Smooth Lines | Curly and Confused
Like many girls in LA who think they’re cute and lie about being 5'8, I’ve dabbled in ~modeling~ which I only mention to give context to this story:
A few years ago, I was walking in a fashion presentation for my friend in design school, and before sending me to hair and makeup, she was like, “Just tell them I want your hair to be big and wild,” (which is also how you might describe a buffalo or a woolly mammoth, but whatever.)
So, I go to hair and makeup, and tell them that my designer wants my hair to be big and wild and they’re all, “We know exactly who to pair you with,” and they give me to a stylist who is all, “Oh, I know curly hair,” and I’m like, great! Awesome! I grew up in a house where we never went to salons — why should we, when my father could give me and my sisters free haircuts in our bathroom? — so this seemed like an opportunity to finally have my curly hair care awakening.
I was eighteen years old and felt like I barely knew my hair. I had spent a lifetime saturated in contradictory and suspect curly hair advice like, “don’t wash your hair,” “wash, but don’t shampoo,” “air-dry,” “blow-dry,” “dry your hair with a t-shirt,” “soak it in olive oil,” “egg whites,” “mayonnaise.”
That’s right. Mayonnaise. And I did it! I really spent a few nights in high school watching the Disney Channel on my carpet with my hair covered in mayonnaise.
It didn’t work.
It felt like nothing really worked. By the time I had reached university, it felt like my hair was a temperamental groundhog-type character (via the tradition of Groundhog Day, celebrated in the US and Canada) and every day I kind of just picked a combination of advice related to how I washed, brushed, dried, and slept in my hair. Then, when it came time to leave the house, maybe the groundhog emerged and was ready to bask in the sun, but maybe, it was frightened by it’s own vast, frizzy shadow and that’s three more days of high-buns, folks.
And I had this idea that the answer to my problem was to find a hair stylist who knew how to work with curly hair, though I didn’t really have the means or the know-how to acquire one. But then, I was here! In a chair in hair and make-up with a woman who now has three pairs of helping hands surrounding my head and applying product to sections of my hair in a crunching sort of motion. And they’re all cooing about how great my hair looks, and I’m thinking, hey! this is great! I’m going to ask this hair stylist for advice on how to best take care of my hair so that the groundhog is always moist and bouncy and the perfect amount of carefully disheveled!
But then they swing my chair around so I’m facing the mirror. And my hair is a mass of frizz with no shape save for wet looking sections of zig-zags weighed down like pine tree branches brandishing too-heavy Christmas ornaments.
And all these helping hair stylists were like, “Oh my God! This is a-m-a-z-i-n-g!” and the main stylist, whom I had so trusted, was like, “Yes, I know, you’re welcome, bye-bye!” and like, she wouldn’t look me in the eye, because we both knew she did me dirty, and that I was going to have to go in the bathroom and stick my head in the sink (not that that would help without conditioner and leave-in conditioner and a wide-tooth comb and a fucking t-shirt to dry with.)
And I was so, so disappointed because I had truly thought this woman would be my curly-hair messiah, the one to bestow upon me the knowledge I needed to release myself from carrying my hair like Medusa afraid of her snakes. I thought that she would deliver me, but now, leaving that hair and makeup room, dodging other hairstylists trying to stick their hand in my mess of a ‘do, I was realizing that maybe that wasn’t the case.
That’s how having curly hair had always felt: like no one could help me.
But how could I have felt so isolated? My own older sisters had the same faces as me, but different curl textures. When one suggested I air-dried like she did, my hair became massive and frizzy. When the other suggested I used oil, my curls lost their shape.
When I was a child, my parents (a black mother and a Bosnian father with radically different hair-types) focused solely on keeping my hair neat, combing the knots out and brushing baby-hairs back into buns and ponytails.
When I was in middle school, and attempted to explore wearing my hair down (unthinkable!) I was awkward and messy and unsure in a way other kids could smell on me, so that the only other mixed girl in school — she had less hair than me and successfully used gel to keep her curl shape all day — pulled me aside to help me rewet my hair in the bathroom sink.
It truly wasn’t until recently in my young adulthood that I found a combination of washing, conditioning, and drying that works for my curls, that gives me the shape that I like on the daily (pretty much). It’s been a frustrating process of testing out suggestions and products and considering buying a diffuser, but ultimately deciding it wasn’t worth the financial risk of it not being necessary for me, but now, my hair and I are — not one, but in an understanding with each other.
I know that there are many people with curly hair that have been lucky enough to have found hairstylists who can guide them, but for those of us who cut their own curls in their bathroom, now that they’re old enough for their dad to retire from doing it, here is my curly hair advice. Take it or leave it, try some of it out with the rest of your routine or don’t, and good luck!
Only use shampoo every month or so (No need to dry out your hair when you don’t have to.)
Brush your hair in the shower, while it’s soaked in conditioner, and with a wide-tooth comb (Game changer for middle school me!)
Put your hair in braids post shower and let it dry in those (a cute, easy, up-to-two-day hair style; and when you let the braids out, you’ve got cute, moist, up-to-four-day curls. That’s a week worth of hair care!)
If you are concerned about spending money, make your investments into nice conditioners and leave-in creams.
If your designer wants your hair to be big and wild (which is also how you might describe a buffalo or a woolly mammoth, but those are cool, so whatever), consider just fluffing your hair up a bit and not letting anyone else touch it.
And yes, I know, I know, the curly hair product world is wide and endless, so if you’re looking for a direction to start in, from the curly-haired folks of Flaunt, here are some of our favorites (and why):
Shea Moisture’s Curl Enhancing Smoothie $8
So, so soft
Keeps curls supple
Enhanced curl shape
Perfect for styling
Photos by Jake Harrison for Flaunt