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:

1. Stop using a towel to dry your hair.

No matter how soft and fluffy that towel feels on your body, it is 20 grit sand paper on your hair. You know those awkward t-shirts sitting at the bottom of your drawer that you know you will not wear, but can’t bring yourself to throw away? Use them to dry your delicate locks. The soft cotton will not break and irritate your hair the way the terry cloth will. This isn’t just for curly girls, everyone should use this.

2. You have to treat your hair like fine delicate crystal.

Those stubborn little curls only appear to be indestructible, the more you spoil them, the better behaved they will be. One way to spoil them is to stop brushing your hair. Only comb your hair when it is soaking wet and filled with conditioner. This along with note 1, greatly reduces frizz.

3. Have a go to hair style for those days when your curls just aren’t working out.

This was recommended by a hair stylist and helped keep me going those mornings I had five minutes to get out the door and I looked like I had electrocuted myself. I think it’s scientifically proven that you are more likely to have a better day if you are happy with how your hair looks.

4. Accept that 98% of all the pretty hair you see in magazines, tv, movies and online, was expertly styled with a small army of skilled hands and photoshopped.

This does not mean that you can not have gorgeous hair, but you have to be realistic with what you are working with. If you see pretty hair in real life, do not hesitate to ask the person under that hair if they have any tips for you. Curly girls especially love sharing and swapping info since we all know the struggles that are out there. A great question to ask, “Where do you get your hair cut?”

5. Find an awesome hair stylist.

Be sure to ask for someone with experience cutting curly hair. How your hair is cut plays a huge part in how your curls will look.

6. Use lavender water instead of shampoo to clean your hair and scalp.

The products in shampoos are filled with damaging chemicals that turn your curls into brittle frizzy imitations of curls.

7. Air dry when ever possible.

There are ways to blow dry your curls, ways I am still trying to figure out, but my hair always looks its best when it’s air-dried. Especially if I plan on straightening my hair.

8. I will repeat: towels, brushes, and shampoo are a curl’s mortal enemy.

Are you still with me? I know this is incredibly long. I just don’t believe there is nearly enough encouragement out there for curly girls. There is plenty of time dedicated to showing us how to fight our curls and not enough encouragement in showing them off. Sure I’ll straighten them from time to time, shake things up, try something new. But it feels really good knowing that the days of battling my curls are long gone. I never have felt more confident or more powerful than when I walk out of the house with my mane of curls bouncing around my head.

Don’t hesitate to let me know about your own curly journey or any questions you have. And as always, thanks for reading.

Ren writes about making art and her attempts to navigate life on her blog Behind the Funny Curtain. A former city girl, she now lives on the coast of Maine with her husband surrounded by acres of woods, chickens, sheep, and her two dogs Roxy and Bacon. You can follow her boring adventures of domesticity on Instagram @funnyren.

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