I used to absolutely hate my hair. When I was a kid, my mum would chase me around the house and then hold me down to brush my wild hair and wrangle it into a tight ponytail-puff-hybrid while snotty tears slid down my face. I wanted straight hair so badly that I would brush it constantly as it dried, hoping that it would dry flat, only to end up with a frizzy mess.
Sad story time: I distinctly remember my parents taking me to a hairdresser when I was probably around 8 years old for a haircut. I had washed and de-tangled my hair the night before and was super keen for the hairdressers to work their magic. While they sat me in the chair, I watched the all-white hairdresser crew in the mirror behind me argue over which one of them had to “deal with” my hair. My little 8-year-old heart fell.
The one who eventually had to take on the gruelling task of cutting my thick hair rolled her eyes and scowled as she surveyed my hair. “Did you brush your hair? It’s very knotty,” she said as she tried to run a FINE TOOTHED COMB through it. “I’m going to have to wet it and put some conditioner in it”. “Your hair is very dry, do you even use conditioner?” “This is going to take a lot longer than normal…” In the end she charged my parents an extra ‘detangling fee’ and ‘thick hair surcharge’. It may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but even now as I think back to that day, the same feelings of worthlessness, ugliness and guilt resurface and I feel like crying the same tears that my 8 year old self fought so hard to keep inside.
Yes, it is that deep.
Everyone, from my naturally straight-haired mum to my friends at school seemed to be itching to tell me how I could “solve” my curly hair. Constantly being told that I didn’t brush it enough, that I should use more conditioner or that I should stop eating bread crusts (?) just further reinforced the idea that my natural hair was a curse and I wasn’t enough.
I started regularly straightening my hair when I was around 12. It was just like that scene in the Princess Diaries when the ugly gross normal teenage girl suddenly becomes worthy of her royal title after a makeover which basically consisted of removing her glasses and straightening her unacceptably frizzy hair. (A problematic and honestly lazy trope which is recycled all too often in popular culture).
When my hair was straight, I finally felt like I fit in with the pretty girls and was one step closer to being accepted into normal human society. Both of my parents (and what felt like the whole world) agreed that I looked better and more presentable with straight hair and had often encouraged me to straighten it, especially for occasions like weddings and birthdays where pictures would be taken.
In search of a more permanent solution, I started experimenting with keratin treatments and at-home relaxers (my aunt would get me the extra strength kits from Sudan where they could use higher concentrations of the active ingredient). After a 5-8 hour application process, I’d always wash my hair hoping that it would dry straight, but alas, none of these products seemed to be able to tame my super curly hair.
When I was 16, my dad took me to get my hair chemically straightened using the brand new, super expensive, Japanese Shiseido method as a Christmas present. Now, I didn’t have to spend hours straightening my hair and I honestly felt like my life was complete. I kept on shelling out about $300 every 4-6 months (basically all the money a 16 year old has) to get my curly roots touched up. (If you’re interested, Check out Chris Rock’s comedy/documentary, Good Hair, where he delves into the billion dollar hair relaxer industry.)
I kept this up for a few years until I moved overseas for a year and let my natural hair start growing out. Being all alone in a foreign country made it kind of hard to find a salon that offered the Shiseido treatment, let alone explain what I wanted in my broken German. I decided to use this time as an opportunity to start going through the awkward half straight-half curly transition stage (the worst). I was curious, it had been so long (5 years!) since I’d seen my hair in its natural state. My super dry and damaged ends were begging for a haircut but I wasn’t quite ready to part with my length.
While my hair was in this awkward dead/dry/straight on the bottom, frizzy/curly on the top state, I started researching and learning about natural hair ‘transitions’ through blogs and various Youtube channels. I watched as so many gorgeous women told me my exact story back to me- years of straightening, keratin treatments and perming- until they finally decided to give it all up and dare to embrace their natural curls. If you’re considering a “big chop” check this video out. I was amazed at how the simple act of cutting off the dead ends brought her natural hair back to life.
The rest of the story is fairly simple: I spent a few days looking for a hairdresser in Sydney who specialises in cutting curly hair. I cannot emphasise this enough, the right haircut is more than half the battle. I went to Kamil’s Hairdressing in Town Hall where the amazing Lena skillfully chopped off my dead ends, shaped my hair (so it doesn’t dry into a triangle), and recommended products just for my hair type.
It’s still hard for me to let go of the deeply ingrained idea that straight hair is the ideal and that natural curly hair= lazy, messy, even a little bit crazy. It’s all over pop culture if you open your eyes to it. But diverse representation is on the rise too. Through user driven content platforms like Instagram and Youtube, curly girls everywhere are now able to share their experiences and swap styling tips. Even in big time TV shows and movies, curly-haired girls are no longer only confined to the “quirky best friend” or “desperate new girl in need of a makeover” roles.
Nowadays, I love my curly hair. I’ve found a good hairdresser, the right products, a routine that works for me and I get compliments on it all the time.
Sometimes, when people make comments like “you are so lucky to have hair like that!” I want to shake them and scream “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I’VE BEEN THROUGH”, but I normally just smile and say “thanks” instead.
If you want to learn more, check out https://www.naturallycurly.com/ or follow these curly youtube channels that I love:
Have you got curly hair? Do you love it or hate it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!