I learned the word “scrunch” from the French graphic novel series Asterix and Obelix. “Scrunch” is the sound effect that accompanies the devouring of wild boar by the rotund Obelix. “Wild boar for dinner?!” he yells, then spends several frames producing “scrunch scrunch” noises as gleaming boar fat flies everywhere.
For those who seek exposure to scrunching but who avoid reading French comics with disconcerting racist undertones (see also: Tintin), I recommend perusing the labels on women’s curly hair products. Apply to wet or damp hair; gently scrunch curls. Or: Scrunch into hair, working your way luxuriously from tips to scalp. Or, my favorite, from the back of an acid green Garnier Fructis detangling cream: Scrunch. Smile. Repeat.
Some people spent their childhoods fighting bullies, or siblings, or elementary school rules. I spent it fighting my hair. Straight out of the shower, it clung to itself in tight curls, only to balloon into wavy bushiness after a few hours. The top always remained completely flat, of course, even as the rest poofed into a triangle on humid days. I tried conditioners, clips, wide-toothed combs. I tied metal washers to the ends of the curls in the hope that they would stretch out and I would have straight hair forever. I scrunched, smiled, repeated, and then glared at the haze of frizz already starting to form. I gazed longingly at the silky-straight locks of the television shampoo models, hating them and envying them in equal measure. Unsurprisingly, I hated the curly-haired models even more.
Between fifth and seventh grade, I wore my hair in two braids every day. I explained to curious girls in my class that it was out of reverence for my American Girl Doll, Kirsten. Really, I didn’t know what else to do. I was terrified of going to sleep at night without having my hair combed and neatly braided by my mother. If I didn’t adhere to that regime, I could only guess what it would look like in the morning. A mass of fraying strands and knotted fibers and — gasp — frizz. The halo of transparent blonde wraith-curls that hovers around my face in dry months makes many of our family photos eerily similar to the illustrations in my Children’s Bible. And that’s just in good light. There are several nighttime shots in which it looks like my head has been partially obscured by a cloud of gnats.
I am not alone in this struggle. The existence — and flourishing — of the hair products aisle in Walgreens attests to this fact. Anti-frizz extra-volume sleek’n’shiny herb-extracted conditioning cleansing moisturizing curl-enhancing serum cream gel mousse, leave-in, leave-out — you name it, it’s there. And I have probably purchased it at some point in my two decades on this planet. And I have probably pretended not to.
Why? Because how superficial, to care about your hair enough to buy some oily spray that probably doesn’t do anything! How utterly materialistic and shallow, to care about whether your ringlets cohere! How bourgeois, to “maximize volume by clipping back crown curls,” to “wring dry every night using a clean microfiber towel,” to “finger-comb,” to “scrunch.”
This is the part where I have my revelation. I explain in awed terms the miraculous hair care technique that has enabled me to love my curls and embrace my identity and live my life. Well, that would be bullshit because I still have no idea what to do with my hair, ever. Scrunching, with or without [insert product name here], has very rarely given me any satisfaction at all, and when it has, it’s those times when I’m scrunching my hair while thinking about Ancient Gaul. “Scrunching is absolutely the right word for the noise Obelix makes as he munches on wild boar meat,” I think as I wring dry my curls in a bourgeois microfiber towel. Scrunch is a very cool onomatopoeia. And now that I think about it, I completely understand why those Gaulish cartoon characters constantly keep their hair in braids.