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O, That Way Madness Lies

By Amalah

Hi. I’m Asian, and I have really thick, straight hair, that is impossible to coax into anything without tons of hair spray. I’ve always wanted to have wavy hair, and I’ve been considering getting a perm, but I don’t want curls, just waves. Is this even possible since I want softer waves than the picture I attached?? If it is, what do I ask for? I definitely do not want a fro.


For the record, I am deepy distrustful of perms. DEEPLY. They’re absolutely wretched for your hair and totally unpredictable. Too loose and you’re left with fried-yet-still-straight hair, too tight and it’s fakey-fake spirals. They take forever to grow out and are really costly to maintain.

Technically, there’s supposed to be a big difference between perms and body waves, but I still don’t trust them. Any of them! (Eyes them perming rods suspiciously, shakes broom menacingly.) My mom got a body wave a couple years ago and it was…a perm. It fried her hair and left it impossible to style.

I know there MUST be people out there who love their perms and body waves, but…I just don’t know any of them personally. My friends and I just sit around and laugh about the horrid perms we all had in junior high (I PERMED my BANGS, my GOD), and swear that we’ll never let each other go down that path of madness ever again. Pinkie swear!
After looking at the photo you included, I just don’t think a perm is even what you want. Really thick and straight hair won’t take to perming easily, so I’d be worried that you’d end up with a lot of damage and no results. Or your hairstylist might go a little too far and give you something way curlier than you want.

If I had to guess, I’d say the model in that photo used good old-fashioned hot rollers and a wide-barreled curling iron. And lots and lots of styling products — applied before AND after the heat. Or possibly sponge rollers in wet hair. Either way, it doesn’t look permy to me.

Start out with a curl-enhancing shampoo and conditioner, like Catwalk Curls Rock. (Honestly, that whole line is great.) Then layer in some decent mousse (or something like Bumble & Bumble Prep…or the Curls Rock Amplifying Creme) before blow-drying. THEN use some spray gel or pre-heat treatment just before using your rollers or iron. (I’ve used Bumble & Bumble’s Styling Lotion, Does It All Styling Spray and Catwalk’s Frisky Scrunching Gel with good results.) Then roll your hair up and let set for at least10 minutes. Spray the hell out of it with a flexible hold hair spray. Re-spray the gel and scrunch your waves as needed during the day.

I know. I KNOW. This sounds like it will take forever and cost a zillion dollars and wouldn’t a perm be so much easier? Possibly. But…dude. I just CAN’T. I can’t tell you to do that to your gorgeous, thick, untreated virgin hair. Going the way of the perm means a lifetime of expensive treatments and damage and maintenance and GAMBLING WITH YOUR VERY LIFE. For lo, I have gone the way of the perm and…it’s just bad. So seriously bad.

(Here is where I would LOVE to include a photo from my permed days, but…huh. I don’t seem to have any. It’s like someone destroyed the evidence of me and my PERMED BANGS. Imagine that!)

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • epoh

    April 16, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Also, if you have very thick hair, you may want to consider getting it thinned. I have to have mine thinned out twice a year or it’s won’t do a thing but lie down and look pitiful. Get a good hairdresser that you really trust, and tell them to thin out the middle (if they use the thinning shears on the top layer, you will be left with crazy-looking hair and lots of fly-aways. Bad times.

  • Stacitee

    April 16, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    Agree. I went the way of the perm in my youth also. You never get the exact curls you want and oh! the damage is so great. I can remember my straw like hair as if it was yesterday.
    (It was not yesterday, thank goodness. It was 15 years ago.)
    Agree about the hot rollers too.

  • umi

    April 16, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    I’m Asian with stick straight hair and lots of it. I had a perm and I loved it. I got it a bit tighter and curlier than a wave because they ultimately fall out and become a wave. So, that gave my hairstyle longer life.
    I think what is essential is going to a salon that understands your hair type. Then, they can give you a cut and a perm that would work.
    I found that the perm did change my hair texture, but it wasn’t too bad. I found that after processing it, it holds curls from curling irons better, also.
    I loved my perm. Don’t knock it, but just don’t go anywhere. (I go to an Asian/Japanese salon)

  • ikate

    April 16, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Oh, lord…the days of the perm. I am not Asian but have stick-straight super thick, hard to do anything with hair, and have had a number of stylists call it “Asian hair”.
    I tried and tried for perms in Jr High – I so wanted curly hair. Even a darn wave would have been nice. But after SEVERAL attempts (starting with the dreaded home perm and ending with an expensive and intensive “sprial perm” in a salon), nothing worked in my hair. I went from looking like I was wearing a clown wig for 2-3 days post-perm back to stick-straight hair within a week. And, oh how that hair was damaged. Let’s not even talk about the chemical burns on my scalp. I would be very cautious before getting a perm.
    Uni does have a point – if you can find someone who really understands your hair and can show you examples of her perms on similar hair, then maybe it would work.

