There is a common and nearly universal narrative among naturally curly women, which tends to follow this trajectory:
People thought my curls were cute when I was little, then I became a teen and hated them; committed all sorts of sins against my hair, including flat-ironing; had a string of abominable hair cuts by curl-ignorant stylists; but then, the clouds opened, I grew up, and I embraced my natural hair and started taking care of it. And now my life is good.
I think I’m finally reaching the happy ending of this shared story.
I owe my hair, naturally, to my family; specifically, to my paternal grandmother and my mom.
I hope to have hair as awesome as my Gran someday. Her curls have always looked incredible, and I love the way she wears them (in her beautiful, natural light gray color, in tight ringlets):
And my gorgeous mother is most directly responsible for my hair:
I am thankful that she has always embraced her natural hair and thus encouraged me to embrace my own as a child. For many years, we shared the same products, but now we’re venturing out and sharing our curly-hair discoveries with each other. It’s really nice to have a curly ally who is so closely related to you and your hair journey.
And Dad also deserves credit for my curls (which he clearly got from his mother, aka Gran), as you can see from this absolutely glorious photo of him and our most beloved childhood dog, Emma:
I don’t have photographic proof at the ready, but my hair has been curly since I was tiny. I had strawberry-blond ringlets as a toddler, which gradually morphed into a mass of blond frizz, into its present color today (brown with red undertones).
As a teen, I tried to live with my curly hair:
But I always wanted it to be straight. The only time boys told me I was pretty was when I flat-ironed my hair within an inch of its natural life. As a young girl, I took this information to heart. Pretty = straight hair; ugly = curly hair. Many naturally curly women have received this message their whole lives. I have often felt like I had to work harder to be beautiful because of my hair. And it’s not an uncommon feeling among the naturally curly; it’s the message you receive from culture and from society at large.
By the time I got to college, however, I was tired of fighting it, and I was finally able to accept the fact that my hair just wanted be free.
My hair today has much looser curls than I had when I was younger (as you can see from this photo progression). The loosening of my curls began when I started birth control, so be forewarned that hormones can play strong tricks with your hair follicles. (Mom, for instance, says that her hair straightened out considerably during her four pregnancies, only to spring back up again postpartum.) I’m getting used to this straighter texture. Although I still miss the tighter ringlets of my youth, I’ll admit that these half-hearted curls and waves are somewhat easier to trick and tame.
My mother often makes the point that the two of us ought to live into our hippie roots, by virtue of our hair. There’s a cultural assumption that women with curly hair have personalities like their hair (wild, crazy, natural, unpredictable), which I find interesting (if often frustrating).
For this reason, curls are often seen as unprofessional, unkempt. In media portrayals, a tough modern woman never has curly hair. But feminists, backyard farmers, and commune dwellers have curly hair. I’d like to think that opinions on this could change, and I think they are, slowly. Hair styles several generations ago seemed to be intent on making your hair look as unnatural and plastic as possible. Then there was a wave of “big hair” in the 1980s, but I’m not sure anyone was flattered by that trend. Today, I’m encouraged by the rising tide of women who are embracing their natural hair, throwing away their flat-irons and hair dryers, and living into the hair the good Lord gave them.
The question that I often get from people that surprises me is: “Oh, is that your natural hair?” I always want to say, “Um, yes, of course it is. Would you pay money for this??” The answer is no, no way. And then people want to touch it. And the answer is always NO. Absolutely not. I’ve had complete strangers come up to me and touch my hair, which makes me want to do something obscene in return. (I don’t even let Guion touch my hair. It’s just not a thing that curly girls can allow. If you are one, you understand what I am talking about. Hands = frizz.)
- No shampoo! Sulfates are bad news for everyone but they’re especially damaging to curly-haired people. So, I don’t use shampoo anymore and just use sulfate-free conditioner. Conditioner can clean your hair, yes.
- I only clean my hair once every three days. Curly hair rarely, if ever, gets greasy. Curly hair is naturally extremely dry. And shampooing it just dries it out even more.
- Don’t touch it. As mentioned above, keep your hands off your curls. Don’t touch it when it’s drying; don’t let anyone else touch it; your curly head is a sacred, sacred space.
- Find a product that works for your type of curls and don’t use too many products. I have wispy curls now, so most gels are too tacky and heavy for my hair. I’m using mousses and creams now, but I may return to gels if my curls get tighter again.
- My newest resolve is to only go to curly-hair stylists. I’m so tired of fighting with hairdressers about how to cut my hair. Most stylists will not cut your hair dry, even though they should if you’re naturally curly. I found a Ouidad salon about 30 minutes away, so I am taking the trek there for my next hair cut.
Are you a naturally curly comrade? Share your story and tips!
Resources for the Naturally Curly
- The Curly Girl Handbook (essential reading for any curly-haired woman!)
- Naturally Curly website (tons of great information!)
- Ouidad (hair products, salons)
- Shea Moisture (hair products)