Last week there was an article in the New York Times about curly hair. I am always drawn to articles about curly hair, because, well, I have curly hair and if you have curly hair, then you know what I mean. Curly hair is not technically considered an affliction. Afflictions are really bad. They are not life-and-death situations but they can complicate your daily existence. So, curly hair girls will mostly agree that if afflictions are things that complicate your daily existence, then having curly hair is an affliction.
Before you go all bonkers on me in the comments and start writing things about real afflictions and things like wars overseas and how can I write about curly hair being a problem when people are dying and I’m so insensitive, please realize that I know that having curly hair is not that big of a deal and I understand its position on the hard-knocks totem pole. But you probably have straight hair.
The article talked about trend-setting curly girls in enviable positions embracing their curls, spurning blowouts, going au naturel. The New York Times said curly hair is “modern” and “now cool.” Oh, thank you New York Times. It’s nice to know that I am now modern and cool. Or at least that my hair is. Thank goodness my days of being outdated and not cool are finally over.
Most curly girls are aware that there are very few curly role models out there. Most of the time you see an actress or a model with curly hair, her hair was blown straight and then curled. I know this because I asked my hairdresser. Do you know how long that takes? The other problem with curly hair in the media is that it’s usually a “before” look—before the main character becomes pretty, confident, and self-actualized. Think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman or Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries.
I spent my teens with huge curly hair. But that was the 80s and that was how it was. I spent my 20s and 30s with my hair in ponytails and buns. I had no clue how to reign in my crown of chaos. I would blow out my hair once in a while and then try to make it last for days. I tried to ignore that one spot in the back of the head that you physically can’t straighten yourself. Curly girls know that spot; they’re probably more familiar with it than their G-spots, and we curly girls can spot it on another curly girl from far range (especially when you’re sitting in a back row at a wedding). Toward my late 30s/early 40s, after being inspired by my friend Allison who was cultivating and embracing her curls, I finally learned how to do my curly hair so that it turned out pretty and not frizzy.
For all you curvy haired ladies, here’s my regimen. I share in the hope that it can help one curly girl out there. Be prepared: It’s a whole fricking production. (Straighties, you can skip to the next paragraph.) I only wash my hair a couple times a week. I use a curly girl shampoo and use my fingers to comb out the knots while the conditioner is in. I rake out handfuls of hair, but I’ve been told that’s normal. It doesn’t seem normal. When I get out of the shower I towel dry my body but I do not let the towel near my hair. I use a lightweight terrycloth towel or paper towels to squeeze a bit of water out, taking care to leave it essentially dripping wet. That is the key to good curls: applying product to soaking wet hair. I use one squirt of curl cream (too little and my hair frizzes, too much and it looks a bit oily, oy) and rake it through my hair doing a kind of up-scrunch as I go. Then I wait one and a half to two hours for it to dry. Oh, and I try not to touch my hair until it’s dry. That’s another rule. The dripping wet part is tough in the winter as I often freeze. And tough when I have somewhere to go and a short getting-ready time. My hair turns out different each and every time. Sometimes it turns out awful. If the curls turn out well, they last a few days and I can exercise and put them up in a ponytail. My hair is quite resilient. Most of the time it stays looking pretty good. The rest of the time it’s a frizzy, knotty, crown of hell. That’s where the bun becomes my look.
Here’s what’s stupid. I feel like a traitor when I get a blowout. So I feel like a traitor quite often. I’ve had my hair blown out for most of the special occasions in my life. Except when my babies were born. I was not getting hair and makeup when my babies were born, although I’m told that’s now a thing. When my hair is smooth and glossy with that trademark blowout bounce, I feel like I’m trying to be someone I’m not (as if the padded bras and highlights weren’t bad enough). But, I’m just gonna say it: I feel prettier when my hair’s blown out. More professional, more sophisticated. I feel I’m taken more seriously. And that is something that a lot of my curly friends also say. When my hair’s curly, I feel sassier and more playful but less serious and less polished.
So, thank you New York Times for the backhanded compliment. And for bringing curls to the forefront of style. We curly girls appreciate your validation. Thank you straight-haired girls for all the times you said you’d kill for my hair, although I give you one day with this head and then I bet you’ll reconsider. Thank you blow-dry bars for propagating like bunnies. Thank you curls for building my character (because, no, the acne couldn’t do that all by itself). I will continue trying to embrace my mane of madness. But don’t give me a hard time the next time you see me with a blowout.
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Amen, sister! I came to embrace my natural curls several years ago, when after a heat wave, I couldn’t stand to use a blow dryer. I too, follow a similar regimen and often wondered about the mass clumps of hair that come out in the shower every day. My hairdresser assured me this was normal – it just seems more than what should be normal because it happens once a day vs. straight haired girls who tend to run fingers/brushes through their hair throughout the day!
