A “Straight” Shot to Victory

June 2, 2008
By Christina Alexander, Winnetka, IL

Amidst the thousands of students who roam New Trier’s busy hallways, it seems many girls sport various hair prepping-related injuries. One girl with a red blister on her thumb—a “battle wound” from an early-morning run-in with her straightening iron’s heated panels. Another with bleary eyes—symptomatic of an early morning prep ritual. And yet another with the telltale curve at the nape of her neck—the Achilles’ tendon of girl world—that calls attention to the area of hair she wasn’t able to reach with her straightening iron. But why, then, would New Trier girls go through so much trouble and endure such a substantial amount of inconvenience for the sake of having straight hair? To such a girl, her level of desirability is directly proportional to her relative worth and future potential; and, at New Trier, straightening her hair is a means of achieving elevated desirability.
High school, to both the detriment and fortune of those encountering it, is the environment where many students undergo their puberty years. This means that from 8:00 am to 3:25pm students are placed in an environment where they are surrounded by nearly 1,000 other peers undergoing the same critical biological change into adulthood. Our American culture holds that metamorphosis into adulthood most dear; the entry into adulthood brings many new privileges: voting, buying lottery tickets, and the disappearance of a curfew. But most of all, puberty marks the onset of a heightened interest in sexuality. With hormones raging and hallways forcing numerous close-encounters due to a lack of space, those 1,000 teens invest in pushing the limits of their figure—the most malleable element of a person. Many quickly realize that straightening their hair is immensely simpler than trying to improve their study habits or alter any personality downfalls they may also have.
And of course, there are definitely those who focus largely on honing their academic skills, without fretting about how their hair looks. But as in any environment, the majority often has the greatest impact on characterizing the whole—at New Trier, the majority dictates the relative levels of beauty, with hairstyle directly affecting the upward or downward social movement of the student.
Peer-to-peer criticism sparks outward, conscious concern with body image. The result—the increased amount of criticism generates a palpable sense of apprehension among students focused on remaining in good favor. To survive the criticism, many conform to the accepted standard of hair style: straight.
Interestingly, the reasoning behind finding straight hair prettier than curly hair isn’t purely subjective. Science plays a large role in how we perceive the world around us, and the changing ideals can be tracked as far back as the Greco-Roman era. Today in the 21st century, teenagers value the effects of straightened hair’s aesthetically pleasing; often, another’s gaze is magnetically drawn to its luster. Straightened hair has a cohesive, visible surface area that reflects more glitters of light off of its strands than tight curls do.
The long, loose shape of straight hair also contributes to freer movement that seems natural and reminiscent of youthful adventures in the backyard like playing on the swings or shoveling in the sand pit. It’s in those moments of reminiscing that a person begins to associate that hair type with intrigue, pleasure, and, eventually, beauty.
People’s external perceptions of someone they are drawn to or someone who possesses an inherent power over them creates for the beholder a strong sense of confidence and positive internal mantra; both of which are crucial to remaining at the top of the social ladder. The experiences people face shape their imagination, and in a similar way, the conversations they have heard or been a part of contribute to their emotional range. Thus, those who consistently receive positive feedback on their external appearance, the one they are forced to face the world with and the one they inhabit while deciding who they are, have an inherent level of self-respect and authority over those willing to silence their aspirations due to their feelings of inadequacy.

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