Curly hair has a history of being seen as "messy" or "unruly". According to stereotypes and media, "proper" or "attractive" people don't have curly hair.
Curly hair is often described as "messy looking", as it's harder to keep tied up and harder to shape into a completely symmetrical style than straight hair. A person's hair often is portrayed as a reflection on their mind or morals, as seen (less negatively) in other tropes: Quirky Curls for a free spirit, a Funny Afro for a silly character, Einstein Hair for an absent-minded professor, Wild Hair for someone "uncivilized", etc.
Due to backlash against depicting characters with curly hair as unattractive, this is becoming a Discredited Trope. Most examples will be of other characters judging people for their curly or kinky hair. However, the undesirability of curly hair is still unironically noticeable in Makeover Montage, where the geeky or unattractive characters straightens their hair and loses the glasses to reveal that they were Beautiful All Along. This trope also pops up unironically in countries where naturally curly hair is rare and is thus subject to Values Dissonance when people from countries where it isn't view the work.
May lead to Fake-Hair Drama.
- In One Piece, Luffy gets an afro wig for a boxing match, to very mixed reactions. The more conventionally fashion-aware characters found it horrendous.
- Tomohiro Nagatsuka from A Silent Voice has been mocked for years for having very curly hair. He takes pride in it though.
- In early chapters of Gintama, Sakata Gintoki is often mocked for his naturally wavy hair, and apparently he himself wants straight hair.
- In one Yo-Kai Watch episode a youkai called Furdinand causes everyone's hair to grow. Nate starts out with messy medium-length Anime Hair before it becomes a Funny Afro. Nate freaks out and his friends tease him for it and say it looks like a shrub, meatball, and helmet.
- This is a big subplot for Princess Adrienne in Princeless, since the very first scene shows her mother attempting to tame her afro and as a young adult she keeps straightening it. This finally culminates in an issue where she faces this directly and shows a flashback to her getting her hair done and the hairdressers complaining about getting her while her sister Angelica is "the one with the good hair" (i.e naturally straight). At the end of that issue she gives herself an Important Haircut and cuts it short to symbolize her coming to terms with it.
- Played with in The Boondocks. Given the fact most characters are black, curly hair isn't shown negatively. In fact Huey has a big afro and Riley has a short but still curly cut (changed to cornrows in the cartoon and later comics). The half-white Jazmine however doesn't like her frizzy Stubborn Hair. She wishes she had straight hair like her mother.
- Annie from Little Orphan Annie faces bullying due to her curly, red hair.
- Subverted with Frieda in Peanuts. She takes pride of her curly hair.
Film - Animation
- Merida of Brave being a Tomboy Princess is highlighted by her wild curly hair (her Proper Lady of a mother has straight hair). When Merida is forced to become more ladylike, all her hair is stuffed under a wimple.
- In The Simpsons Movie, Ned Flanders dishes his younger son for his curly hair.
Todd: I wish Homer was my father.Ned: And I wish you didn't have the devil's curly hair.
Film - Live-Action
- The Princess Diaries has Mia getting her frizzy, messy curls straightened to fit a more "princess-like" look, instead of simply making her hair neater or changing the style.
- Malcolm X opens with a scene showing that black people in the mid-20th century used a very dangerous chemical to straighten their hair so they could look more like white people.
- The Venezuelan drama film Pelo Malo (meaning "Bad Hair") is about a nine-year-old boy who constantly tries to straighten his unruly curly hair. His obsession with his looks leads his mother to worry that he is gay.
- The documentary Good Hair by comedian Chris Rock is about this trope and how it affects African-American women.
- A Wrinkle in Time: After years of being mocked about it, Meg, a multiracial character, is very self-conscious about her puffy, curly hair. When another character tells her he thinks her hair is awesome, she's clearly confused and taken aback, because it's a feature she dislikes about herself. In a scene where she is offered the chance to go back as a more popular, confident version of herself, the "perfect" version of Meg is shown to have long, straight hair and doesn't wear glasses like the current version of Meg.
- During Dave Barry's childhood, girls would apparently try to kiss curly-haired boys. Naturally Dave and other boys would claim to be quite happy at this state of affairs while secretly wishing their hair wasn't straight.
- In Harry Potter Hermione has bushy hair and buck teeth, and her appearance is never mentioned without bringing that up (especially not by her bullies Malfoy, Parkinson, and Professor Snape). In the fourth book, she has her teeth shortened by magic (which her dentist parents don't appreciate), and she uses a potion to straighten her hair when she dresses up for the first time at the Yule Ball. Harry is amazed by her transformation, and Ron's jealousy over her date shows that he is too, but Hermione decides not to do it again because it's a lot of work for day-to-day life. She only does it once again, for a wedding in the seventh book.
- Clary in The Mortal Instruments goes on about her unruly curls, comparing herself to the more glamorous Isabelle. This is removed in both the film and TV adaptations, which have her played by straight-haired actresses.
- The picture book Nappy Hair is about a little African-American girl who is ashamed of her tightly-curled hair, leading to the Aesop that she should accept and love it because it's exactly the hair God wanted her to have.
- "Me and My Hair" by Lisa Hollis similarly defies this trope.
- A minor but recurring theme in Rivers of London is that while Peter and his (white) father don't agree with this, many people on the Sierra Leone side of the family do, especially the women. Boys have their hair cut down to the scalp, girls are subjected to a regime of straightening products. Peter says he was a teenager before he realised that African women don't naturally smell of burning.
- The titular character in Bridget Jones complains about having "mad hair" that could resemble "peaks and horns" if she isn't careful and laments not having the shiny tresses of her Alpha Bitch acquaintance. This feature does not show up in the movies where she is played by the straight-haired Renée Zellweger.
