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Unkempt. Wild. Kinky. Messy. Unmanageable. Unprofessional. Electrocuted. The back of a sheep’s ass.
These are some of the loaded words and messages used to describe my hair. I’m sure many people can relate. Depending on how curly your hair is, where you grew up, and where you work, there are even more negative words and attitudes flying around about it. I’m opening up and sharing my story because I want everyone out there who currently hates their curly hair to develop the confidence to wear it curly whenever they feel like it. I want to share what I’ve learned about how to take good care of those curls. I want to geek out a little bit about the science behind curly hair. I also want EVERYONE, regardless of their hair texture, to understand that there’s more than one way to be beautiful. My curly hair journey has taken me from a painfully shy kid, to a kid who had traumatic experiences in salons, to a young woman who found the right hairdresser, and finally to becoming a hairdresser myself—with the self image and self esteem of my clients in my hands.
I would be wasting my time here, and doing you a disservice, if I ramble on about curly hair, self esteem, and tips/tricks without tackling the elephant in the room. It’s the one thing I find that people would rather avoid talking about. So let’s get it over with now by ripping the band-aid off and confronting the nasty wound head-on. In my own experience, I have found that so much of the negative attitude about curly hair is actually tangled up (excuse the pun) with bigoted ideas about race, color, and fitting into a certain beauty standard. I’ve noticed that people repeat these concepts—many times unaware—without even thinking about how they might be insulting someone. I come from a multicultural family, so this is a very real issue and it plays a big role in my personal story. People during the civil rights era were acutely aware of this problem and from that awareness came afros, “Black is Beautiful,” and a desire to connect with African roots. It was a statement of strength and protest to stand up and embrace what is natural.
Regardless of your ethnic background, or how curly your hair is, I want you to know this: You have nothing to be ashamed of. You can, and should, celebrate being different. Fortunately, times can change for the better. We now live in an era of curly hair care advice, specific products for curls, and another movement of natural hair. All of this is great news, and now I can share tips, tricks, and curly hair trivia with you—with some of my own stories along the way. I’ll break everything down. Let’s call this list: Curly Hair Commandments. Here we go...
1. Thou shalt not complain about your child’s curly hair simply because it’s not like your own texture and you have no idea how to care for it.
This kid carries within him, or her, the DNA of you, your mate, and all of your ancestors combined. According to a study featured on Telegraph, “Research suggests that 45 percent of European people have straight hair, 40 percent have wavy hair and 15 percent have curly hair. Studies also show that the chances of inheriting curly hair is around 90 percent.” This study was only confined to identifying the genes responsible for curly hair in European ancestry. It doesn’t account for the rest of the world’s population and all of it’s diversity.
And by the way, kids don’t miss much. They pick up on your reactions, frustrations, and they listen very carefully when you voice your opinion. Ditto for any other adults around them. The child is not flawed and was not cursed with curly hair. In the name of all that is holy, please break the cycle of repeating the negativity you may have heard growing up. They will eventually hear enough crap from the outside world at school, etc. Please do not add to their stress on this matter.
At 24, I finally landed myself in the right salon and in the right hairdresser’s chair. He educated me on how badly I was damaging my hair in my obsession to have it straight. He taught me how to care for my hair on a daily basis. And most of all, he got me to accept and love what I was born with. His exact words to me were, “You can’t fight nature, honey.” He treated me with care and respect. He didn’t treat my hair like some overwhelming problem that required chemicals to “fix.” He knew what to do to make my hair look great. And he didn’t take my already fragile self esteem and run it into a ditch by challenging me on my background. Which brings me to the next commandment...
2. Thou shalt seek a qualified professional to handle those curls.
I cannot emphasize this point enough. A stylist who is not trained in curly hair care, has an unprofessional attitude, or who does not listen to your concerns is basically a disaster waiting to happen on a curly haired client. Here is an amazing fun fact:
According to Naturally Curly, “Depending on the hair type and hair porosity, curly hair can shrink up to 90 percent. Shrinkage is the decrease in length when your hair dries. Not only is it completely normal and a sign of healthy hair; it shows that your hair is properly moisturized and has good elasticity. We cannot change a phenomenon that is a key characteristic feature of curly hair.”
The Reality of Curly Hair Shrinkage...
Why is this so important? Because if curly hair is not cut with skill, that 2” or 3” that just hit the floor allows what’s left on your head to bounce up (“shrink”) and be way shorter than you could ever imagine. At 10-years-old, I got my first haircut. I thought I wanted short hair. Not only did the hairdresser not make me understand what that would mean, she kept focusing on my looks, mixed background, and shyness. I was a ball of introverted anxiety in her chair. Then she proceeded to cut my hair in a way that basically made me look like a boy. I was tall, skinny, and a late bloomer. So it wasn’t hard to make me look like that.
I avoided salons for several years after that. The next hairdresser must have been new, and probably never worked on my hair type. Tears welled up in her eyes as she picked up the scissors. I should have bolted for the door at that point. A few years later, I braved another salon visit in the hopes of having straight hair. What they used on me was way too harsh, split my ends, and killed the body and fullness.
My advice to you is to ask any curly haired people you know (who look amazing) about where they go to get their hair done. Google curly hair specialists in your area. Follow curly hair hashtags on social media. Ask the front desk or salon manager who is the best in that salon with curly hair. Schedule a consultation. Make sure you feel comfortable in that salon, and with that hairdresser. Open up and communicate. Don’t be intimidated and please ... Give them all the info they need to do a good job on you or your kid’s hair.
And the final commandment I want to put out there is this:
3. Thou shalt put the health and integrity of the hair above and beyond any desire for a specific look.
This is easier said than done, especially once we have our minds fixated on a particular look, texture, color, or style. What you must know is that curly hair tends to be more porous, requires more moisture, and in many cases is a lot finer than straighter types of hair. This means damage from chemicals, and improper use of hot tools, can happen a whole lot faster. Keep your hair in great condition by using products meant specifically for curly hair. Trust your stylist when they advise against certain chemical processes for your hair type and situation. Ask questions and allow your stylist to educate you on your at-home shampoo and conditioning regimen. Curly hair does not need to be shampooed daily due to dryness. Invest in a wide tooth comb and a wet brush to detangle your hair without causing damage or disrupting the curl pattern.
There is so much more I could say about curly hair. I’ll share those things in subsequent blog posts. I’m guessing I’ve given you enough to think about at this point! I hope you’ve learned new things by reading this and I hope you begin to take steps toward embracing what mother nature gave you. She always wins anyway. ☮️