Some of you may have noticed that I have curly hair.
From the time it first began to go curly in puberty, my hair has always been a bit of a trademark. When pressed to physically describe myself, the first thing I would say was always that I had curly hair.
Curly hair itself is not unusual, but curly hair allowed to do its thing in a fully natural curly way kind of is. Other people usually identified me this way too. Even during that four-year period in my mid-20s in which I wore nothing but black -- LITERALLY, all of my clothes were black, and I NEVER wore colors -- people would describe me as Lesley, with the curly hair, who wears all the black.
(Lest anyone think my strangeness here is a new phenomenon or an affectation. Sometimes even I roll my eyes at what a weirdo I can be.)
My hair wasn’t always curly -- when I was younger it was just a bit wavy, and it only fully turned to the curly side when I was around 11. Since then, though, I have been spending a semi-absurd amount of my life both fighting with and loving my hair.
I guess my hair is a pretty significant part of my identity. Which is why when Buzzfeed dropped this video, earlier this week, on The Struggles of Curly Hair, I was pretty into it.
Most of this is totally true to my experience. Stuff does get lost in it, and hats are impossible. People do often want to touch it, although this is only annoying to me on a personal-irritant level, and it’s really not the same thing as when people want to touch Black women’s natural hair, because in that situation it’s usually white folks trying to do the touching and that opens up a whole other extra-upsetting can of worms about entitlement and social control.
The bit about never needing to brush it is not my experience either -- in fact, I spend a good five to 10 minutes in the shower most days, saturating my hair with conditioner (shampoo is only a twice-a-week thing) and working my Ouidad Double Detangler through my hair to de-snarl it. So the whole “tangles less” thing makes me side-eye as well, considering after a long day I can feel ACTUAL DREADS forming the back of my hair with no assistance from me.
But overall this video speaks to me. I even have a few things to add, things I’ve heard a lot in my 2+ decades of curly hair representation and management.
“Hey, do you ever straighten it? Have you ever straightened it? What does it look like straightened? You should straighten it!”
No. No, I never straighten it. I never blow it out. I have reasons, many of which are comprised by the fact that although my hair SEEMS all bouncy and shit, it’s actually not very thick, and straightened it would just lie dispassionately against my ponderous skull as though it is a tragic Victorian consumptive waiting for the sweet release of death.
The rest of my reasons are STOP TELLING ME I SHOULD MAKE MY HAIR LOOK LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE’S HAIR. I mean, if you dig straightening for yourself, that is awesome for you. But why the need to press this on other people?
Part of this is probably because curly hair, no matter how carefully kept, always looks somewhat tousled. Back when I was posting in online fashion communities and sharing daily outfit pics, I would get occasional critical comments about my hair always looking sort of messy and I should consider wearing it straight to repair this transgression. These comments irritated me to no end because they weren’t really speaking to my hair in particular but to the fact that natural curly hair by its very nature is not usually a tidily-arranged affair.
There’s an eagerness in most folks’ voices when they suggest (or OFFER, which happens a lot as well) a blowout, and for the first few years it didn’t really bother me, but as time passes I am now likely to respond to these friendly inquiries with a snarl. I am not your freaking Barbie Pose Me Pretty styling head brought to life. Yeah, I get that you’re SUPER CURIOUS as to what I would look like with straight hair. Make peace with the fact that you’ll probably never find out.
“Curly hair is so easy, right? You just fluff it and go!”
There may well be people in the world who have hair, curly or not, that requires basically no upkeep, but I am not one of those people. Indeed, the hair most people usually see on me is a bit like some elaborate physics experiement in which a thousand variables have to set with precision in order for the whole thing to come off properly.
AND the variables keep unpredictably changing. For two months I may need a scoop of Shea Moisture’s MAGIC SMOOTHIE stuff to make things hold together properly -- but then suddenly, this same approach will turn my hair into heavy lank stretched-out ropes. So I switch up to something lighter, like Weleda’s Rosemary Hair Oil (spoiler: I am a total sucker for anything rosemary-scented) and that works great for a bit, until wait now it doesn’t. What the hell.
Currently my routine consists of Ojon’s colonialism-in-a-bottle Damage Reverse Restorative Conditioner, interspersed with twice-weekly treatments with Motions Naturally You Deep Conditioning Masque and styled with a combination of Kinky-Curly’s Knot Today and Curls Goddess Curls Gel. This will change again shortly and I’ll have to figure out the new magical formula for making my hair look nice. SO TOTALLY EASY, RIGHT?
“I wish I had hair like yours!”
The grass is always greener, y’all. I grew up hearing this from my mom -- who herself has very fine, stick-straight hair -- on practically a daily basis. Anytime I complained about my curl problems, she would remind me that she paid gazillions of dollars to get her hair permed in an effort to make it look like mine. (And it is only owing to my being a mature person that I am not sharing photo evidence of said perms, especially considering I have one especially grand picture of 1980s Perm Mom in a black knee-length leather pencil skirt and a poofy, dramatically yoked matching black leather jacket. In Florida.)
I’m not going to tell you how to relate to your hair so long as you don’t tell me how to relate to mine, but honestly? I spent many years hating my hair. As a preteen, when it first started to get curly, when my mom had just started her perming regimen, I used to ask all the time if I could have it chemically straightened, because I didn’t know how to take care of it, and also because frankly a big part of me just didn’t want it to look so different from all my friends’ hair.
It took me a long time to learn to live with -- and even occasionally LIKE -- my hair. And now that I do, I am not hearing about how other folks’ think I should feel about it.