On the Good Ship Lollipop

Carrie McConkey
5 min readMar 31, 2021


Decade N° 5: A Not-so-Average Blog on Middle Age

Month 9

Smoothing out my feelings about having curly hair.

Me, Circa 1991. Photo Credit: Boyfriend-at-the-time John McConkey

By Carrie McConkey

I’m certain I was born with the wrong hair texture. As God’s all-knowing finger was heading for the “STRAIGHT” hair button, I’m convinced a clumsy angel tripped over her harp, causing Him to accidentally stab “CURLY”. (”Whoops!” He must have thought. “Welp, too late now…”)

My earliest memories of disconnection with my locks occurred around age seven when we lived in humid Jacksonville, Florida. “Oh, look at those curls! She looks like Shirley Temple!” shrieked a family friend. (Yes, I swear it sounded like a shriek. Exclamations about my curls, throughout my life, are always performed at a high pitch.) As I stood watching a group of grownups oohing and ahhhing, I remember thinking, “Whaaat?” Shirley Temple?? Eeeeeeew!

Looking back, I’m not sure which other Hollywood star I could have been compared with at that age, but a goodie-two-shoes child actress who sings “On the Good Ship Lollipop” was not at the top of my list. (Sorry, Shirley.)

I’ve realized through the years that curly hair is “a part of who I am”. It’s how people know me. They recognize me by my twisted strands, even from the back. But, to me, my hair has always felt like a song out of tune.

I don’t think my hair fits my personality. Curly hair seems spontaneous. Wild. Fun! On the contrary, my lifestyle lends itself (and relies heavily upon) routine. I’m not carefree — I’m cautious. I’m predictable to the point of boring. This doesn’t at all fit with the ever-changing and fickle nature of The Curl. I’m so straight-laced; shouldn’t I have straight hair?

Knowing I needed a guide to see me through this tangled quandary, I called upon my friend Laura Cope. Laura is a Confident Curly Girl. Not only is she at one with her tendrils, she brandishes them, like Wonder Woman with her wrist cuffs. “Wanna mess with me? You’d better think twice”, she says, with an eye peering through her ringlets.

Natural by Nature

Laura and I grew up in households that didn’t seem to know what to with our tousled heads. Sometimes my Mom blew mine out, knocking my head firmly as she brushed. (I know she didn’t mean to knock my head. I think.) Laura realized something was up when she was given a perm in the sixth grade that nearly followed her into high school.

While I struggled with my locks, Laura grew to appreciate hers. Convinced that it was not only blondes who had more fun, Laura reminded me of our own “golden years” from the late eighties into the early nineties when big hair supported by cases of hairspray was the look de rigueur. Television corkscrews were abundant in Saved by the Bell and Designing Women, and onscreen heroines like Jennifer Beale in Flashdance, Kelly McGillis in Top Gun, and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing provided plenty of inspiration. The music industry offered the most support, with every male hair band sporting frizzy manes, and pop divas like Madonna and Mariah Carey waving the banner for bouncy tresses. Yes, those were indeed comforting times for curly girls. But what about today?

Making Friends With Your Hair

Laura gave me the bottom line about our heads. “Curly hair is a journey. You never know where it’s going to take you.” But she’s learned to enjoy the ride.

“You have to accept it. It controls you, you don’t control it. You have to find peace with one another.” But, this high-maintenance hair texture can also offer grace. “If I ran out of time and haven’t washed my hair,” said Laura, “my curls say, ‘We know you’ve got a lot going on. We don’t have to follow the rules.’”

When you respect your curly hair, it will respect you. “In some ways, curls are demanding,” Laura explained, “and in other ways, they’re like, ‘I got you, Boo!’”

Curly hair also offers styling variety, and even some intrigue. Straightening it allows us to have fun being completely unrecognizable. But leaving it natural is what truly captures people’s attention. “People are fascinated if they don’t have it,” Laura related. “They’ll want to touch it; hold a curl. Sometimes it’s a magnet for people.”

And, like a canary in a coal mine, our spirals can indicate when we are, well, spiraling.

Confident Curly Girl Laura Cope

Happy Curls, Healthy Girl

It’s no coincidence that when Laura or I went through difficult periods, our hair reflected it. Overbooked schedules, the wrong career, or toxic relationships would deplete our energy, leaving each of us little time for the proper care of her unique hair texture — and emotional well-being. “I took my curls for granted for a long time,” said Laura. “I got focused on my career, my family; life, basically. Then one day I looked at my hair and my curls looked awful! They weren’t healthy. But, the same could be said about parts of my life.”

I, too, could find correlations between great years and great hair, as well as the reverse. It led me to wonder if we could proactively summon good tidings by taking care of our mysterious and magical coils. Laura confirmed that investing time and attention into her curls brought additional benefits. “I decided to start taking better care of my hair,” she said. “It’s been a journey, but a good one. My hair is in much better shape than it’s ever been, and I’m in a more settled, happier place in life.”

Connecting with my Curls

After our conversation, Laura’s words, “I took my curls for granted” kept echoing in my head.

How many other hair textures have as strong a presence as curls, with an accompanying requirement of attention and care? Isn’t that what we should all strive for on a bigger level, as women?

Maybe my hair is something to be appreciated. And perhaps the compliments I receive on my ‘do now have nothing to do with Hollywood child stars, but are instead sincere expressions of admiration for a truly one-of-a-kind attribute.

The irony is, the goodie-two-shoes is who I grew up to be. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I resist saying the proper names of male or female body parts out loud. (You know the ones that I mean. I don’t write them, either.) And, people still like me.

My Shirley Temple curls have indeed defined me, providing a reservoir of strength that has been untapped, until now. Maybe God didn’t make a mistake after all.