Curly Girl in a Straight World

So I’ve somehow managed to write 43 blog posts so far and have only just now gotten round to writing about something that is, no understatement here, one of the things that consumes my life the most. With time, money, stress etc., it’s up there…yes, I’m talking about hair (!). Curly hair, to be exact.

I hear you Frieda!

“I feel ya girl, I have curly hair too!”…I have heard this proclaimed and seen it written about by women who, to be brutally honest, wouldn’t know a curl if it sprung up and smacked them in the face: “My hair gets SO CURLY when it’s humid!” (proclaims wavy-ish haired person who might have a few frizzy days a year). Girl, sit down. “But curly hair is stunning, you don’t even have to do anything to it!” says anyone who has drooled over the thousands of magazine pictorials or Pinterest boards* devoted to “natural curls.” I agree, curly hair is stunning, but it takes a lot of work, and it is never going to look like a Frizz Ease or other glossy ad unless you straighten it and then tong it to perfection.

I’ve waged a lifelong battle with my hair. Like many curly tops it didn’t turn curly until I hit puberty. So I really didn’t know what was happening on top of my head for a few awkward adolescent years. I treated it like it was still straight, attempting bangs and teasing and hairspray. Yes, there were some pretty scary times in the late 80’s!

By the time I got to high school I had reached the slow acceptance that my hair was curly, and I needed to fight it less. There was much conditioner and heavy duty gel, and high alcohol curl sprays. 

I'm sorry internet, I was a teenage brat. Who desperately needed a haircut but was obviously scared off after my last one!

This didn’t mean I didn’t still do wackadoodle things like let my friends cut it into awkward bobs or shave off the underside (a hard lesson for curly girls to learn is that we can never quite pull off punk. Or goth. Or anything other than…curly! ;-0). But I came of age pre- hair straighteners, which I do think was a blessing, because there was only so much I could do to fight my hair, and it does seem like the majority of young women today straighten the life out of their hair as a matter of course.

21 years old, curly and proud in NYC! God I was cute. (I can say that young...sob).

I get so weirdly happy when I see younger women embrace their curls, because not to sound dramatic, but it is completely an uphill battle, especially in the modern age. “It’s just hair, what’s the big deal?” you might be thinking. But imagine that every time you walked into a hair salon, you were filled with panic and fear. Imagine being scrutinized by a person trained to cut hair who acts as though they have never seen a curl in their life. Who asks if it is a perm. Who does not know that cutting curly hair means that when it’s wet it will lose much more length that a straight head of hair would. Who thinks it’s ok to touch curly hair with a freaking razor (it’s NOT!). That it requires shape and layers that are best cut dry, but finding someone who can do a dry cut it like searching for a needle in a haystack (in the U.K. at least).

That you cross your fingers and pray they don’t butcher it completely (this is why I’ve had the same hairdresser for a decade!). Imagine they destroy and hack your curls off, act stunned and confused at how to style it, then offer to straighten it as if to fix a dirty problem you have inconvenienced them with. And all the while you have to smile and act grateful for this professional travesty. “Sure, but we’ve all had bad haircuts”, I hear you say? Imagine that almost every haircut you ever had left you in tears, then we can talk!

It’s also hard out there for naturally curly heads to find curly inspiration, so many curly haired actresses and other public figures cow to pressure over time and become permanently straight, no doubt thanks to the plethora of chemical straighteners available today (I’m not going to lie, I flirted briefly with Keratin straightening too, but in an effort to get smoother curls, which did not work, my hair just ended up straight). Having straight hair, for a brief time, was a different feeling. It was easier, but then I had to deal with static (my hair is actually super fine and had crazy static when straight). You can swish your hair in a ponytail (hard to explain just what a novel sensation this is for a curly head -I admit I spent an inordinate amount of time doing this!). But after awhile, it just felt a bit...foreign. I didn't look like "me".

