How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Curly Hair

I haven’t always loved my curly hair. In fact, in the spirit of honest communication, I’ll just tell you that in that past I’ve carried around a great deal of resentment and anger towards said curly hair.

I suppose it’s because for a long time I felt as though my hair had betrayed me. You see, when I was little, I had long, straight, blonde hair. I was happy with my long, straight, blonde hair. When we played Babysitters Club in school, I got to be Dawn, the girl from California with the long, straight, blonde hair.

Then things started to change. I hit adolescence, and my hair started to darken. And curl. I remained in denial about this fact for a long time. In my mind, I still was a still a blonde with straight hair. I dyed and highlighted my hair blonde, which was a pain the butt, when for years all I’d needed to be blonde was to go out into the sun.

But more deviously, my hair started to curl. It started to develop a weird, curly layer underneath the straightness. It didn’t even have the decency to curl all the way! Keeping with same hair routine resulted in a bizarre situation where my hair was straight on top and curly on the bottom.

(Note: This is not the best picture of me from this era. The BEST picture my seventh grade yearbook photo, during the brief period when I was attempting to part my hair on the side. This meant that it was straight on one side and curly on the other. Epic! Sadly, that picture appears to be lost to posterity).

I finally got so frustrated with my hair that I cut it all off.

This resulted in my eighth grade yearbook photo, which I DO still have a copy of. Suffice it to say, cutting off all my hair might have gotten rid of the curls, but it created other problems:


I spent most of my high school years attempting to straighten my hair and/or make it blonde. I tried chemical straighteners. I dyed my hair black, to cover up a particularly unfortunate blonde dye job. I even attempted to cut off my curls on my own, using a pair of nail scissors (note: this is not recommended).

In college, I eventually gave up, let my hair become its standard brownish color, and just tried to brush it out after washing it, creating a sort of vague, wavy-ness.

No, I did not dress like this all the time. But you get the idea.

A crisis arose my senior year of college, when I went through a phase of simply pulling my hair back into a messy bun all the time, even when it was wet (another thing about thick, curly hair: it takes approximately eight million hours to dry. I’m sorry, hair, but you’re a slowpoke. You know it’s true.)

But doing this created a bad situation: clearly my hair felt neglected by the sloppy-wet-bun decision and decided to make its needs known by creating an enormous knot. Simply enormous. (I really cannot overstate how enormous this knot was. It was basically a dreadlock. I know how that sounds. But it really was. It looked like a dreadlock. Like the biggest, messiest dreadlock you’ve ever seen).

Then I was cast in a play where I was supposed to play someone in the seventeenth century. The nice person who’d volunteered to do hair was horrified at my dreadlocked situation but had to be polite about it. We compromised by simply pulling it back, trying to hide the massive knot, emphasizing the curls on the side, and applying lots of hairspray.

Hair, you look adorable! You’d never guess the horrors lurking underneath

Unfortunately,you know what happens when someone pulls back already supremely knotted-up hair and applies lots of hairspray? Things get much, much worse.

After the show was over, I went to a hairdresser and confessed the situation. She felt the massive knot, looked afraid, but kept her chin up like a true professional. She couldn’t comb through the knot (seriously guys, think about this: there was no way to send any kind of brush or comb through my hair, even when it was wet: that’s how bad it was), so her solution was to cut through the middle of knot. No finesse, just chop through the center, hoping to save at least some to my hair, though more than half would have to be sacrificed. We looked at each other anxiously the whole time she was cutting through the gigantic knot, like a patient and doctor during a minor experimental surgery.

Luckily, the experimental was a success. She was able — painstakingly — to comb through the half-knot that remained, and she cut my hair into a chin-length bob.

Well, that was it for me. For many, many years after, I kept my hair shortish, afraid of the horrors the under-curls were going to produce. I was afraid of my hair. It needed to be contained.

This woman is clearly terrified by her own hair.

I honestly do believe that there’s something about my hair that’s particurlarly difficult to straighten, or maybe this is just a justification for my lack of success straightening it. The picture below is the straightest it has ever been (after I got a hairdresser to blow-dry it out).  Mesermized, I sat in my hotel room (I was going to a wedding) and took picture after picture of myself (I was also going through one of my periodic denial-of-my-wish-to-be-blonde phases and  had just dyed it a dark, dark red).

Yep, I sat in my hotel room and took "artsy" photos of my hair.

Then, something happened that changed my life. I went to a hair dresser, who said, “The problem with you is that you keep acting like your hair is straight. But it’s not. It’s curly.” She gave me a copy of Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey and I read it while she cut my hair.

It was like someone finally understood me. The way my hair would explode to twice its natural size when I shampooed it. The difficulties of attempting to straighten it, either with chemicals or a blowdryer. The shame and the frustration.

But this was what I got out of the book that really changed everything: Shampoo. It is evil.

You know all those beautiful bubbles that appear when you shampoo your hair? Those are caused by a chemical called Lauryl Sulfate (which, according to Wikipedia, can act as a repellent for sharks). It’s also the same ingredient that makes dishwashing detergent lather up.

That’s the evil thing that causes your curly hair to explode after you wash it. Curly hair can’t handle lauryl sulfate. Neither can sharks.

The solution is: don’t shampoo your hair.

“Ew!” I can hear everyone say in unison. “BUT THEN YOUR HAIR WILL BE DIRTY!”

Nope. It turns out you really don’t need to put dishwashing detergent in your hair.

Just as I spent most of middle school and high school feeling miserable that my hair wasn’t stick-straight, I also got indoctrinated into the notion that you have to wash your hair every day, and that you have to shampoo it. If you didn’t do these things, you were gross and disgusting.

Repeat after me: if you have thick, curly hair, you do not have to wash it every day. You do not have to shampoo it.

So now, I just condition my hair. Once in a while, I use a shampoo that doesn’t use lauryl sulfate. My favorite so far is Aveda’s Moisturing Shampoo. It’s perfect to prevent dryness out and doesn’t cause your hair to explode. And? If you don’t shampoo your hair every day, your shampoo lasts forever. So don’t let anyone mock you for buying expensive, organic shampoo. If they want to wash their hair every day with shark-repellent dishwashing detergent, then let them.

Just to demonstrate, I took some pictures of what happens to my hair after I wash it with regular shampoo:

If this doesn't repel a shark, I don't know what will

Screw shampoo. Seriously.

And now I’m not afraid to say that I love my curly hair. I realize it wasn’t my hair’s fault that I was so frustrated with it for all these years. I put crazy chemicals in it, and I tried to deny its true nature. My hair was curly, and I just didn’t get it.

Now, by no longer shampooing and using a little curl refiner when my hair is wet (I just use Garnier Fructis conditioner and curl refiner; unlike shampoo, I’ve seen no benefit in using fancier products), me and my curls get along like gangbusters.

I can comfortably grow my hair long, and it doesn’t overwhelm me, develop a weird hybrid texture, or knot up into terrible dreadlocks. I realize now that my hair was just acting out. So now I have no need cut it off entirely and prove to the world that my face really can’t handle super-short hair.

I still dye my hair blonde and forget to touch up my roots, though:

As I put in that picture of me in eighth grade I feel comfortable concluding with a picture in which my hair is doing its thing well. You can totally tell those blonde streaks ain’t exactly natural, though (Blonde, I can’t quit you):


ps. I will return with more Adventures in Thrifting, Weird Thrift Store Finds next week. By the way, I just found out about this. DOES ANYONE HAVE THRIFT STORE PAINTINGS WITH MONSTERS PAINTED IN THEM?

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