Living in the Hair and Now

As you may (but probably do not) know, a major point of this blog is to get me writing consistently and finding my voice again, after shelving a major project for several years. I’m working on some pretty heavy material behind the scenes. Or, at least, I’m trying to. It’s slow-going work. I happen to think it’s important work, but it’s not always comfortable or fun. 

So let’s lighten the mood a minute, and be totally frivolous and fun. Let’s talk about…hair!

Frizzy hair: the eternal struggle

My hair has been a nightmare since I can remember understanding what hair is. It is outrageously thick, and very prone to frizz. I’d like to compare myself to Hermione Granger, but that is entirely too generous. It’s more like Rubeus Hagrid up in here. Emma Watson’s beautiful little swan neck would snap like a twig if it tried to support this situation.

This meant washing with silicone-rich shampoo and conditioner, and adding pounds of anti-frizz styling product. It meant blow-outs were not optional, and countless burns on my temple from straightening irons. Hair maintenance took so much time that my shoulders would ache and my arms would tingle, all before I was even halfway dry and styled! 

After all that, it was still a heavy, sweaty mess, more often than not. Even if I got it looking decent, the first whiff of sweat or humidity, even an errant wind, would send me right back to the starting line. 

Girl, same.

The mom bun and other crimes against nature

Once I began my great life’s work of turning my uterus into a clown car, my hair routine had to drastically change. I no longer had the time or energy to blow out 7,492 individual sections of hair several days each week. If you’ve ever met Boy Marvel, you understand that leaving a hot straightening iron on the countertop for any length of time was not an option. Everybody wants to tell parents to prioritize themselves, but nobody wants to come over to watch three kids under five while you try to stop looking like you dropped your toaster in the bathtub.

For some mothers, this phase of life means The Chop. Mad respect to you folks who can rock the short hair, but that is not in my wheelhouse. Taking my hair length above the shoulders instantly turns me into Ronald McDonald. I’ve chopped it exactly three times: twice as a child, involuntarily (like the time my birth-giver literally grabbed scissors from the stylist, cut off my ponytail, and said “even that out” as she walked away), and once on purpose, because teenagers are stupid. #neverforget

That Island Fun Barbie braid isn’t your best look, either, Rachel, so.

I do have pictures of these atrocities, but it’s 2020 and boundaries are a form of self-care.

After carefully weighing my other options (bridge troll or buzz-cut and wigs), I became the Struggle Bun Mom. Please do not confuse this with the sexy messy bun, where you look like your perfectly blown-out hair got just a bit tousled in the convertible on the way to bottomless-mimosa yoga with the other Victoria’s Secret angels. I’m talking about a chonky topknot, with wispy, frizzy craziness flying out in every direction from the scalp. 

I went full Trunchbull. 

Curls, all I really want is curls

But, hark! What light from yonder window? A new method of hair care, just for people who hate their messy, frizzy, wavy-mess manes!? The Curly Girl Method hit my radar several years ago, but I couldn’t get up the nerve to try it. After all, my hair wasn’t really curly, just…frizzy, messy, wavy. Blah. Plus, it seemed complicated. So I researched (procrastinated). I stalked international Facebook groups for before-and-afters. And that’s when I realized–these folks started with hair like mine! Maybe there really was magic in the mayhem. 

Curly Girl is not a product, it’s a method. It’s more about what you take out, than what you put in: no silicones, no sulfates, no parabens, and some people say no alcohols. Plus, no heat. NO HEAT. That means no blow-outs or hot styling tools. 

I decided to see what would happen. Worst-case scenario, I’d immediately return to my old wash routine and squeak through the next several years with the ol’ struggle bun. 

I won’t regale you with every step I ever tried, but my basic flow today goes like this:

  1. Final wash with shampoo, to scrub out all the products that have been ruining your curls for forever. Again, use only Curly Girl approved products. The cheap stuff is actually great for this. I used this V05 for my final wash (and I still use it a few times a year, when I just feel like a fresh start). 
  2. Co-wash is the heart of Curly Girl. It involves scrubbing your scalp with a method-friendly conditioner. After your final wash, this gets promoted to step one. Yep, this is how you “wash” your hair now. I use Whole Blends Oat Delicacy
  3. Detangle as part of the co-wash, or rinse and add a detangler before finger-combing. I swear by this one.
  4. Conditioner again?? You bet! Curls are unbelievably thirsty! That’s why they are so prone to frizz! I slather on something super thick, and let it sit while I do the rest of my shower business. I’ve been using Pacifica Pineapple Curls, but I recently tried one from Taraji P. Henson’s new line and I’m loving that, too. 
  5. Rinse and scrunch out extra moisture with a t-shirt. Are you trying to look like a tumbleweed? If not, never, EVER use a terry cloth towel on your curls. 
  6. Add products like my favorite, Kinky Curly Curling Custard, which I apply to soaking wet hair. When my hair is partially dry, I add some gel to help control any frizz that built up during the styling process. 
  7. Walk away and leave it alone to air dry. Seriously. Stop. Walk away. 

It looks like a lot written down, but it takes maybe three minutes longer than my old shampoo/conditioner wash routine, due to the detangling step. And guess what–I get those three minutes back and then some, because I no longer brush my hair. 

Wait. No…hairbrushes? 

It’s okay. Let the outrage flow through you.

That’s right: no hairbrushes in Curly Girl. I haven’t brushed my hair in over a year. Tossing my brush has been a revelation. My hair, which would instantly turn itself into a nautical rope if I so much as switched on a ceiling fan, doesn’t tangle anymore. The curls are like a self-contained knot protection system. My hair also feels infinitely lighter, so I can leave it down for almost anything now (except sleeping, yikes). It’s a beautiful thing. 

Here I am after my very last brush, right before the final wash: 

Lord, help.

And my first Curly Girl wash:

Look how utterly fried those ends are. Yikes.

Almost a year in (my hair’s not done yet today, so I’m cheating):

Frizz halo aside, we’ve come a long way, baby!

Curly Girl 4 LYFE, y’all. Styling now takes almost no time, so it’s easy to work into my daily routine. My hair is so much happier and healthier since I’ve stopped tearing at it with a brush, stripping it of moisture with sulfates, damaging it with heat, and slathering it with silicones. It grows like wildfire. I don’t get split ends. My hair, which used to be an annoyance at best and an embarrassment at worst, is now the number source of compliments I hear on the regular.

Even better, I love it. There was something liberating in dropping the whole attitude of beating my hair into submission to achieve what I thought was THE standard in hair beauty: sleek and straight. There’s nothing wrong with sleek and straight, but I am neither of those things. I am wild. I am loud. I am bold. I am certainly not for everyone. But I–and my hair–are unapologetically me.  

Seriously, that is my own hair growing out of my own head. This is what I spent 30+ years fighting.


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