What I find weird is how many former curlies are still remembered for their curls, for how pretty and unique they were when they first broke through – if an article or website is citing curly haired actresses it is inevitable it will dredge up decades old pictures of Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Julianna Margulies, or sadly always straight now, my (former) curl twin Keri Russell

None of these women wear their signature curls any longer, despite still being remembered for them. I’ve read Margulies’ defense that Alicia, her character in the Good Wife's bone straight locks are down to her being a WASP, not Jewish (as she is in real life), bizarrely implying ethnicity and curls are inseparable (I know plenty of Celtic curlies but this is the way it goes. I have been presumed Jewish and/or bi-racial on more than one occasion because of the texture of my hair). I’ve also read Russell refer to her Felicity era curls as an “afro”, which she now keeps tamed thanks to Brazilian straightening and cringes whenever questioned about the hair that made her famous in interviews. It makes me sad. Fair enough if you choose to straighten, but to act like having curly hair was some sort of dark time that shall not be named isn't a very positive message to be sending out (I love you in The Americans though Keri!).

There is of course something there; seldom do we see naturally curly Hispanic or African American actresses anymore. Why doesn't Jennifer Lopez ever reveal her natural hair? It's beautiful. The Hollywood bubble has completely escaped the mini revolution in curl acceptance that has been largely inspired by Lorraine Massey’s Curly Girl method and the not affiliated but similar ethos of

Don’t get me wrong, how you wear your hair is your own choice, but the irrefutable blending of women of all ethnicities into the least “ethnic” looking hair type is culturally problematic for anyone who doesn’t wish to conform. The less conditioned people are to seeing hair that is anything other than perfectly straight and sleek, or highly processed waves and curls, the more likely they are to feel bold enough to criticize or challenge your natural hair texture as some sort of choice.

I am treated as a complete affront by the straightener wielding ladies at the mall. I know they go after everyone, but they come at me with a zeal and vengeance, a completely calm, smug assurance that I am a problem they have been sent to fix. I have a right to wear my hair curly and not be judged or otherwise shamed for it. “I like my hair the way it is thanks” I say as I breeze past their confused, heat wielding faces.

Don’t get me wrong, most people are nice. I’ve rarely had any issues with friends or loved ones being rude about my hair. I have some curly haired friends and one of our greatest shared joys is hair commiseration. Most men love curly hair, much to the disregard of what film and TV portray as attractive/desirable (I’m just talking out of the box here, in case there are any young women out there who think that they need straight hair to be considered attractive). But in general, to be curly in the current society is to be “other” – no, it’s not an affliction or anything else terribly serious, but it is a physical trait we are born with, and I for one am tired of having to defend it or be expected to conform to what other people think is more acceptable.

I’ve reached an age where I genuinely don’t care what other people think of my hair; my main concern is making it as nice as possible using natural methods. Unfortunately this can get expensive - the products available on the high street are largely just chemical laden silicone heavy crap that don’t actually do anything for you hair health or strength wise. I try to stick as closely as possible to the Curly Girl Method, which means no silicones, no sulphate shampoos, etc.

Luckily the U.K. now has which stock many CG friendly products and also has a forum for curly girls to commiserate on – it’s not as encyclopedic as though so if you are just starting out I would recommend you also check out that site for its font of curly headed advice! There are cheap(ish) ways to do the Curly Girl method for anyone interested; start by using a basic, no silicone conditioner as a shampoo, and there are a few CG friendly products in Boots/Superdrug (British Curlies has a thread devoted to high street products that are CG).

I would also recommend Lorraine Massey’s book Curly Girl: The Handbook (this is an updated version to mine) to anyone who is starting out/confused by their hair. It has lots of great first person stories of women’s journeys to accepting their curls, as well as helpful hair advice. Ok thank you for reading! Any other curly girls stories please share in the comments! :-) I will do a few hair product posts in the near future, I just had to get out the genesis of the thing first! (i.e. explain the slightly insane hair product obsession just a teeny bit before I dive in!) :-)

* My Pinterest board, Girls With Curls, for anyone interested!

