This spring, a friend asked me to accompany her to Africa to document the labors of a nonprofit working in microfinance. She told me we'd be traveling to a number of remote villages to complete our assignment.

Instead of a dewy-eyed, "I'll go wherever God sends me," or even the sturdy old-stall tactic, "Let me pray about it," my first thought was, How will I blow dry my hair?

My vain response forced a long, hard look in the mirror, and not just so I could prep for another day of battle with wiry, frizzy hair. I'd sat through decades of sermons and Bible studies telling me that I was fearfully and wonderfully made, urging me to love myself because God loved me. All this self-acceptance talk may as well have been spoken to me in Portuguese. A demanding little idol called the Straight Hair god had rendered the message unintelligible.

As a young girl, I learned about the Straight Hair god from shampoo commercials and TV, and my "Ellis Island" hair wasn't it. My natural `do makes me look a lot like the people pictured in those grainy pictures of Eastern European immigrants who crossed the Atlantic in steerage class at the turn of the century, probably because I am related to a handful of them.

I tried appeasing the Straight Hair god with a daily offering: blow-drying it into an immovable hair helmet that resembled a pile of scouring pads. Heaven forbid the humidity crept above 65 percent.

Except for a brief stint going natural in the mid-70s, and the big hair era of the 1980s, my type 3C curly hair and I have appeased this god with a daily offering of blow-drying for 40 years. I did the math: 10 minutes with the blow dryer every morning works out to over 100 24-hour days spent with a blow dryer and a round brush in my hand. I have ...

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