Hey, She-Hulk: Straight Hair is Not a Superpower
I recently finished watching the Disney+ series, "She-Hulk, Attorney at Law", and was struck by several things. Firstly, I was struck by the singular experience of being repeatedly lectured about sexism by a show where a superwoman's life revolves around clothes, dating, makeovers, gossiping about people's sex lives, and having tiffs at a wedding with a vapid social media influencer who is supposed to be one of Marvel's most powerful villainesses. Secondly, I was struck by how our heroine remarks on how amazing her hair looks when she turns into the super-awesome She-Hulk.
The problem here is that her normal hair is in tight little ringlets, and She-Hulk's hair is Bratz-doll straight.
To be clear, this is a "fuck you". It's always a "fuck you" when curly-haired characters get straightened out, and the reason that there needs to be so many books like Hair Love struggling to make kids feel better about their curls. It's a real problem, and one that gets frequently ignored by people who don't even seem to notice their bias. Be it She-Hulk, the silver-screen's Hermione Granger, or the rebooted Magic Schoolbus's strangely frizz-free Miss Frizzle, a very unfortunate standard is being set.
In a lot of ways, She-Hulk is worse than most transgressions, in that her hair is part of her superpower. The show could easily have cast a straight-haired woman who turns into a straight-haired hulk, or given us a curly-haired woman who turns into the curly-haired hulk so often depicted in the source material, but they went with the worst possible combination and then had their heroine lament about how much better she looks in hulk form. Putting aside the inexplicability of gamma radiation giving Jennifer Walters "the Rachel", was there seriously no one in the room who saw a problem with this?
Audiences don't remark about this very loudly, though. Instead, they wail about white characters becoming black, which seems to be the only avenue for a straight-haired character to gain a little bounce these days. Oddly enough, though, the bulk of these race-swapped characters either started out with curls to begin with (like Little Orphan Annie or the stage version of the aforementioned Hermione), or are a bizarrely straight-haired redhead that probably ought to have had curls (Ariel, Mary-Jane Watson, or the amazing flip-flopping April O'Neil). Hard to say what this says about the relationship we apply to curls, redheads, and black characters, but that's probably a topic for another time.
If I could give some advice to creators on their approach to curly-haired characters:
Learn how to draw curls
Do you find yourself wanting to straighten out hair in order to make it more attractive? Bad news: That means you're trying to draw curls the way you draw straight hair, and you need to get better at drawing. Work on that, FFS, because it's not the curls' fault your picture isn't coming out right. If you have an anime-inspired drawing style, get inspired by something other than anime, because anime is terrible at depicting anything that doesn't look like a quasi-human pixie creature with crystalline hair.
Waves don't count
Think you can pass off wavy hair as curly? You can't. No curly-haired kid has ever looked at somebody with that supermodel, I-got-my-hair-styled-in-something-the-size-of-rolling-pins look and thought, "Hey, that's like me!" If there's no part of the hair that forms a closed circle, you don't have curls.
Don't tie it all down
Remember in Pixar's Brave, when Merida's mom forces her wild curls into that tight little cowl, and Merida stubbornly pulls one of her locks out? That part's great. Don't be Merida's mom, because the Meridas of the world hate you. Locking down hair so that it fits in with the rest of the world is something a lot of your audience goes through, and as a result they react strongly to the Meridas, the Moanas, the Mauis, and the Jannahs who can absolutely rock a head full of free-bouncing rings. So, you don't always have to hide it all in the form of braids, buns, or headwear.
Be true to genetics, FFS
Granted, it's not unrealistic to have characters who have artificially straightened their hair, but if absolutely none of your black characters (looking at you again, She-Hulk) have curls, it starts to become conspicuous. Same goes for redheads, and various other groups.