  • Kimmy

    April 16, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Not only did I have bad perms when I was in junior high school… I did not learn from my mistakes, and I got one two years ago.
    It was very very very very very very very very bad.
    Umi above had some success. I did NOT. I went to a top salon in the city, taking with me a picture much like the one in this post. Not only did I get a curly poodle head, my hair was FRIED.
    SO unless you can find a very highly respected salon that specializes in Asian hair… I would avoid it.
    The process Amalah describes with using rollers and/or a curling iron, is the process I go through every two days to style my hair. It’s a long process but it’s worth it.

  • anony_miss

    April 16, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    I know a an Asian girl straight hair who got it permed (not sure if it was thick or not though). It actually looked pretty cute on her and looked sort of like the picture. Her hair was shorter so it’s hard to say. Maybe it was a tiny bit wavier than the picture. I had a multitude of perms in late elem/early middle school, which were sort of a really expensive disaster. (And they NEVER, EVER took, then God decided to curse me with unruly curly hair at puberty. THANKS!)
    Anyway, her hair had more wave and less curl than you would normally attribute to a perm. It might not be a disaster, or you could try to find another Asian with hair that you’re looking for and find out exactly how she achieved it and who did it.

  • jen

    April 16, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    fellow Asian girl with virginal hair chiming in here — just like Umi, I’ve heard great things from Asian buddies that have gone to Asian hairstylists who know what they are doing. perms and hairstyles like this are supposedly really popular in Korea, and supposedly they’ve improved the process a bit from the fried-hair-horror-perms of yesteryear… so if you live in an area where you could find a decent salon that serves a largely Asian clientele, it might be worth a shot.

  • Jennie Lee

    April 16, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    I’m Asian with permed hair and I LOVE it!!!!
    Definitely go to an Asian (I’d recommend Korean, but that’s because I’m Korean) salon. They’re very experienced in this and know exactly what they’re doing. My hair basically looks EXACTLY like Song Hyegyo’s up there on a daily basis; all I do is run mousse through and scrunch.
    For the first couple days I had my perm it was too tight (curly/ringlety) for my preference but it becomes looser/wavier after a week or so.. so don’t fret!
    In summary, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND getting a perm.. by an Asian salon!
    Picture for reference
    (I’m on the right, please ignore the Asian glow):

  • Spring Weaver

    April 17, 2007 at 10:56 am

    Lol. I love that we all have a perm horror story. I permed my hair in the 6th grade. I had long luscious hair at the time and wasn’t aware that my hair actually has a ton of natural waviness. I had to get up ass early every morning so my mom could pick some expensive gel through my hair. It didn’t look too bad but: NOT WORTH IT. And when I was tired of the whole process, the only resolution was to chop it all off.
    That said, the picture looks a lot to me like the girl just put her wet hair in some braids and let it dry good-n-kinky (see how the hair close to her face is straight?). This process works for EVERYONE, regardless of hair type, so I definitely recommend trying that before trying the VERY PERMANENT perm thing. When you take your dried hair out of the braids, you should be able to coax it into a similar style with minimal hairspray.
    Good luck!

  • norobot

    April 18, 2007 at 12:05 am

    Man, Amy, I totally agree with you about this perm business. Mine still hasn’t recovered from the sprial perm I got when I was nine. Nine!!! Can you believe my mother allowed it!?
    On the other hand, though, I have to tell you about a friend of mine who recently got a body wave. All of my friends and I tried to talk her out of it, but she did it anyway. And wouldn’t you know it? Her hair looks awesome.
    BUT! Her hair was lifeless and super fine. I don’t know that thick hair would have the same effect. Prolly not, so good advice … yet again!

  • ainz

    February 14, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Well, reading all these responces…. i think everyone just got the WRONG kind of perm to the kind of what you are talking about.
    I too have long thick, thick hair, but im not asian so the texture may be diferent.
    And for a while now, i have been considering getting a slight perm, just a litle wave… or a body wave… whatever the difference is???????
    my mum told me to get layers cut into it, because it makes your hair thinner and the layers look wavy. But after my previous layered hairstyles (i wanted the cool emo hairstyle which was in at the time) that turned into a pineapple head piece, im a little worried to go down that path again.
    But maybe you should ask for layers in your hair, but make sure the top layer is not above your ear….BIG MISTAKE!
    maybe google some photos to see if layers is what you want =]

  • Christine

    August 12, 2009 at 2:22 am

    I simply can’t understand why anyone with straight, silky hair with no frizz would want to perm or ruin their incredible natural hair. Be happy with what you’ve got! People who have wavy/curly hair suffer so much, you have no idea. I’m half asian half white, and was cursed with wavy, frizz mop hair. I would give my left arm to have straight thick, pin straight asian hair. NO JOKE, my natural hair looks like wavy pubes. Think about what it’d be like to have to spend 2 hours on your hair before you can go outside and look remotely DECENT or presentable. Long, straight asian hair is much sexier in all aspects; learn to love it.