I love curly hair…. on other people. I think it’s absolutely beautiful. This is probably why I wanted to perm my hair in the 5th grade. My recollection of my childhood hair was that it was always straight, but it held curl very well. I loved when my mom would put my hair up in curlers so I’d have those iconic Shirley Temple ringlets. When I was “old enough” my mom finally let me get my hair permed. I was so excited! Unfortunately, this seemingly small life choice might be one of my most irreversible and regrettable. (This is the same age in which I wanted to give up my beautiful wooden bed frame for a bunkbed. My childhood decision making boggles my adult mind constantly.)
Most people who chemically curl their hair have to redo this process once to twice a year. Not me. My hair never let go of that curl. Now, this could be a freak incident or it could have just been timing. Perhaps I permed my hair right when my hormones were shifting and that’s why it stuck—there is a suspicion that if I hadn’t gotten it permed professionally, I still would have ended up with curly hair (apparently that’s a thing that can happen when entering puberty). Without the aid of a time machine, we’ll never know for sure.
Regardless of how I got here, my current reality is the same: I have a thick mass of curly hair. From day one of my perm ’till the day I graduated from high school, I wore my hair curly, usually defusing when styling it. It was very 90s. The day after graduation I purchased a nicer, ceramic hair straighter and rebranded myself as a straight-haired girl. Until this past year, I’d successfully kept my curly hair a secret from most the world. I’d even gone as far as to chemically straighten my hair when I was in my mid-20s. It worked like a charm, taking away much of the frizz and general thickness but the effects fade with time (about a year). Nevertheless, once I moved to China, the cat was out of the bag. There are places in Asia where the humidity was so high, my hair was actually easier to manage when I styled it curly than if I attempted to keep it straight. Once I moved back state-side, I’d started to like the softness that curly hair brings to my overall look, vs the rigidity of super straight hair. Now days the wavy, beachy look is my sweet spot where I like my hair the most. This change has inspired many a comment from friends who hadn’t a clue my hair was curly at all (including a guy friend who responded with a “you have naturally curly hair???” in a tone a voice that most certainly translated to an “ewwww….”).
Being curly-haired for most of my life, I’ve developed a few techniques for making it manageable, sometimes even beautiful! For the exception of special circumstances or to style my bangs, I’ve said “goodbye” to using a hairdryer. I’m already a big fan of showering before bed—it’s a great way to relax and wash away the day, plus my mornings go smoother when I’m not trying to compete with my roommates for time in the shower. Washing my hair at night has become a bit of a must. I only wash my hair a few times a month, so I always start with slathering it in coconut oil and a mixture of essential oils (such as castor, tea tree, rose hip and jojoba) to deep condition. Post wash, I spray my hair down with coffee… yes, coffee (and sometimes apple cider vinegar as well). The acidity works as a great conditioner, it adds shine, and it helps accentuate my natural hair color. I don’t wash it out. Instead, I wrap my hair in a special “hair towel” (I use this one) and sleep on it over night. Come morning my hair is mostly dry and I can style it 1 of 2 ways:
1). I add a little product to smooth fly aways and wear it curly-curly or
2) I straighten it with my fancy straightener. This is what I do most often because it helps with the massive volume of hair I have. Post-straightening I “add” back in my curl, usually by tossing my hair into a French braid and letting it sit that way for about an hour.
Between washes, I don’t really do much with it. Depending on if I want it more wavy or curly, I pull it back into different variations of braids or a bun while sleeping. It’s a chunk of work, but this system has, so far, been the best solution I’ve found for keeping my hair from looking a giant mess.
There are days I absolutely adore my hair and days I’d trade my first-born for something that just doesn’t frizz up so much in humidity. Okay, so I wouldn’t really trade a little mini-human for easier-to-manage hair but I think it still illustrates my point. I do believe that hormonal shift can play a big part in what my hair is doing. In college, my hair would often swap from kinkier to more beach waves depending on what birth control I was currently taking. The important thing is that after a lifetime of fighting it, I’ve grown to actually like my hair’s natural propensity for being a bit of a mess. It’s not perfect, just like the rest of me. It gets a little wild, and it tangles, and it somehow is constantly getting accidentally dipped into my coffee cup in the morning, and it sheds everywhere (leaving a trail of DNA everywhere I go).
My hair is a mess and I find that kind of beautiful.
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.