heads.
I understand children not knowing about naturally curly hair, but now I’m dying to know what percent of the Korean adult population thinks all curly hair comes from perms. What if I’ve been traveling through all of these Asian countries and all along people look at me and assume “perm-uh”?!?
*Photo courtesy of my incredible boyfriend David Domagalski.