“Oh my God. Is that your natural curl?”
Yes. Yes it is.
When I was a kid, I didn’t give my hair much thought. It was tightly ringletted as a baby/toddler (boddler?) but grew long and blonde and wavy through my elementary years. It was gorgeous, but I could have given a crap. The only time I had any thoughts about my hair whatsoever were when I asked my mom if I could dye it black like Snow White (“No!”). Then, as I neared my twelfth birthday, puberty caused the curls to make their stubborn return.
By the time I hit Junior High, my hair was Public Enemy Numero Uno. I had the awful luck (for a curly-haired person) to enter Junior High, the most sensitive, fraught time of a person’s entire LIFE in the early-mid-90s, just at the pinnacle of Seattle Grunge. Baggy Jeans. Sweatshirts. Flannel. Flat hair. FLAT HAIR. FLAT. HAIR.
Here is what I wanted:
And here is an approximation of what I had.
And oh Lord, I tried anything and everything that a terrified, clueless 12 year old could try to straighten and flatten my hair. I read in Seventeen Magazine that you could blow dry your hair straight, but that seemed ridiculous and I could never manage it (I figured it out some years later). I tried brushing it from the second I stepped out of the shower until it was dry. I tried tying it in a tight bun overnight, hoping to take some of the volume out. I tried every product I could get my hands on (useless, since the only products in the house were my Mom’s and she, as a straight-haired person, had “volumizing” everything). I cried and prayed to God to give me beautiful straight hair like the popular girls had (you know, on the days when I wasn’t busy bothering God with my prayers for big boobs).
Eventually, I gave up. Wrapped my hair in buns and tight ponytails for the next several years.
As I moved out of the nightmare-that-was-Junior-High and into high school, I started to figure it out. I learned how to use an iron to straighten my hair. I learned that I could also put GEL into my curly hair and actually wear it around places and not have people laugh at me. The next many years were a tangle (GET IT!) of straight-and-curly days–curly hair on the days I felt lazy, straight hair when I wanted to look pretty. Because, of course, curly hair was never attractive to me. It was only not offensive.
Then I moved to New York.
For my first year I embraced my curly hair. I was so busy and tired and poor that there wasn’t much else I could do. And for a while it worked out.
But eventually all the reality TV I watched and shitty magazines I read started to seep their way into my impressionable brain. Jessica Simpson was everywhere. I wanted–I needed–to be her. And so, I went from this:
I know. Barf.
And I won’t even get started on my clothes. Trashy low-cut jeans with huge white belts and pink everything and platform shoes and OHMYGODTHEMEMORIES!!!!!
They called me “Hot Mess McGregor.”
Or if they didn’t, they should have.
Some years went by, some shit went down. I ditched the Big Apple for the West Coast.
I saw The Devil Wears Prada in 2006 and adopted Anne Hathaway’s hair for the next 5 years.
I painstakingly straightened it. Every day. For YEARS. It was such a huge pain. Such a huge huge huge huge pain. No spontaneous showers or swimming. Getting caught in the rain (with or without pina coladas) was enough to bring me to tears. A flat iron came with me EVERYWHERE I WENT. Mirror checking and “in case of emergency” hair ties and lots of fucking time.
And then I found a book.
To bring back my curls.
It took work, and time, and money to get my curls back into fighting shape. But once I started, I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t just about my curly hair. It was about a piece of me that had been lost. The piece that was wild and untamed and eye-catching and sometimes really difficult. It sounds silly. Maybe it is silly. But I started to feel more myself once I embraced my curly hair. I have not touched a flat iron in almost two years.
This is the part of the post where I should start moralizing about embracing who you are and loving yourself and not being artificial. But that would make me a huge hypocrite. Because although I now allow my hair to keep its natural texture, I still color it (my natural color is hideous). And I’m not exactly Nancy Natural in the rest of my life–I wax and shave and conceal and brighten. I wear makeup and high heels and push-up bras (although no shapewear because FUCK SHAPEWEAR). So I say Do what you want to do to look the way you want to look.
However. If you have a secret part of yourself that you’ve always felt a little bit bad about concealing, maybe its time to let it show. I always felt a little sorry that I was hiding my curls. It was like that week in high school when I wore colored contacts–I got tons of compliments on my beautiful green eyes and I felt somehow guilty about hiding my brown eyes. If it feels like you might want to explore not ironing your hair or not wearing makeup or not wearing high heels, I think you should give it a go. If straightening your hair and wearing makeup and wearing high heels makes you feel awesome, keep doing it. Choices are fun!
If you or someone who know is a closet curly thinking about giving the old ringlets a try, here are some resources to check out for hints and help:
- The awesome curly-haired community at naturallycurly.com. This is the first place I go when I have a maintenance question or want opinions on a particular product. Lots of DIY haircare tips and recipes, too. Their articles are decent, but the best part of the site is CurlTalk, the message board forum. Check it out.
- Lorraine Massey’s Curly Girl Handbook. Duh.
- CurlMart is a great place to order products, but I’ve also had great success with Target and Sally Beauty.
Personally, I love the Shea Moisture line which is available at my friendly neighborhood Target. But products are a tricky thing for curly hair and there’s no denying the trail-and-error involved in finding your right routine. But if you need a place to start, the Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie was my first dream product find. And I still use it today.
So take a moment today to love your hair. Whether you wear it in its natural texture or not, whether you keep it its natural color or not. Love your hair if it’s down to your waist Rapunzel-style. Love your hair if you have a close-cropped pixie. Love your beautiful head if you shave or buzz your hair of if you lost it due to illness or treatment. Love what you were given, and love how you choose to change it.