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The Taming of the Jewfro

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I was born with a full head of hair. My mop of curls grew before I learned to talk. The curls waved out during my elementary school years and then sprang back into action when I was in junior high. It should have been no surprise that my curls would return with a vengeance, as I grew up in a household of curly-haired Jews. However, I was not prepared for the curly evolution my mop took when I hit my early teens.

My older and wiser curly-haired sister showed me the fro way with hair gels, shampoos, and other curly hair miracle products. In the years that followed, I spent—and continue to spend—endless time, money and energy worrying about my Jewfro.

After laughing over a recent BuzzFeed.com roundup article about curly hair problems entitled, "31 Problems Only People With Curly Hair Will Understand," I was inspired to share my own curly hair wisdom. Summer is a particularly trying season for those sporting the Jewfro, so I thought I'd offer a completely unscientific guide on how to deal with your curly-hair woes.

Classifying the Jewfro

Chances are, dear readers, if you're a Member of the Tribe (MOT), you likely have unruly curly hair like I do. Let's all come out of the Jewish hair closet together, once and for all, and admit that we have Member of the Tribe Hair (MOTH), also known by its pejorative name, the "Jewfro."

While many associate Jewfros with males, both men and women can have variations on the Jewfro. Brad Greenberg, a writer for JewishJournal.com, quoted blogger Eugene Rubin about the various personas to which the Jewfro can be attributed

"Like snowflakes, Jewfros have endless variations," Rubin said. "[They] can be grouped roughly: 'The Traditionalist' (Gabe 'Mr. Kotter' Kaplan, James Caan, Elliott Gould), 'The Fat-n-Funny' (the newly trim Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill), 'The California Blonde' (Art Garfunkel, Victor Garber), 'The Rebel' (Howard Stern, Larry Fine), 'The Intelligentsia' (Albert Einstein and, what the heck, Albert Brooks, whose real name is Albert Einstein), 'The Goyfro' (Nick Jonas, John McEnroe), 'The Pube' (Gene Wilder), 'The Rockfro' (Bob Dylan, Adam Duritz, Marc Bolan), and, of course 'The Sistafro' (Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Rhea Pearlman)."

Many Jewish ladies with "Sistafro" hairdos try to mask or tame their MOTH identities with serums, gels, mousses, ceramic straighteners, and even chemical treatments. But, let's face it—Jews are meant to curl. It's easy to identify a female with undercover MOTH because her seemingly perfect, straight hair has some detectible flaws: Her hair is frizzing, fluffing, or puffing at the roots; her hair waves in the center of the back of her head or at the ends; the hair framing her face waves out when she shvitzes. Without fail, a good shvitz will give away your MOTH. For more Jewfro references, see this Tumblr. Jewfro page.

Battling the Jewfro

Some of my earliest childhood memories entail watching my mom painstakingly trying to tame her Jewfro. From blow dryers and large rollers, to excessive hood-wearing in all sorts of weather, my mom always had a fight with her fro. I'd watch her sitting in front of the mirror, rolling her wet hair into large, plastic rollers to straighten out her Jewfro. She'd sleep in these monstrous curlers, despite great discomfort. (It might seem illogical to straighten curly hair with curlers, but large curlers actually straighten out hair rather than curling it.)

During a brief period in the 1980s, everyone wanted curls, and my curly-haired mother and sisters enhanced their already curly heads with chemical perm treatments. I was too young at the time, and never experienced the perm firsthand.

However, once my 13-year-old curls kicked in, I discovered just how difficult it was to control them, and even more difficult to straighten them. Soon, I began experimenting with night-time rollers, hair dryers, and excessive hood wearing. Gel was my only answer, and to this day, it often still is.

Shaming the Jewfro

Mothers, grandmothers, and friends might all tell you, "your hair looks better straight," propelling you to spend hundreds on straighteners and products. Even television personalities, such as Patti Stanger of The Millionaire Matchmaker, equate straight hair with beauty. On her show, Stanger instructs potential matches for her millionaires to straighten those curls. In her book, Become Your Own Matchmaker, 8 Easy Steps for Attracting Your Perfect Mate, she echoes those sentiments.

"Men appreciate hair they can run their fingers through," Stanger said in her book. "...they don't want to get them snagged in scraggly, frizzy, pubic-looking bird's nests. The era of the perm is over, ladies.

"Wavy hair is fine, but a hair ball is definitely not a man magnet," she added. "The money you spend straightening and conditioning your hair might be the best, most profitable investment you'll ever make."

While straight hair is admittedly neater, sleeker and less wild-looking, it's worth questioning whether our mothers, grandmothers, friends (and even Patti) are measuring beauty standards against a majority non-Jewish, white population. While beauty ads sprinkle in features of women with curly hair, those women are often women of color. Perhaps, in the Jewish population's ongoing desire to assimilate, we have a fear of looking too "ethnic." Members of the Jewish community joke about their Jewfros, but they might be less comfortable with the underlying ethnic or racial associations with the hairstyle than they're willing to admit.