Tall N Curly (featured here on Buzzfeed) does some of the best "Amen sister!" curly cartoons around!


  1. I think you have gorgeous hair! I always wanted long, curly red hair so the grass is always greener....
    Like, you, i feel it is sad the prevailing hair fashions are so narrow. Put those straighteners away, I like big hair, blow dried.

  2. Thanks Elinor! :-) It's true we always want what we don't have, sometimes it takes awhile to appreciate what we do :)

  3. I agree with Elinor and I think your hair is gorgeous and curls like yours are something I too have always wanted. In fact I had all manner of awful perms from the age of twelve through 25. I think many of us wish for hair other than what we have. Mine is wavy in a very non-symmetrical sort of way. I have portions of hair that are nearly straight, a few spots that are ringlets if long and then some that are just sort of bumpy. The left side of my head is wavier than the right side. This drives me nuts. It all looks promising curly when wet but they are such fragile curls they just smooth out into bumps when my hair dries and flatten completely once I've slept on it. My son has curls. Ringlets basically if he were to wear his hair long. I have cut it for him for years, through many different choices of style and length and I've always cut it dry. For one year, when he was fifteen, he wanted it straightened with the flat iron. He now cringes when he sees photos of that, like me with my perms. Hair is so integral to how we attractive we feel I think many women and more men that we know, agonise over their personal challenges and frustrations with it, wanting styles that don't work for us or imagining that someone else's hair is easy. In my fantasy, I wake up looking like you. ;-)

    1. Thanks Shawna! My Mom has wavy hair too, she sometimes wears it straight using big curlers. I think because I had straight hair when I was a kid there's always been this "Ah remember when" in me. I like when sleep straightens out my curls a bit! There are actually a lot of wavy hair types (I think it's called type 2 -a,b,c, etc (It will make more sense if you read the site!) on naturally where other wavy's share hair product suggestions for encouraging curls in the forums. I think Jessicurl is quite popular with wavy hair types as she does her hair products using the typing system (I know this all sounds like gobbledygook!) But there are products out there that do encourage curl if that is your aim! :-) x

    2. It doesn't sound like gobbledygook as I think I have spotted a bit of this on Pinterest. Thanks for reminding me and I will look for it!

    3. I think you'd be amazed at the wealth of information and products out there that don't get any mainstream beauty editorials or ads, there are just so many curly and wavy hair types not being catered for by drug store or even most salon hair care lines.

  4. This is awesome. My hair is "technically" naturally curly, but not as curly as yours - at least not anymore. As I get older, it gets a little straighter, so it's mostly a weird bedhead wave look. I can straighten it, but it annoys me how the world is so obsessed with pin straight hair. Ugh. Once there was this magazine article on the American Idol finalists - years ago - I don't watch it, but this story stuck out to me - and the finalists got makeovers and there was this insanely beautiful African American woman, probably about 20 years old, with the cutest, sassiest little 'fro it was so gorgeous and then they "glammed her up" by putting relaxing her hair and ironing it out and I remember I actually cried. (Hormones, possibly.) But yeah, I was PISSED that they changed her hair. It was like a personal offense. But....if you ever do get onto instagram - my username is unitedstatesofbecky - and you can follow me to see pics of my recent hair-chopping off. Also: I get the whole WASP thing, but I think she'd been straightening her hair before that, right? I miss those curly girls.

    1. One of my biggest bugbears is the curly "makeover" - films, t.v., you name it, if a girl has curls you can bet she will inevitably end up straight in some sort of "glam-over" - grr! Merits a post/rant all its own really! I am on Instagram (sort of, I have like five pics up!) so will check out your pics :-) My hair got a bit looser for a while but that was down to being on the pill I think the hormones affected it a lot. It's kind of bounced back to being almost as curly as it was when I was a teen but I do think a lot of curly heads loosen a bit with age/learning what products to use also. I weirdly try to get my curls as tight/formed as possible nowadays though because then I don't have to wash my hair for two, three days if I'm lucky! :-0)