Editor’s Note: Curl Power

Indianapolis Monthly’s Editor-in-chief reminisces about a formative salon visit that informed a lifelong relationship with her own hair.


Photo Courtesy Andrea Ratcliff

ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a little girl in the land of Kokomo who wished her straight hair could be turned into a magical mane of ringlets. Inspired by Shirley Temple, Little Orphan Annie, or maybe even Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company, she made her wish known to her mother and, lo and behold, it was granted. A trip to the beauty shop, where the 5-year-old sat patiently (probably not, but let’s just pretend) for hours while wands and washes transformed her locks, came with a promise that the resulting waves would be permanent. Upon removal of the curlers, cotton, and finally the cape surrounding her head and body, the tiny lass emerged, looking very much like a miniature ’70s-era grandmother. A session with a photographer followed to capture the glory of these twirly tresses forevermore.

I have faint memories of that day in the salon and the ensuing photo shoot at Sears Portrait Studio, but I remember two things more vividly: 1) my reaction to seeing my new curls (sheer glee—there was even a dance), and 2) the smell of the perm solution. The mere mention of modern perms for this issue’s cover package lit up my olfactory bulb with the recollection of the malodorous ammonia-like chemicals, which were reintroduced to my hair a couple more times during junior high and high school. Sadly, none of my childhood attempts to create permanent curls lasted very long. My hair is stubbornly straight, fine, and flat.

In high school, when big hair ruled, I spent my early morning hours curling, teasing, and lacquering my locks with Aqua Net to preserve my style past first period. These days, my hair is positively unwilling to reach the same gravity-defying heights. I’ve made peace with the natural texture (or lack thereof), but a glimmer of that little girl with the goofy pride in her granny perm remains, prompting me to turn the pages to see if there’s any hope left that a local stylist could make my mane magical once again.