Taming the Jewfro

The Taming of the Jewfro photo

This is what happens to curly hair in one humid summer evening when two hours have passed.

(Disclaimer: These tips are only for the ladies. Boys, I don't know how to advise you on your manfros.)

While we can aspire to shiny, glossy, straight hair during the winter months, we still have nine, humid Chicago months with which to contend. Summer is a particularly challenging season for taming our MOTH.

Embrace your MOTH! It's natural, it's wild, it kind of looks like bedroom hair…unless it's bad bedroom hair. And that brings me to some curly hair dos and don'ts.

1. DON'T sleep on wet, product-less curly hair overnight and expect it to look normal when you wake up. If you do, and it looks as if your strands did battle while you slept…
DO dampen your hair with your hands at your sink or a spray bottle in the morning, apply some product and scrunch away to re-shape it.

2. DON'T cut your hair so short it that it looks like a bowl when it dries.
DO question your hair stylist before she begins cutting and ask her whether she's familiar with how curly hair dries. Show your stylist your hair dry before heading over to the wash attendant so she can get a sense of how your hair falls naturally. Share with your stylist how your hair reacts during various weather conditions and how much it tends to shrink up after drying. Finally, expect your hair to shrink more during hot, summer months. Thus, if you get a short cut, it will look shorter during the summer.

3. DON'T touch your hair once it has achieved an ideal shape and puffiness level. Don't let your friends or loved ones touch it either. The more you touch your curly hair, the more wild it will get. In the words of my curly-haired coworker, "Don't touch it. Just don't touch it ever."

4. DO shape and scrunch your hair after applying product to wet hair. Continue to scrunch your hair as it progresses through its long drying process if needed. If it begins to frizz, stop scrunching it. Don't over-use this tip. It's best to leave your hair alone while it dries. *See my scrunch twice/style twice tip below.

5. DON'T exit a pool or lake after a summer swim and put your curly hair up into a rubber band. It will tangle, knot and be all around disgusting.
DO treat your hair like you've just had a shower. Run a wide-tooth comb through your wet hair, and scrunch it (without product) to achieve a semblance of normal curly hair when it dries.

6. DON'T expect a top-notch straightening job if you're attempting to straighten your hair in a room or environment that makes you shvitz. Inevitably, the waves and curls won't fully go away. If they do, the shvitz will bring them back.
DO place a small towel around your neck (Rocky-style) while using a hot straightener or hair dryer. This will minimize neck shvitz caused by the hot utensils from affecting your locks. If the curls just won't straighten, throw in your towel and re-wet your hair for curly styling.
DON'T, however, try the reverse. If you started your styling mission thinking you'd wear your hair curly and applied gel, do not try straightening gel-filled hair. It will make your straightener sticky and you won't achieve a desired style.

7. DON'T get bangs if you have naturally curly hair. Just, don't.

8. DON'T expect your curly hair to maintain its volume, shape or texture throughout a given evening. It will morph hourly (or even by the minute), depending on its stage of drying from your shower, the humidity in the air, the amount of product you used, and when you had your last hair cut.

DO accept the things you cannot change and change the things you cannot accept. Carry extra product in your purse, or make hair spray your BFF.

9. DON'T, and I mean DO NOT, put a brush through those curls—ever—unless you want 1990s-esque pouf. You can use a comb while your hair is wet. After product is applied and your hair has dried, don't even think about it.
DON'T apply product to your hair, let it dry and then think you're done.
DO comb wet hair, apply product, scrunch your hair, let it dry (completely or almost completely) and scrunch the heck out of it one more time. This second major scrunch will rid your hair of a crunchy or unnatural texture. *Scrunch twice; style twice.

10. DON'T give up if your curly hair seems to have frizzed beyond repair.
DO, in a pinch, wet your hair slightly and scrunch it. If you have mousse on hand, it's a great tool for dry hair. Apply mousse generously into the palms of your hands and work it/scrunch it through your hair.

Products: Everyone curly haired person has their own regime for managing their unruly tufts. I encourage you to explore gels, creams, mousses, heat-protecting sprays and creams, hair sprays, and more. While hair stylists might encourage you to use expensive products, they're not necessarily better than shelf brands you find at your local pharmacy.

Tools: I've had many a debate with curly-haired friends about diffusers rather than regular hair dryers. I think diffusers scrunch my hair too much. Depending on the texture of your hair, diffusers might give your hair the boost it needs while it dries.

Stylists: My friend swears by the Ouidad-certified hair cut. She received a Ouidad cut, which incorporates trademarked curly hair cutting and styling techniques.

Oy! readers, I encourage you to share your curly-hair tips below! 

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