From Our Readers

Go Curly or Go Home

Usually I do not give the whole New Year’s resolution thing any attention. As a kid, it was always filled with empty promises of being nicer to my family or working harder in school. Within a few days, the seemingly heartfelt promises made during the sugar rush and excitement of being able to stay up way past my bed time were completely forgotten, as I settled back in to being the person I was the year before. Eventually I tired of the pattern and took pride in my defiance to follow the foolish trend of making empty promises that never were fulfilled. The last few years celebrating New Year’s Eve all together had lost its sparkle. After a week of traveling family to family, in a sleepless caffeinated haze, by the time December 31st comes, I’m too settled into my pj’s under a heavy comforter to even acknowledge the year coming to an end.

Last year, I decided to finally admit that there is something fun and exciting about setting a year-long goal. I really did like the challenge, and if it was something I actually wanted to do, my success rate would be higher. Because honestly my resistance to make New Year’s resolutions was more me hating the guilt that followed with not upholding my resolution, than defiance against our culture. It was not hard to decide what my New Year’s resolution would be. I think my desire to tackle this seemingly impossible task led to me using the safe confines of a New Year’s resolution to take on the challenge. If you give up on a New Year’s resolution, no one is really disappointed in you because they have a list of resolutions long forgotten by March. It was perfect.

My 2013 New Year’s Resolution: Learn to embrace and care for my naturally curly hair.

This may not seem like much unless you, dear reader, also have been blessed with the force that is curly hair. Despite having curly hair for all 26 years of my life, I had no idea how to tame my curls just enough to let them be free in all their curly glory. Growing up, my mom was always teasing, ironing, spraying, brushing, yanking, snipping, and forcing her hair into submission with baskets of products to achieve the latest trendy hairstyle. On TV in the ’90s, hair was long straight locks attached to the pretty popular girls named Kelly. Rarely did the trends involve curly hair, except that glorious time in 1990 when Julia Roberts removed a hideous blond wig to reveal a cascade of curls she would toss carelessly throughout Pretty Woman and leading to a single flicker of hope that curly hair is not just for heavy metal lead singers or Bob Ross. She gave me hope that you could be curly and gorgeous. A hope that faded as I grew older.

My own hair was often wrestled into a french braid or a pony tail surrounded by a halo of frizz. I hated my hair and because I was going through those overly dramatic teenage years, hating my hair meant I hated my life because my hair ruined it.

Going to the salon only made things worse. Time after time I would sit down in the chair to hear gasps or astonished remarks at how much hair I had. (Because I was unaware of its magnitude every morning when I was faced with the epic battle of fighting it into some sort of style worthy enough to avoid a “You couldn’t brush your hair this morning?” from my dad as I got into the car to go to school.) Then they would ensure me they would straighten my hair like it had never been straightened before. Usually this resulted in me leaving with a weird white girl afro looking more like Bob Ross than Julia Roberts. Except one time when I let my hair be curly while playing an angel in the Christmas pageant, I never received encouragement to continue to wear it curly. I also was never able to recreate what I later decided had to be a divine miracle of those pretty curls I was graced with, during the pageant. All I could ever get was a tangled mess of frizzy knots that looked to be hiding small animals.

Eventually I sort of figured it out. With enough patience and the advances made in straight iron technology, I could achieve what appeared to be straight locks. As long as the wind did not blow, nothing touched my hair, it did not rain, become too humid, or if the amount of moisture did not rise above 0% while the moons of Saturn were perfectly aligned with the stars in Orion’s belt, my hair looked presentable. The slightest shift in the atmosphere and my hair was a disaster. I tried cutting it all off and that just made the curls worse and my locks were not long enough to tame with bobby pins and hair ties. Long hair often forced into a french braid now made famous by Katniss Everdeen became my go to style.

It was time for a change, I was tired of the battle. My husband and I are starting to seriously think about having kids, kids that may inherit my curls. The last thing I would ever want is for my girls to go through the same hopeless journey of resenting their unmanageable hair while I re-enforced their curly helplessness with my own. I also was tired of waking up every day to battle my hair, there had to be a way for us to all get along.

The first thing I did was read Curly Girl: The Handbook, by the fabulous and curly Lorraine Massey. If you have curly hair YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK. It has, and rightfully so, been called the curly manifesto. It changed my life and how I looked at my curls. After a year of fighting the urge to straighten my locks or cut them all off when I thought I’d never figure it out, I finally have a handle on my curls. I get them, I know how to sweetly bribe them into doing what I want them to do. My life is no longer ruined because of my curls.

Here are my cliff notes and points, I believe, are not stressed enough to those wanting to embrace their curls:

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  • Eden Hookway-Jones

    Love love love!! Thank you! My hair is better when I curl/twist it immediately after shower in my fingers to let it fall in ringlets… If that makes sense! A little hair moisturizer helps it to set too. I just (3 weeks ago) made the mistake of cutting my hair to all one length – yeah, it’s better when it’s layered and meets at the end of my hair to a point #rookieerror so thanks for the tips! Also, is it just me or does beach hair / salt water have the best effect!? X eden

  • Charlotte Pringle

    Agreed! I rarely brush my hair unless straightening or it’s got really bad, but people are always horrified to find out that I don’t! I agree with Eden below that twisting it into ringlets works well!
    I’ve come to love my hair after years of straightening/curling it with tongs. Some days it’s unmanageable but then I just tie it into a bun and get on with it!

  • Christa Elise Cannon

    I accepted my curls at an earlier age–about 14, when I saw “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had curls just like mine and I thought they were beautiful. It’s been a challenge to understand them–I also discovered the Handbook several years ago. Not only do I no-poo & condition only 2-3 times a week, but I also plop and then add clippies while I air-dry my hair.

