Yesterday I picked up the expanded 2nd edition of Curly Girl: The Handbook by Lorraine Massey. I read the entire book in one sitting and truly enjoyed it from cover to cover. What was a complete and shocking surprise was that almost every curly girl in the book no matter what race or ethnicity pretty much had the same frustrating story of growing up hating their hair, forcing it to lay down with blow driers, flat irons, or chemical straighteners, while praying that it would just behave to have a normal straight existence in life.
I will never forget the billboards for Gap the fall of 2000 in New York City with this beautiful model with long dark curly hair. It was the first time I really saw a curly model who was a woman of color embraced in the industry. At the time my hair was no longer than an inch or two all over. Short and curly is how I wore my hair for years. Now that my hair is much longer sometimes I still get frustrated especially walking away from chemical laden hair care products. Two years ago it was only a few inches long, so having longer hair now is still very new to me.
Over the summer I did a job where there were three African American hair stylists on set. All during rehearsals I had worn my hair big and curly. No one mentioned that our hair needed to be slicked back in a bun for the actual taping. Luckily I had aloe vera gel in my handbag the day of the taping. I could already see the annoyance in one of the hair stylist’s eyes when he saw me in the makeup chair. Before I went to hair, I left to go to the bathroom and started slicking my hair back with water and aloe vera gel with my hands. By the time I sat in the hair stylist’s chair, I had already started the process.
The male hair stylist who had rolled his eyes earlier had one of the other female stylists do my hair saying under his breath that he wasn’t touching my nappy hair. Wow! I was actually kind of shocked because my hair is a bit wild and free, but isn’t anything but thick and curly. The female stylist was about to comb through all of my hair dry, a big curly hair no-no, just to put it in a bun. I had to stop her and talk her through how to put my hair up. Because my hair was air dried curly versus slicked back when freshly washed, it was extremely thick in volume. She broke two or three hair elastics trying to make a ponytail before deciding to use a rubber band which I wasn’t happy with. Next time I will have a satin ribbon in my handbag along with the aloe vera gel. We successfully put my hair up in a sleek bun no combing or brushing. She was surprised that my hair wasn’t as difficult to do as all three of them thought.
One major lesson I learned reading Curly Girl–The Handbook is that hair stylists are not trained to cut, style, or care for curly hair. The only way they know to treat curls is to straighten them. In the case of being on set with three African American hair stylists, most hair stylists are trained the same way no matter what your background is. Curly hair is looked at as something that needs to be cured in the hair industry.
A week and a half ago I had this long dance audition. I went to the audition with my usual braid-out curl compressed hair style like my photo below, and left with my hair three times the size no exaggeration! Now I love big hair. The problem was that my hair looked a hot mess by the end because it wasn’t set with my natural curl pattern. It isn’t until the end of the audition that you are usually put on tape for the producer or director, and I looked a frizzy mess. After that experience I knew I’d be making another change to my hair regimen. I had to because having your hair grow into a hot air balloon can’t happen especially in my business.
Reading Curly Girl–The Handbook was exactly what I needed. I wanted to learn from a professional hair stylist who has curly hair what the best curly hair care method could look like. With all of the information that I already have about hair care, I can say that I still learned a lot. No collection of YouTube videos can make up for all of the information in this one book. I have a new perspective on how hair stylists are trained, how to condition wash my hair so that I’m not wasting conditioner, and how to care for my hair after swimming in a pool or at the beach. This is truly a wonderful guide for anyone with curly hair especially if you are growing out a chemical straightener, have always heat straightened your wavy or curly hair, and want to finally embrace your natural hair texture.
If you have been following my hair care articles, I started growing out my hair two years ago using a simple aloe vera based leave-in conditioner recipe which works wonders for two strand twists and re-moisturizing curly hair in between washes. I formulated a curl conditioning serum which is fabulous for dry parched curls. I’ve used ayurvedic herbs such as amla and hibiscus petals, made herbal infused oils, done weekly or monthly henna treatments, fell in love with coconut milk for deep conditioning, learned the power of ceramide oils, and even began using herbs, teas, and clays to cleanse and condition my hair instead of traditional store bought shampoos and conditioners on my own no-poo hair care process. I haven’t been crazy about nor used shampoos or shampoo bars for about a year thus beginning my curl care with the condition only method.
During the past two years my hair has grown out pretty nicely, although I’ve had a few setbacks along the way. I can honestly say that after blow drying my hair straight in December, I saw tiny holes in more than a few hair strands, and experienced a bit of breakage from the heat drying out my hair. I had just bought a new blow dryer which I was very excited with at the time. I won’t be using that blow dryer any more if I can help it, meaning straightening my hair for work purposes. It’s not a complete waste since blow drying your pointe shoes after dance classes helps them to last longer.
So now what? I’m back to using conditioner again, I’m not going to use any hair grooming tools (no combs or brushes), and I’m going to try the Curly Girl Method my way chemical free. When I was in love with the Tightly Curly Method a year ago, the down fall for me was using the Denman brush with a “combing conditioner” as Terri LaFlesh recommended. My hair looked amazing, yet the Denman brush shredded my fine hair strands leaving me with broken damaged hair. Knowing now that I can go comb and brush free gives me another new insight with my hair care.
I stopped using store bought hair conditioners because so many including my favorite one at the time contained phenoxyethanol. Yesterday I made my very first conditioner which came out much better than I expected. I hope to master it in the next few months. This conditioner is completely chemical-free and is a wonderful emulsion of aloe vera, vegetable glycerin, nourishing oils, and herbs.
For those who are curious how my hair care routine will change, here’s is what I will be doing. I will be conditioner washing my hair two to three times per week. If I do need to cleanse my hair further, there is always the simple yet effective soapwort root cleanser, a natural herb which gently cleanses hair, and is of course sulfate free which is a requirement with The Curly Girl Method. Rhassoul clay is another great option as well. A sugar scrub is recommended in the book for cleansing and exfoliating the scalp.
I will use my favorite coconut milk deep conditioner once a week or once every other week. My leave-in will be my home made conditioner with a bit of oil on my ends as needed. I do plan to smooth each curl as I learned in the Tighly Curly Method with my fingers only, which usually takes me about 30-40 minutes. A total of 50-60 minutes max two or three times a week is not a lot of time. That’s it! I’m still no-poo, but a bit different than before.
I plan to try this out for the month in hopes of never experiencing hot air balloon hair again. This is pretty much the same regimen I used a year ago without the combing and brushing, using a purer conditioner, and adding gentle cleansers. I will give an update in about a month or so.
You can see my most recent hair routine in my beauty regimen.
(Images by Dawn Michelle)