Phoebe’s Hair

One of my viewpoint characters is Phoebe, a 12 year girl from 1995 Arizona with a black mom and a European Jewish dad. Her, her mom, and her older brother Malcolm, are pretty much the only black folks in the small town of Barberry Lake. Certainly the only ones at school. Not everyone there is white; there are hispanics and Native Americans, but kinky hair isn’t exactly on view.

So what’s her hair like? There are different hair classification methods but, I see her as somewhere in the 3C to 4A range in the NaturallyCurly Hair Typing System.

Type 3C: This is sometimes called “curly-coily” hair due to its density. It’s made up of tightly-packed corkscrew-like curls that tend to be as big around as a pencil.

Type 4A: Your coils are either fine or wiry with the circumference of a crochet needle. They’re still dense and springy with a notable S pattern.

Something like these:

Larissa Luz, vocalist from the band Ara Ketu.
From pxhere

But this is a preteen girl who already feels “different.” Half black, half Jewish, with little to no community in her school and town for either. Constantly told she “doesn’t look Jewish.” And with no context for feeling beautiful as a black girl. None for looking Jewish either, as those frizzy curls wouldn’t be “nice” in their town.

Her mom, Pam, came from deep Black roots in Houston and hair culture is going to be a part of that. Having good looking hair for herself and her daughter is important. Pam would have braided and shaped her daughter’s hair since she was tiny. And, when she was old enough, she would have started to straighten it.

Now Phoebe is old enough to straighten her own hair, or choose not to. Though she and her mom likely do each other’s. They might drive to Phoenix (three hours round trip) to go to church and the salon now and then. But home care is important too.

Hair being straightened with a flat iron

Modern straighteners—flat irons—are as easy to use as curling irons. And I can see them using these regularly. But they weren’t sold to consumers in 1995.

The tool that was common in 1995 was the hot comb, something still used today. Both hot combs and flat irons burn the skin (and no one can avoid that entirely) and damage the hair. But they work. Check out this video comparing the two (spoiler alert: they’re pretty much the same).

To add curls back in, they’d use a curling iron or do it with the comb/flat iron or they’d put their hair in curlers after the straightening. It’s a long process that would happen once or twice a month. Inbetween, there’d be no getting the hair wet and they’d wrap it up at night.

The results might look like these:

Kirsten Greenidge
Young African American woman (1910)
African-American woman teletype operator (1940’s)

Here are a couple other resources:
11 Ways to Style Different Black Hair Types
Treasured Locks Biracial Hair Care Guide

Whether done at home or a salon, what we know for sure is that Phoebe’s straightened hairstyle isn’t going to last long in Egypt.

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