    I LOVE my curls, even though they may not do exactly what I want at any given time. Or ever. 😉

    naturallycurly dot com is also a great resource.

    Still searching for a great stylist, though. Ugh.

  • Christa Elise Cannon

    I accepted my curls at an earlier age–about 14, when I saw “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had curls just like mine and I thought they were beautiful. It’s been a challenge to understand them–I also discovered the Handbook several years ago. Not only do I no-poo & condition only 2-3 times a week, but I also plop and then add clippies while I air-dry my hair.

    I LOVE my curls, even though they may not do exactly what I want at any given time. Or ever. 😉

    naturallycurly dot com is also a great resource.

    Still searching for a great stylist, though. Ugh.

  • Laura Van Put

    I never had a real problem with my curls, but I guess that is because they don’t frizz (except when there is humidity in the air) and because my family always complimented me because of them. Some friends are horrified though when I tell them I don’t brush my hair when It is dry. Just use your hands, good enough!. :) I love them! But recently, I tried cutting my hair short. I don’t dislike it because it looks good after an hour of management (hairdryer, styling, etc…) but it is just soooo time-consuming! And everybody says that my trading-mark is gone :/. My advice, embrace your curls, they are not that troublesome if you know how to handle them, beliiiiiieeeeve me!

  • Em Vandevier

    Thank you for posting this. I have barely just begun to understand and accept my curly hair. I too would pull a flat iron through it so often that I should probably be convicted of murder and I went through a pixie phase where I would stand in front of the mirror, producting, blow drying, and flat ironing for hours and it wouldn’t matter because at the end of the day it would either be so greasy that it was disgusting and I would just go and shampoo it all over again or it would frizz out and I would look like I had a horrible 90’s grandma style. This past year I, for the most part, would just yank it into a frizzy french braid. Beyond that I have been very kind to my hair in the past year or so, really resisting the urge to cut it off or flat iron it too much. Unfortunately when the curls would just not want to do their thing for a night out I would resort to my big barreled curling iron or my flat iron and every curlys worst nightmare would happen. Hoardes of “compliments.”
    “OOOH! I love your hair! It’s so sleek and sassy when it’s straight” Or…
    “Wow! The straight hair really is showing a different side to you that I’ve never seen before. You look really beautiful!” or…
    “Have my babies, you look so hot with your hair different.” or…
    “You should wear your hair straight more often, you look so good like this.” or…
    “Not that you don’t look good when your hair is curly but the straight hair looks really good. The curly thing is very 90’s”

    Look, I know that these compliments are supposed to be nice but, at least for me, they’re not that nice. Kinda backhanded and so to all of you who give these, stop giving these. It’s like great, the way I look naturally is unatrractive and so I’m going to have to spend/waste hours of my life attempting to “tame” my mane. Within the last 6 months or so, as some of my length has been coming back I’ve just been putting a bit of curling creme in after a shower and letting it go. Sometimes, if it’s below freezing out and I hit snooze too many times, I will blow dry with my diffuser on low with cool or med heat. (When I do this, I use a blow-out balm as well as a curling creme to protect my frizz-prone hair… never blow dry or use hot tools without a bit of a good blow out balm or heat protectant product… ever)

    I have reached a point where I seriously do not care what people think anymore and I avoid having to straighten my hair like the plague so that I don’t have to listen to anymore backhanded compliments that, to me, are worse than someone saying they don’t like my curly hair, straight up. I have reached a point where I feel my curly hair is a blessing, and not a curse. It’s part of why I am unique, and it’s big and beautiful and never boring. May all of the straight haired people gaze upon our natural curls with envy because their heavy, flat hair can never hold a curl without pounds of product.

  • Mara Belzer

    Oooo! lavender water?!! That sounds truly divine!

  • Nita-Bunny Kang

    Oh gosh, I used to straighten my hair almost daily during high school. But now I embraced my wavy/ minimally curly hair. I now use cotton rags to perfect my curls without adding heat..

  • Brooke Silva

    So glad to hear you’re embracing the curl! It took me a while to figure out what to do with my natural curls as well. Especially growing up in the 90s when curls were so not the business. But since I’ve learned how to care for it, I love my curly hair! And I’m really excited about all the new knowledge and products we have specifically for us curly girls. Marginalized no more! Congrats :)

  • Karen Zanetti

    Great article, but why accompany it with a stock photo that absolutely illustrates point 4 above? Curling iron, army of hair stylists, and photo shop.
    For those curlies out there, do not despair when your hair does not look like the photo. It never will. It is a real shame that this site chose that photo, I wonder what the author of the article thinks.
    It’s like having an article about accepting your body shape and accompanying it with a photo-shopped size 0 model’s photo. Sigh.

    • Jenny Wallen Koenig

      YES! I’m so glad I’m not the only one who thought that.

  • Vicky Teinaki

    Showing how one can rock the curl: Lorde.

  • Alycia Lourim

    I love this! It was just recently last year after my second summer in LA and having no AC that it didnt matter how many hours I sat there trying to make my hair straight, it was not going to straighten because it was too hot to have a hot iron close to my head let alone I kept sweating so my hair kept going back to curly so when fall came around I was like alright time to embrace my curls. So I have been doing some research too but feel incredibly lost haha. I am going to read this book you recommended and all these tips help so much! Especially because the last 4 days its been a hot mess and I’m like whyyyyyy D: LOL

  • Crystal Barnes

    Thank you!! I am on Day 9 with the Curly Girl Method! My curls have never looked so great and healthy!

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