BEAUTY The Curl Conundrum Myrna Valadez

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I was born with very curly hair, very curly hair. As a kid it was cute. My mom had a blast combing my hair into pigtails and twirling my hair so that I ended up with two giant curls on each side of my head (think a Mexican version of Cindy Brady). I always hated my curls. I thought it was unfair that my mom had to put lemon (yes, lemon) in my hair to control the frizz and that I always had to wear my hair up.

It wasn’t until I started high school that I began to take a good look at my hair. The feeling was stronger than ever, I hated my hair. At the time, “The Rachel” was really in and I was walking around looking like Dee Snider caught in a windstorm. So I did what any impulsive fourteen-year-old would do, I decided cut it all off. I wanted to go from having my hair a few inches above my waist to chin length hair. Convinced it would be easier to manage, I sucked it up and cut it all off, went home and cried in the privacy of my own room. I assured myself this was the biggest mistake I had ever made in my life (little did I know that I would make much larger and idiotic mistakes later on) and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I went from looking like Dee Snider to Kramer from Seinfeld.

After much experimenting, I began to blow dry my hair (this was before the flat iron revolution) and I managed to style my hair into a puffy bob, much like a 1980’s news anchor. My new hair had been out of style for ten years before it ever made it to my head. I resigned myself to having mediocre hair for the rest of my life. When I got a flat iron years later, things looked up but with all of the hair I have and intensity of my curls, it was a lot of work. I ended up wearing my hair up once again, and that’s just the way it was going to be forever.

About a year ago, I stepped on my very reliable and fancy flat iron and broke it in two. I was broke at the time so I couldn’t just go out and get another one and the cheaper flat irons sold in drug stores just made my hair look like straw.  After my initial panic, I realized it wasn’t a problem…until I wanted to go out. I don’t like wearing my hair up when going out because I feel like I didn’t make an effort to look nice so I wracked my brain for days thinking of what I could possibly do with my hair when I needed to go out for an evening. I finally just told myself: Myrna, stop being a jackass. Stop working against your curls and give them a chance. What’s the worse that could happen?

 So began the endless immersion into product testing. I bought everything I could think of for curly hair: gels, leave-in conditioners, pomades, mousse, curl activators and serums. It took about four months to find a combination of products that worked with my hair and to learn how to comb my hair. At the age of 28,  I was learning to comb my own hair all over again.

One fateful afternoon, I was walking through the mall with my sister. We both had our hair down, mine in full curl form and hers with a slight wave. We walked by a booth and a salesgirl called over to us. I looked at the display, and thought to myself, I don’t want to buy a flat iron so I was ready to walk away. The salesgirl approached me and asked, “How often do you flat iron your hair?” I replied simply, “ I don’t.” In my mind, the scenario I expected was one where she would understand from my reply that I’m not interested in a flat iron. Instead, there was a look of horror that washed over her face. She exclaimed, “WHY?!” and I was instantly offended and a little hurt.

Was I not supposed to like my hair? Did it not look good enough? Is there something wrong with curls? I was also surprised at my own reaction. I put on an angry face and proclaimed in an annoyed tone, “BECAUSE I LIKE MY CURLS!” At that very moment, I realized I meant it and it was such a relief. Years of torturing myself (and you know it is torture to have to flat iron your own hair, I have the scars to prove it) and my hair were about to end and it felt great. From that moment on, I made it a point to wear my curls as often as possible until I was comfortable enough to make it “my look.”

I know it seems a little shallow to talk about hair, but when hair is a constant reminder of how different I am, I naturally became a little self-conscious. It’s been over a year since I last flat ironed my hair and started to wear it in its natural state. I’ve received a lot of compliments (I’ve been told my hair looks healthier and that I look younger) and a lot of criticism. One of my closest friends said, “I just don’t like curly hair.” Although comments like these still sting a little, I’ve learned that the standards of beauty are different for everyone and there is no criteria I need to meet to feel beautiful. I can’t control how people react to my hair so there is no point in stressing myself out over it. What I can control is how I view myself. It took almost 30 years to learn to appreciate and to love my hair and I’m especially glad that I have finally gained the confidence to wear my curls even if the majority of people tend to find straight hair far more appealing.

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  3. giiirl, thank you for this post. from one curl owner to another. also, I’ve discovered it’s all about the haircut. make sure you track down a stylist who can appreciate curly hair and is trained in how to cut it instead of one that will ignorantly try to sell you on Brazilian blowouts- it’s made the world of a difference to me!!

