Disney: A pox on those locks


According to Disney's new hit film, the diary of a princess might read something like this:

Used to be a frizzed-out, mousse-deficient, curly-haired geek, then met a man with a blow-dryer who knew how to use it, ditched the curls, and am now completely chic.

The princess in question is Mia Thermopolis, brought to life by actress Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries, a movie that is drawing teen-age girls to theaters everywhere. It's a typical Cinderella-story film with a controversial message:

Anyone can be a princess -- as long as she straightens her hair.

The founders of a Web site dedicated to ringlet therapy -- naturallycurly.com -- have boycotted the film in protest and requested that their fans follow suit.

Web site founder Michelle Breyer (dark hair, mid-back, very, very curly) refuses to see the film, but she saw the trailer. She watched as Princess Mia received her royal makeover, cringing as a very full head of very frizzy hair was beaten into straight submission. It touched a nerve somewhere near her scalp.

"I grew up in California, where everybody had straight hair and surfer bangs," said Breyer, 38, a newspaper reporter in Austin, Texas. "I straightened [my hair] until I was in my early thirties, sometimes living in fear that people would know how curly it really was."

These days, she's lets those curls be. Princess Mia's makeover could have entailed curl-control instead of curl obliteration, Breyer says. Hasn't Disney heard of Frizz-Ease?

"I don't think Disney and Anne Hathaway are anti-curl," Breyer says. "But in wanting to create a geeky, ugly image, what did they do? They gave her glasses and curly hair."

Except for a brief period of bad perms in the '80s, straight hair, it seems, has long been paramount in American beauty. Curls had no place on Charlie's Angels, did not appear on the fashionistas of Friends. Jennifer Aniston's legendary straight hair, in fact, is naturally curly.

Marcia Brady had straight hair. Jan did not.

Princess Diana had straight hair. Fergie does not.

Karenna Gore Schiff has straight hair. Chelsea Clinton does not.

Even the last three Miss Americas all have had straight hair. (Perhaps, after all, this Princess Diaries hair issue is a tiara thing. No one knows what to do with curls and a crown.)

Curls are harder to handle in general, says Marleen Greenfield, a stylist who specializes in curls at Robert Lewis Salon in Rockville. Greenfield has clients who travel from Baltimore and Virginia to sit under her practiced, sympathetic hand. Greenfield has curly hair, but fought it for years. There were coke-can rollers, irons, chemical straighteners: the works.

She hears this, all day long:

" 'I hate my hair. It's so frizzy. It's so hard to take care of,' " Greenfield says. "Some of my clients have come to terms with it, and some never do. I have to work with them slowly, like saying, 'I have time today. Let's try it curly. If you don't like it, I'll blow it out.' " Curl therapy, basically.

Girls with curls know it's best to live in places like Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, where the humidity never rears its ugly head. August in Maryland can turn a head of well-formed curls into a mass of unruly frizz.

So why, exactly, is straight better than curly?

"I think it has to do with ethnicity," says Breyer. "The American idea of beauty has been this Anglo-

Saxon ideal. Curly hair represented different ethnicities that society doesn't find as beautiful. Curly hair is Jewish hair, African-

American hair."

These days, however, America embraces ethnicity. Halle Berry, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu all have graced People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful" list.

Straight tresses could even be a symbol of a proper society upbringing, explaining Mia's royal makeover, says Mary-Lou Galician, an Arizona State University communications professor who studies mass media's effect on society. Think of Sex and the City's Park Avenue princess, Charlotte York-MacDougal, with her perfect manners and straight chestnut locks.

"Can you think of any stereotypical movie socialite that doesn't have sleek, straight hair?" said Galician, a curly-haired woman who, naturally, prefers hers straight. "Maybe what it is, is society's way of taming people. Maybe we're afraid of wild women, and that's what curly hair is: wild. You're supposed to tame it, straighten it down, bring it in, tie it up."

Or maybe this is just a girl thing.

"Women are more attracted to straight hair for themselves," says Kristin Perrotta, beauty director of Allure, because it is shinier, silkier, often perceived as healthier. (Perrotta, by the way, has wavy hair but wears it straight.)

Also, men can run their fingers more easily through soft, straight hair.

Scene from Princess Diaries: Mid-makeover, the man with the hair dryer gets his brush caught in Mia's messy waves. He tugs. He tugs harder. The brush handle breaks off, the bristles still lodged in Mia's curls.

Hey, that happens, says Breyer, who once had to cut a brush out of her curly mane.

Further curl heresy: The women on the covers of Glamour, InStyle, Vogue and Elle this month all have straight hair. The women on the covers of Muscle & Fitness, Soap Opera Digest and Fit Pregnancy sport curls.

Need we say more?

For a while there, says Breyer, it has seemed as though girls with curls were getting somewhere. The curly-headed celebrity list has been growing. Sarah Jessica Parker's wild curls illuminate Sex and the City. (Sometimes, she's a sell- out, though, and wears a blow- out.) There's Debra Messing with to-die-for waves on Will & Grace, Felicity's Keri Russell, even Ally McBeal's Jane Krakowski and Lisa Nicole Carson. There are older women with curls, evidenced by Three Sisters' Dyan Cannon. Andie MacDowell does some fabulous new curly-hair commercials for L'Oreal. Even Julia Roberts, America's highest-paid actress, has curly hair. (She must be forgiven, however, for wearing a blow-out to the Oscars.)

"It's really been a good time for curly-heads," Breyer says. "And so many companies have finally come out with curl products."

There are, in fact, legions of curl tamers at beauty shops right now. There are products to relax the curl or to enhance it, even curl definers and elixirs.

In fact, things were going well right up until this summer. "I'd felt like we'd made such strides," says Breyer , "and then this."

This being Princess Diaries. This also being Jennifer Lopez showing up at the premiere of Angel Eyes in May with her head decked-out in ringlets, and Entertainment Weekly panning the 'do. ("Bad curl" was the headline.) And perhaps, this ultimately being Tom Cruise, whose divorce from curly-head Nicole Kidman was final this month.

The many charms of Tom's new flame, Penelope Cruz, include long, shiny, silky, straight hair.

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