How I Learned to Love (and Look After) My Curly Hair

Not all curls are created equal.
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Hannah Marie
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Not all curls are created equal.

Curls: springy, bouncy, vivacious, and whimsical. And yet, for the naturally curly-cued, there is so often a fight against them. For a variety of reasons, whether uncertainty of hair care and styling or even peer pressure to have straight hair, women are always going to extremes to defy their natural waves.

The number one question I receive about my naturally curly hair is: “Is that natural?” YES! Since childhood, my hair has changed in color, texture, and curliness depending on age, hormones, stress, etc. And I, like most, have wished for straight locks from time to time. But having curly hair is less about controlling and taming your luscious locks to a celebrity standard of perfection and more about learning to embrace the slightly out-of-control nature of your hair. There is real, raw beauty in the less predictable nature of curls. Here's what has helped me embrace the curl.

01. Determine Your Curly Hair Type

Not all curls are created equal. What works for some women and their ringlets is all wrong for another. The first step in embracing your hair is learning exactly what you're working with. Determining whether your hair is wavy to tightly coiled will help you learn how to manage and style your curly hair. The website Naturally Curly has a great, detailed explanation about curly hair types. I have 3A curly hair, which blends tight ringlets with wavy undertones.

02. Get a Haircut for Your Hair Type and Personal Style

I discovered my first curly hairstylist and haircut when I was a sophomore in high school. After church, my mom asked a female college student with an attractive, curly hairstyle for stylist advice. (Thank you, Mom.) Shortly after this interaction, I booked an appointment with this young woman’s hairstylist. For the first time in my life, I had layers, and it worked for me.

Once in college, I experimented with shorter curly styles ranging from a long bob to shoulder length. Then I would let my curls grow out down my back. Not all haircuts are equal nor all hairstyles suited for curly hair. Finding a decent salon and stylist might take a few attempts, but ask around, especially women who have well-styled curly hair. Or research celebrity curly hairstyles to give you and your stylist an idea of what you like or don’t like. Explore the idea of layers. Unless you are doing a short, bob hairstyle, keep your layers long enough to frame your face and not spring off into the sunset.

03. Modify Your Hair Care

Since puberty, I struggled to manage my hair without overworking or drying out my curls. I had only mildly wavy hair before all those hormones kicked in at age thirteen. In high school, I of course bought a flat iron and tried to force my hair straight, but whenever I attempted to flatten my curls, the process ended in an unattractive, frizzy mess, especially when the subtlest touch of humidity reached my hair. Between the long futile process and unbecoming end result of hair straightening, I chose to embrace my curls and learn proper curl maintenance.

Finding the right balance for you will involve some research plus trial and error. Proper curly hair care is not like straight hair maintenance and is tied to the quality and type of curly hair you have. Your hair will tell you what it likes and doesn’t like. That said, there are some general guidelines that have helped with my curl care:

  1. Limit hair brushing to right after washing.
  2. Don’t wash your hair daily; the natural oils produced nourish my curly hair, whereas excessive washing dries out and stresses my curls.
  3. Never blow dry (unless in emergencies, and then use a diffuser) unless you want a frizzy, dry mess.
  4. Condition well. When I do wash my hair, I allow the conditioner to soak in my hair for a few minutes.
  5. Avoid harsh chemicals and heavy products. I use aloe vera as my hair gel because it’s light and hypoallergenic, and it conditions.

These are a few suggestions, but observing your own curls will help you modify your hair care for best results.

 04. Learn to Laugh at Yourself

Curls will blow into your face, your friend's face, and your boyfriend's face. Chuckle when your curls turn into a fro after swimming between the humidity and water quality. Learn to embrace a little frizz. Smile and roll your eyes when friends pull on a lock to see if it springs—or say “no, you can’t touch this.” Feel cherished when your boyfriend can’t run his fingers through your hair but loves your curls all the more.

After waking up and assessing your curly craziness, expect that each morning will be different and fun. Learn to laugh in these imperfect moments. Don’t listen to people who put down your curly hair. Their negative comments are less about your hair and more about them.

 05. Have Fun

Sometime in college, I realized that my curly hair had become an extension of my personality. When I’m happy and healthy, my curls exhibit additional bounce and illustrious shine. When I’m struggling or unhealthy, my curls tend to deflate and lose luster. Not only is having curly hair a natural barometer of myself, but curly hair also allows for self-expression.

Last summer I was maid of honor for my friend’s wedding. Our relaxed bride allowed us to choose our wedding hairstyle. I choose my natural, free-flowing curly hairstyle with a sparkly hair barrette. Wedding guests kept asking, “Is that natural, or did you get it styled like that?” I smiled and responded, “It’s natural.” Each person looked at me with awe and amazement. Having curly hair is fun, vivacious, and unique.

Enjoy experimenting with different hairstyles, products, accessories, etc. Remember that one of the best styles with curly hair is natural, free-flowing, and down. Enjoy walking down the street with a spring in your step and bounce in your hair. I promise, life is more fun that way!

Photo Credit: Julie Cate Photography