  4. your hair is beautiful!
    i wish i had curly hair. or straight hair! i have a ton of hair, but its fine. it gets really curly naturally, but not pretty curls. because its fine, it just gets all tangled. if i want nice curls i have to curl it. if i want straight hair i have to iron it. so i too tend to just throw it up. i tried cutting it all off and i looked just like my baby brother. now it is growing up and its not quite long enough to put up and it just looks ridiculous. like a curly mullet. oh, hair.

  5. I just recently stopped fighting my curls, and I’m much happier not going through the long process of straightening or just tying it back in a bun. Plus I have gotten a lot of compliments from the guys at work who say my hair looks so much better curly :)

  6. From one curly girl to another. Way to go! I stopped brushing my curls out/making my hair really frizzy during the summer between 8th grade and freshman year and have never gone back. I don’t know how many times I get comments like “You should straighten your hair” or “Have otu ever tried not having curly hair?” First off, how do you just decide NOT to have curly hair. Secrondly, my curly hair is a part of who I am!
    Also, I’ve recently discovered some of the techniques of Loraine Ramsey in her book, Curly Girl, and love them. That girl makes a lot of sense. If any curly girls out there haven’t, you totally should.
    And finally, your hair is gorgeous. Way to go!

    • I need a copy of this Curly Girl book! Quite a few people have recommended it and I’m convinced I must have it! Thank you for reading. CURL POWER!

  7. OMG Myrna,
    I think you and I could be best friends! I’ve been a curly headed girl ever since…well forever. I know your pain of hating your curls but ever since i found Herbal Essences Mousse I LOVE to rock my luscious curly locks. As soon as I straighten my hair I turn into a huge frizz ball, so instead of wasting my time I grab my mousse and go! Don’t let anyone bring you down, I’ve been nagged at the mall..everyone and their mother wants to straighten my hair and I’m just like “no, please leave me alone” haha. It gets pretty old. Anyways! It’s good to hear stories and know that I am not alone in my journey as a curly headed gorgeous woman.
    :)
    Claudia

    • Yes! Let’s be curl-sisters! I currently use the Herbal Essence gel and have never tried the mousse. That’s going on my shopping list, thanks for reading and for the tip!

  8. Your curls are beautiful! Your friend who said “I just don’t like curly hair” is just weird! That’s like saying “I don’t like sandwiches”. Crazy.

  9. Your curls are gorgeous! I have wavy hair, and not the cute beachy, Zooey waves. I have tried so many products to tame the frizz and I am very happy when I use my Aveda products. Even using their Curl Enhancer I can get my frizz tamed. It’s all in the quality of the product. Cheap stuff will never equal the luxury brands. My Chi is also my best friend. I have to flat iron my hair right after I blow it dry to make sure my ends don’t wave out into a crazy mess.

  10. I totally know how you feel. I have naturally curly hair too and have my love/hate days! And wow that sales lady should get a look of horror for NOT having curls.

  11. This is great, I couldn’t have described my own story any better. I have had the exact same relationship with my hair and it is such a huge part of my life that I wrote my graduation speech about it. I use to think that my hair was my worst quality and I also straightened it constantly (definitely torture) but eventually I realized that I love it because of how stubborn and unique it is and since then I have gotten many complements and I have become increasingly confident.
    I’m glad to see that someone has had the same experience
    thank you

  12. ugh! I know what that’s like…my hair is also very curly! I’ve been through stages where I wear it only curly just because I’m too lazy to pick up a blow dryer, but right now my hair is so damaged from when I had my hair plat. blonde, I can’t even think about leaving my hair to dry naturally. I love curls (especially one summer when they dried naturally into very loose curls and I haven’t been able to achieve that ever again :()but I don’t think they are for everyone, I’m pretty sure I look better with straight hair than with curly hair. I would love to loosen up my curls into waves maybe, if anyone has a solution out there, please let me know!

    • I’m sure your hair looks great curly, but if you don’t like it then you’ll look best in whatever gives you confidence. I’ve been told that a Brazilian Blow Out won’t straighten my hair because my curls are too tight but I’ll get a loose wave. If you’re hair is anything like mine, that might be an option, the only downfall is that it’s pretty pricey.

  13. My sister and I both have crazy blonde curls (I did straighten it for a special occasion in my picture, but I do this rarely now) I have tried sooo many products to tame, straighten and now FINALLY enhance my curls. One thing I have trouble with is frizz. And Honest to God these are the best things I’ve found for moisture that doesn’t weigh down my curls:

    1. a honey/water mix i found in a Paula Dean magazine- 2 tablespoons honey in 4 cups cold water mix- use it as a leave-in rinse after normal shampooing and conditioning. SO SHINY!