- In A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Lee mocks his mother Aunt Ida when Christine (her sister/cousin whom she adopted as her own daughter) gives her a home perm treatment on New Years' Eve (a particular one where Christine thought the world was going to end) to give her naturally curly hair. At first before the mocking, Ida looked at herself in the mirror with the perm and seemed to appreciate it, but after the mocking, she ended up restraightening her hair, doing it up in a long braid.
- Nappily Ever After's protagonist is a black woman obsessed with keeping her hair straight at all times - even mocking a young girl for wearing her hair curly. Of course she learns An Aesop about natural hair being beautiful.
- Mary Bloody Mary establishes Mary as a more down-to-earth sort in contrast to the alluring beauty of Anne Boleyn by virtue of Mary's "unruly curls" versus Anne's silky tresses.
- An episode of Scrubs has Carla lamenting that she finds her curls so annoying, and wishes her hair was permanently straight. Elliot heartwarmingly responds that she "would kill for your hair". Later on, it cuts to Carla having straightened her hair while Elliot has curled hers.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch
"Frizzy? These happen to be curls!"
- Sabrina's first best friend Jenny was considered a non-conformist because of her curly hair. One episode even has her consider cutting them all off, but she seems to love them judging by this response to when Libby calls her a "Frizzy Freak".
- In Season 7, Roxie giving Morgan a terrible makeover is underlined by Morgan's normally straight hair becoming a giant red afro.
- Sesame Street has a skit, "I Love My Hair", specifically to avert this view in Real Life (more specifically, towards young black girls).
- Zoey 101:
- Chase is constantly mocked for his "Jewfro" (the actor had naturally curly black hair).
- Averted by his roommate Logan however, who is supposed to be conventionally attractive and has hair with a curl.
- In Coronation Street, a Jerkass boyfriend of Maria's made fun of Fizz's curly hair while Maria was styling it.
"If you can sort that mess out in thirty minutes, you can rewire my TV too."
- In Maple Leaf Grappling, Penelope Nesmith was routinely mocked by her fellow wrestlers (most notably straight-haired Margaret Tiger) for her curly hair.
- Salina de la Renta hates curly hair and is never shy about mocking Sofia Castillo, Avery Taylor or Amber Nova for having it. However, she keeps her mouth shut around Aerial Monroe, no matter how curly she chooses to let it remain, as Monroe is not only sensitive about her hair but is also more commonly known as "Big Swole" of the "Swole Family"
- Notorious Nadi isn't shy about mocking Avery Taylor's curls either. Nadi did call the even curlier La Rosa Negra "pretty", in pretty backhanded way(saying La Rosa could succeed on any street corner)
- Tamina Snuka straightening her hair as she fell in love with Santino Marella was the sign of a HeelFace Turn.
- The children's rock opera Princess Beans Messy World has the eponymous Princess Bean decide to enter a princess pageant, where she is told that she doesn't stand a chance of winning unless she changes her "free spirited" look. This includes straightening her hair... by tying rocks into it.
- Not Always Working: These workers apparently believe this, at least they justify trying to grab a woman's hair as she walks past by saying they're "just trying to help you get rid of those ugly curls!".
- You Tube comedian and Buzzfeed Producer and Actress Julissa Calderon is a proud Afro-Latina of Dominican descent and she has worn a t-shirt mocking the "Pelo Malo" notion and has done videos highlighting the experiences of dark-skinned people and of her receiving a Devacut.
- South Park: Kyle has very curly red hair, in an exaggerated "Jewfro", and he is somewhat ashamed by that. In one episode he is listed among the ugliest boys in school which may or may not be related to his hair, though his hat covers it up.
- There's a controversial Winx Club scene where curly hair is used as the pun of a joke. An Ambiguously Brown girl's straight hair turns into an afro. She reacts in horror and begins tearing up, while the other characters clearly are disgruntled by the fact her hair is now kinky. It doesn't help the implications that the scene before it involved characters cooing over Stella's straight blonde hair. 4Kids Entertainment noticed the scene wouldn't fly in America so they changed the context to it in their dub. The redone version is instead about how the girl's voice magically changed instead of her hair.
- In As Told by Ginger, whenever Ginger gets her red, frizzy hair done for special occasions or as a makeover, she straightens it as a moment of She Cleans Up Nicely.
- In Scooby-Doo! Frankencreepy, the Mystery Inc. gang gets cursed with Daphne going from a Size 2 with wavy hair to being Obese with very frizzy hair, oddly she is said to have been turned into a Size 8.
- For women with African-American hair texture, curls have traditionally been seen as a sign of sloppiness or wildness - especially in contrast to (northern) European standards of beauty, which is ironic as there is a considerable number of Irish, Southern Europeans, Persians, Arabs, and Jews having naturally curly hair. Prior to the Natural Hair Movement, many women were pressured into straightening their hair from a young age. Even today, women will feel the pressure to wear a straight weave for job interviews or a professional setting - due to this preconceived bias. It can often be a hard adjustment for women who have been chemically straightening their hair for years to revert to their natural curls.
- Naomi competed under her natural hair when she was first signed to WWE, and wore it in braids in developmental. When she was called up to take part in NXT, she recalls being shown a picture of Naomi Campbell and told they wanted her to look like that. While she would occasionally sport a curly style, she wouldn't compete with her hair in an afro until 2020 - nearly ten years after her debut.
- A lot of hairdressers are trained to only style and cut straight hair, and as a result often don't know what to do with curly hair. This can lead to inexperienced hairdressers making curly hair look worse than it should.
- In Portuguese, a common term for curly hair was "bad hair". Given the innate racism, it fell out of favor, or is used for every hair that is a nightmare to comb and such, be it curly or straight.