While reading through books and articles for career advice, I often come across information regarding proper dress and attire for interviews and what to wear once you’ve attain the job. Astonishingly, many columnists and writers seem to share the belief that “sleek, polished hair”, or straight, hair is more “professional.” One writer went so far to say that “a blow dry is a must” for the first day of work and if you google “professional hairstyle” photos of straight styles with little to no wave pop up. What’s most striking is that when I read these columns the underlying logic seems to be that curly hair is lazy hair. It’s distracting, it’s unruly, it needs to be tamed. If you wear your hair curly, it’s because you were too indolent to do anything else with it.
Let’s get this straight: curly hair is not lazy hair. It boggles my mind that I even have to type this. The majority of the world’s population has curly hair, yet this hair type is so hopelessly misunderstood.
To all of you clueless about how curly, coily, kinky, wavy, and frizzy hair works, here are the cold, hard facts:
1. Curly hair is high maintenance and the curlier your hair is, the more high maintenance it is.
It has always astonished me how girls with straight hair get the credit for being more attentive to their hair’s appearance when the reality is that they were born with a wash-and-go hair type.
Those of us born with kinky, curly, or wavy hair know that if we stepped out the door with wet hair after simply shampooing and toweling it dry, all hell would break loose. We have to condition our hair. We have to put leave-in conditioner in afterwards to combat the frizziness. We have to brush our hair, use gel, or diffuse our hair to get our curlies to hang “just so.” This after-shower care can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours depending on how rebellious our curls are, and there is nothing easy about this process.
For many people, it can take months or even years to figure out how to properly take care of their curls and what regimen works best for them. There’s the Rake and Shake method. The Curly Girl method. The Twist Out Method. The Live Curly Live Free Method. It took me until college to finally discover what products and method worked for me. For me, I know that I must moisturize my hair with water and whipped shea butter every night. Weekly deep conditioning treatments are essential.
Does anything about this process seem low-maintenance or easy to you? I certainly don’t think so. So why, when a curly girl has done everything in her power to get her corkscrews and waves to look presentable and beautifully-defined, is she told that wearing her hair curly is “lazy” and “unprofessional”? Or, (my personal favorite) “not sexy”? Where is this ignorance coming from?
2. Curly hair is fragile. What’s more, the curlier your hair is, the more fragile it is. You can’t regularly blow out or flat iron your hair without experiencing some heat damage. Along with being (way too damn) time-consuming–from 45 minutes to 3 hours depending on curl diameter & hair length–curly hair is more prone to breakage than straight or wavy hair types when exposed to heat.
This is because (1) There are more points of stress with every bend (curl) in the hair and (2) these bends make it harder for the sebum in the scalp to coat the entire hair shaft. This is why curly hair is inherently drier than straighter hair. This also explains why it can be harder to grow out.
This means that despite conventional belief, this type of hair:
is more fragile than this type of hair:
which, in turn, is more fragile than this type of hair:
and thus, the first two hair types need more maintenance and pampering to be healthy and grow. Salon hair stylists need to give curly hair extra TLC when detangling our frangible hair. But is this what you hear or read in articles, or experience in salons? No. Curly or kinky hair is written off as “unprofessional”, “messy”, or “unkempt” and we curlies are pressured to seek sleeker styles to “tame” our tresses. But the fact of the matter is, too many heat or chemical processes can destroy the health of our delicate hair.*
3. Curly hair shrinks, frizzes, droops, and poofs of its own accord. And many times, there’s not much we curly girls can do about it. Unlike straight hair, which generally stays flat and floppy, curly hair has a mind of its own. It is lively, changeable, and often conspires with the weather to completely alter the style that it was supposed to be in.
I can’t tell you how many times a painstaking 3-hour blowout-and-flat iron session has poofed into an afro. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me if I cut my hair because my twist-out afro has shrunk into a tiny corkscrew ‘fro because of the humidity. The fact of the matter is, curly hair shrinks; kinky hair such as mine can curl up to 75% of it length. This doesn’t happen to straight-haired girls because their hair hangs at its full length.
Girls with curls know their hair isn’t as docile as straight hair. Your hair may suddenly reject a product that worked wonders for years. Or a new style that looked marvelous yesterday proves impossible to reproduce today.
I am tired of references to curly hair that imply that something is fundamentally wrong with our hair or with us wearing it the way it naturally is. I believe that many of these comments and judgements come from misinformation about curly hair.
So now I turn the tables to you! What are your thoughts on the way curly hair is perceived? Are their other facts that you’d include in the Curly Hair Proclamation? :)
* Don’t get me wrong- I am not against using heat and in fact, I use my blowdryer and flat iron from time to time. However, too much heat is detrimental to your hair’s health, especially if you have curlier (and thus, drier) hair.