And I finally learned that more expensive does not equal better when it comes to curl cream. I was so happy to find the cheap stuff from the drug store works best and stock up with it goes on sale (3 bottles for $10! And I get a $2 coupon for my next trip!)
I have also learned that it really is all about the cut. A great cut on a curly haired girl makes all the difference.
What type of curl cream do you use? I too, have “lovely” curls that require a lot of cream to tame…
Hi Leslie, I currently use DevaCurl Styling Cream. I like it. Open to suggestions for new products though! What do you use?
Thank you!!! Oh my gosh, people so don’t understand curly hair. My hair still get frizzy when I leave it wet. I agree a good cut is key. Finding a hairdresser that understands curls has been a tricky thing for me. I’m always excited when I find someone who “gets it” when it comes to curls!!!
I normally never comment on any article I read but this one couldn’t be more hilariously true. U had me laughing out loud ( I refuse to use the shorthand version of that saying). I’m in my early 40’s and still haven’t come to terms with the fact that I can’t look like all those “straighties” out there. The “I would kill for your hair” ” “You’re so cute/adorable” & “You know who u look like?….. Sarah Jessica Parker” are all getting so old to me. I actually work backwards when trying to figure my social calendar out. As an example, if I have an event and I want to feel pretty then this is the conversation that takes place in my head as I scroll through my calendar app…..”Ok, so if I get a blowdry on Thursday then it will look its best on Friday (side bar here, only curly girls will understand this but a fresh blow dry sometimes needs a day for the flyaways to calm themselves down) and I guess I will need to cancel my workout or go to Pilates instead so I don’t sweat and then maybe I can make it last until at least Tuesday. I have been known to go an entire week and actually get compliments on day 7 as if I just came from the salon. I have tried all the pricey products over the years and still end up back with the CVS products I once tracked down a Merci Gelle company as they were going out of business and tried buying up cartons of the mousse before they were no longer in existence. (I was a mess trying to find a new product I would love). I now have a regimen that isn’t as lengthy as when I was younger but the truth is I really don’t love my curly hair as much as others seem to. I’m at my best with straight hair. I know it’s more of how we feel from within but I think whoever said that didn’t have curly hair. Anyways, try Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray. I have to say I didn’t think I’d like it but it ain’t bad. Ok, I’m off to text my hair stylist to beg her to squeeze me in tomorrow for a blowdry. Curly girls know there’s no such thing as “squeezing us in” as the process is a solid hour on a quick day, but we say that in hopes that the stylist won’t think of that when saying yes!! Fingers crossed.
My dear anonymous, I can totally relate! Love the whole exercise affecting the hair thing. And having a blowout last and last. I think my record is a full week, too. Thanks for the B&B rec – I’ll try it. And I hope you were able to get your blowout!! Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the article!!
Allison forwarded this to me and I laughed because I just saw her the other night with “different’ hair and she told me that it was a story for another night. I wish I had my progression of ugly hair pictures throughout my painful adolescents. I have to be honest here though (and curly girls don’t hate me), I don’t curse or lament my curly hair and I NEVER go for the blow out. I am a professional and have been in many corporate situations and have had my “hair of the day” join me. Whether it defines me or I define it on these days is up to me and the way I present myself (coooorny). My hair might say that I don’t take my self as seriously as I could (or should) but ain’t that the truth. Who needs modern and cool-hey how about sexy? Curls can rock that!
Stephanie, I can only imagine what Allison’s “different” hair looked like! ha! You do rock that gorgeous hair of yours. Thanks for the comment!!
Great story, Susie! And after reading your “How To” it read exactly like mine which is how I knew you were a fellow DevaCurl – there’s no better (or healthy/safe) product line out there!
Thanks! And, yep, I’m a Deva Girl!
Great article Susie. Wow, I had no idea the woes of this affliction. Being neither a straightie or a curly girl I must admit I take the ease in which I can “do my hair” for granted. But believe me I’ve got plenty of other things that have my focus. xoxoxo
Thank you. And, yes, it is a luxury to “get” to contemplate hair. So much to be thankful for.
I missed this one earlier….just hysterical!!!! I’m in the no man’s land of wavy hair. Not curly enough to look great blown out and not straight enough to just air dry and go. But, I hear what you’re saying. On the affliction scale it’s probably one to contend with.
Thanks for always making me smile!!!
Thank you Elizabeth!!
Yes..yes…yes!!! All true & we curly girls appreciate the mutual understanding. I especially like the comments that straighties envy us (what a crock), and that after washing (also a few times a week) it always turns out differently (why?). So happy when it turns out bouncy and controlled, which is not all that often. The only time I really enjoyed my curls was back in the 70s when natural curls were really in style (not modern like now..what?). At college straighties would ask me at least 10 times a day where did I get my perm done, and I could proudly say…it isn’t a perm, its natural. And I knew when gazing into their envious eyes that they really did wish they had my hair. So a couple years out of my 57 so far where I was on top of the hair fashion world. Now, I have 3 looks – 1)my hippie chick freak on when I let it all hang out in full curl, 2) the ponytail, & 3) the twist & up. And I definitely do enjoy the flat iron my hairdresser pulls off on the occasion; I certainly can’t do all that myself, my arms just give out. Thanks!
