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I was born with a full head of dark, springy curls. Like most curly girls, I hated my hair when I was younger—and then through graduate school.

For one thing, my mother had straight hair, and my father was bald. So neither of them could really help me tame the fuzz. And then there was the fact that straight hair was the way the cool girls wore their hair when I was growing up. At the very least, their curls were the wavy, beachy kind, rather than the tight locks that were my natural style.

Thankfully, I began to appreciate my hair when I lived in Los Angeles after graduate school. There seemed to be more women with curls there than in my home state of Alabama. I made friends with some of them, and they taught me a thing or two about curl care. Plus, there were more salons that used the popular (and expensive but worth it) Deva cut method. After I had my first Deva cut, I devoured books like The Curly Girl Method and purchased products that worked with my curls instead of against them.

Surprisingly, loving my hair helped me to love my life and myself a lot more. Here are the life lessons your curly hair can teach you (if you let it).

I’m not in control—and that’s not always a bad thing.

As a curly girl, I learned early in life that I couldn’t control my hair. I could do the exact same thing I had done the day before to make it look spectacular, and for whatever reason, it would go wild. I’m not sure if my curls are the reason I grew up to be a little bit of a control freak, but it probably didn’t help matters. Just as I got frustrated at my curls for doing their own thing, sometimes I would find myself looking around at the circumstances in my life and saying, “This is not the way my life should be going!”

When I was living in Los Angeles, big life changes coincided with making more curly-haired acquaintances. I had moved out there for a yearlong service program, which meant that I lived in a big house with seven strangers during my first year. As an only child, it was a lesson in realizing that everything couldn’t always go my way.

But as soon as I learned to stop straining against my curls—and my life—I found myself happier. When I let go of the ideal, I often found myself better able to appreciate both how my hair was laying that day and where my life had taken me lately. When I stopped pulling at my hair (literally) and demanding my way, I was able to open myself to daily blessings.

My perception may be different than someone else’s.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked in the mirror, given up any hope that I could make my hair decent, and then immediately received a compliment from my husband on how great my curls looked.

I’ve always known that we are all different and, therefore, we all see things differently. I credit my mother for teaching me from a young age that I should open up to other people’s ideas. However, putting this in practice is an entirely different thing from understanding it theoretically.

It may frustrate me during disagreements or difficult conversations, but I’ve always admired my husband for his ability to see the other side of things. He is always playing the devil’s advocate with me so that we can interpret all parts of a situation to come out with the best outcome.

In the past, if someone complimented my hair on a day when I didn’t think it deserved it, I would tell them exactly what was wrong about it. Now, I simply change the way I look at my hair, trying to look at it the way that person does. Most of the time, this does change my own perspective on my hair, and I can thank that person for the compliment, honestly.

Don’t compare yourself to other women.

I used to think that all curly hair was the same. I fell into the ugly comparison trap with other women, both straight-haired and curly-haired. “Why can’t my curls look like that,” I would say to myself. Or, “I bet she never has a bad hair day.”

And better hair wasn’t the only thing I was jealous of. Other women also seemed to have better bodies, better relationships, and better anything else I was dissatisfied with at the moment. This was not at all healthy. In fact, it damaged my self-esteem, making it even harder to reach whatever ideal I saw—or imagined—in the other woman. I wasted my time and my energy, and I only made myself feel worse.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that no two curly heads are the same. There are different curly hair types—with different sub-categories based on the tightness of the curl—not to mention the different varieties of kinky and wavy hair! These beautiful varieties have different product needs and strengths. The only way to take care of my curls properly is to tune out the other types and focus on my own. Now, I can admire another girl’s hair without being hard on my own. And I recognize that all women are unique—in more than just their hair type.

My curly hair has become one of my favorite things about me. It may be different, but it’s exactly what makes me who I am. And, once I accept that the rest of my life falls into place a lot more easily.