    2. and if this isn’t strong enough i use beeswax on my damp hair after a shower. It’s marketed for dread and braid treatment, but it works on this white girl’s wet hair too. What I found was (i think) $5 at Sally’s and i’ve been using it for a year.

    Go rock those curls, Girls!!!

  14. I think your hair is gorgeous. I have hair that is usually straight, but has some wave to it. Unfortunately, because it’s baby fine, it straightens under its own weight, except for awkward wings, cowlicks and flips. I spent a good portion of my life trying everything I could think of to make it bigger and if not curlier, at least more consistently straight. At a certain point, though, I decided to just let my hair do what it wanted. I found a good stylist with similar hair and rather than tell her what kind of cut I want, I tell her specific, seasonal issues I have and we develop a plan of attack. I recently got my hair cut short to let the humidity make my cowlicks look heartbreakingly cute instead of just heartbreaking. I’ve learned that life is so much easier when you make friends with your hair instead of fighting with it. I have friends who may never learn that lesson.

    • Yes! It’s very important to have a good hair dresser! The hair dresser I have now is a good friend of mine and he took the time to learn my type of hair, I’m so happy that I never have to hunt down someone who can cut curly hair ever again!

  15. *cries* YOU UNDERSTAND ME!

    Seriously I’m sitting here with currently flat ironed hair that took me an HOUR. My hair is ferociously short and it took me a freaking HOUR. Every time I do it I tell myself i’m sick of it and i’m gonna finally embrace the curls but unfortunately….when my hair is curly I just do not have the confidence.

    Ahh this article was so good for me to read. Thank you so much!

    • I DEFINITELY UNDERSTAND! I’ve cut my hair short numerous times and flat ironing it is the only way it’ll look decent. I didn’t feel confident enough to wear my hair down and curly until it was about shoulder length because you know the curls make our hair shrink! Right now, I have it about mid length and it shrinks up to shoulder length and I don’t ever want to have it shorter than that! Give your hair a chance, it’s going to suck while it’s growing out but once you’re there you’ll find a whole new appreciation for your hair, I PROMISE!!!

  16. I have wavy hair, and love that I can straighten it if I want, but go mad with irons if I want it straight. If I had a penny for everytime a hairdresser said how thick my hair was though….
    I loved Chris Rock’s doco Black Hair http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1213585/. It’s a surprisingly well considered look into black hair and the industry around it (hello relaxers).

  17. I have longish hair that is super straight no matter what I do with it :( I could neglect to comb it after washing and it’d still go straight and smooth. To make my hair curly, it takes a dedicated hour with the curling iron and about a half-bottle of super-strength hairspray. Moral of the story = we all want what it’s really difficult for us to have!

    • You still have one advantage, you can wash your hair and walk out the door with no problem. Sadly, my hair requires I put product in it otherwise I look homeless. Love your hair for making mornings easier!

  18. Yes!!! I used to have really frizzy and wavy hair when I was in school, so even though I straightened it sometimes that’s the most I did to take care of it, or figure out how to “work with the curl”. Now I notice that even though straightening my hair makes it easier to manage and more predictable, I don’t feel so much like myself with it, and it just feels boring. I like feeling my curls tangle and untangle and be all bouncy and crazy, so it annoys me when my friends say things like “you look better with your hair straight”, or when even my MOM says that. She’s always giving me suggestions on how to “fix” my problem. I have no problem, and by telling me that I somehow look uglier with my hair a certain way, I’m not exactly going to feel good about myself.

    • My mom is my biggest critic too, she’ll tell me I look like a crazy woman with my hair loose. I’d like to think she’s jealous of my hair :)

  19. Thank you for this! I, too, have struggled since jr. high with my thick, curly locks. It’s tough enough going through adolescence without the added burden of nonconforming hair! But like you, I have grown to love my curls-especially when people ask me admiringly if my curls are natural, and I can proudly answer yes! :)

  20. You hair is phenomenal! People with curls always look so sassy and good. I have straight hair that won’t even curl when I put it in curlers for a few hours. I wish my hair could be like yours!

    • Thank you so much! The most important thing I’ve learned about difficult hair is that having a good hair dresser is VITAL. I’m sure you’re hair will look great soon as someone gives you the right cut.