Thanks Katie. I agree with you – it’s so nice to have options!
Great article and very close to my situation.
“My hair turns out different each and every time. Sometimes it turns out awful.”
This is very true. Same case here but most of the time awful 🙁
I am in my mid 40s and i haven’t found a hairdresser who understands my curl.
The best solution for me is to keep my hair really short, very short like man 🙂
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Mei. Is there a “curly hair” salon near you? Otherwise, “really short” looks great too. Shows off the face and it’s empowering b/c there’s nothing to hide behind. I cut my hair “man short” about 15 years ago and I loved it. Until it started growing back. Then it got very wide. Growing it out was…. interesting.
trust me – you do not have curly hair….
Hi Anonymous. Yep, lots and lots of degrees of curly – each with its own challenges. But I have to say that on a scale of curly hair difficulty, mine’s pretty manageable. Frustrating at times, but definitely manageable.
It is Shok. We met a few weeks ago at the Author’s Night (The Wine Cellar). Dark curly hair. Thank you for giving me a laugh. I do look so deeply and extensively online and offline for ways to manage my thick curly hair. I do DevaCurl system most of the time but like you said in the winter leaving it to air dry without even a towel touching it is a challenge. One more thing, just as much as straight hair women make me feel special about my hair, my curly hair friends, especially the hard core DevaCurl system followers, make me feel like a total traitor with even ONE blow dry. Even worse, those nights I spend 1-2 hours pin-curling, flattening, or God knows what to my hair, sleep over it (with some stuff poking my head during sleep time), then waking up to failed attempts of making my hair look “normal”. So failed that even my husband notices and burst with a snorting laugh.
Hilarious Shok – all the trials and tribulations!! Screw the haters. Do what makes you feel good. Change is fun and it doesn’t mean your forsaking your curls by going straight once in a while. Thanks so much for checking out the piece. It was so nice to meet you at that event! -Susie
Thank you for your article! As a curly haired woman, I have felt this way all of my life. I started getting blow outs weekly for the past 5 years and using dry shampoo in between. It got to be huge burden not to mention expensive. I was so sick of my curly hair! I have gone through every thing you wrote. So what happened?
I met a man who loves my curly hair! I went back to curly and I could not remember how to manage it.
Pretty funny, I forgot how dry and knotted it got. I forgot how long it took to dry. I forgot how it only looks good the first day. I forgot about the diffuser. I had to relearn my hair.. Slowly its coming back to me…!!
Your story put a huge smile on my face !
Thanks so much Joanne! And hooray for the curly-hair-loving men!
This is so funny Susie — I wrote an essay about my curly hair (and my addiction to blowouts) for an anthology called About Face many years ago. Christina Baker Kline was the editor. I’ll have to send it to you some time! I loved this.
Thanks so much Kamy! I’d love to see the article you wrote… -Susie
My 14-year old and I talked about this just today. We moved to a very hot, humid southern state and I gave up – started letting my hair be its nutty self. The past few days I’ve been wearing it straight-ish. Takes alot of time w/my hated friend the hairdryer on high. And alot of silicone – which makes my scalp wildly irritated, but, hey! Look! Straight-ish hair. And she hadn’t said anything. Because she likes it better nutty. “People compliment you on it, Mom!” Yeah. I thought they were just sympathizing because they knew there was nothing I could do. (Southerners are unfailingly sweet)
Bottom line? Your line, “My hair turns out different each and every time” captures it. I like to control everything, including my hair. I guess it’s time to give in, throw my hands in the air, and let it just be its nutty self.
Lovely post, Susie. Consider me a fan.
Thanks so much Marne – great story!!!
Susie, I love your hair! I’m glad you discovered a way to embrace it despite media’s negative portrayal of curly hair. I also give you high fives for not identifying with it so much that you don’t feel free to straighten it sometimes.
I think the curly & awkward before/ straight & confident after is part of the very profitable commercialization of transformation. I mean, how exciting would it be if we could just change something on the outside and then feel different inside, while also being treated differently inside? And how exciting if just spending an hour and $30 on a blowout could do it? It also magically works if you go from straight to curly! Or if you buy the right lipstick, read the right book, do the right juice cleanse, make a ritual of the perfect yoga sequence, etc. LOL!
I’m calling bullsh!t.Transformation is happening to us all every day, whether or not we notice and whether or not we even make conscious efforts. Change is part of life. Sometimes it’s as fast, visible, and dramatic as a blowout and other times it’s slow… okay, usually it’s slow. The nice thing is, like a blowout or a really good curly hair day, is it’s impermanent– which is what makes life truly exciting!