Curly Hair, Don’t Care

“The best part about curls is that when you jump, they jump with you!” My 11-year old sister exclaimed.

These words that my youngest sister uttered were ones that would have never come out of my mouth ten years, or even two years ago. Finding what sets you apart is difficult at that age, and the fact that she not only knew what made her different, but also found the beauty in it, touched me more than anyone will ever know.

Photo by Joy Kostansek

My name is Lindsey Mathews and I am a senior at Ohio University studying Early Childhood Education, Child Life & African American Studies. I grew up in Bexley, a suburb of Columbus, where if you are a black girl, you are likely to graduate with just a handful who look like you.

I had a wonderful childhood and experience at Bexley. I was an athlete on a sports team, won Homecoming Queen and had lived there for as long as I can remember. However, there was one thing that I suffered with my whole life, and that was accepting and loving my natural hair. It weighed on me more than anyone will ever know, and I was constantly finding ways to change it.

The first time that I realized I had different hair was in kindergarten, when a classmate came up to me and felt my hair, exclaiming “You’re hair is so soft. It’s like a pillow.” It made me feel embarrassed, and I wanted to crawl into a hole because at five years old, I didn’t know why it felt like that nor did I want to be the center of attention.

This all changed when my mom purchased my first-ever perm kit. I had thought it would be a one-time experience, however that was just the first of many perm kits, and 17- years later I found myself with damaged and dry hair that couldn’t seem to grow past my chin.

When I got to Ohio University, I had the privilege of meeting so many black women who really challenged me to come to terms with all that I hadn’t experienced in life, including experimentation with my hair. I soon began to lay off the straightener and invested in a sew in. But it seemed like as soon I got it, more and more women were beginning to wear their hair natural.

Suddenly wearing perm was taboo, and the new black was luscious bouncy curls. During spring of 2014, there was a curly-q photoshoot featuring undergraduates with natural hair, and that was when I realized the beauty of curly hair and all the different types that there are.

Because it’s hot and the last thing that people often feel like doing is straightening their hair, I felt it was only right to do my first feature on curly haired girls on campus. I want to make it clear that not every black woman has been natural their whole life, and not every woman has found what it is that works for them.

Having curly hair is a lifestyle, and I’d like to point that out because I don’t expect every person to walk away from this story wanting to purchase Shea Moisture. What I do want to do is enlighten folks on all of the different types of products to use, inspiration these women have had and how to make that leap to embracing natural hair. Each of these women have a different story of their natural hair journey, so my hope is that you can find someone who you can relate to.

Part of my concern with writing a piece on natural hair is that I am not credible. Who am I to talk about something I haven’t really experienced in full force? I represent what it’s like to not be completely natural. But then I thought about it further, and I found that maybe it’s not such a bad thing to have a different perspective. I tried being natural this past summer and found that it wasn’t for me, however that doesn’t mean I won’t ever try it again in my lifetime.

There are people who would have never imagined wearing their hair natural, like Abigail Thomas, a junior at Ohio University who stated that she didn’t start wearing it natural until last November.

Abigail Thomas | Photo by Joy Kostansek

“I got my first straightener in sixth grade, I think it was so exciting to be able to straighten it all the time. Straight hair, you think, always looks more put together, “ Thomas said.

And the truth is, Thomas’ remark represents what a large amount of black women think, whether or not it is part of an everyday look or for a job interview. There has been a lot of scrutiny towards natural hair in certain work settings or job interviews, and some women have even had their hair reported for being a “distraction.”

Senior April Cunningham, who has been natural for three years now, gave a different perspective on the issue. “I think for me, I’m going into a field where it’s more laid back. If I’m going to an interview I’ll definitely clean it up a bit,”  Cunningham said. “I really don’t like to do that though because it’s me.”

April Cunningham | Photo by Joy Kostansek

Although certain career fields may be more “relaxed” about it, it still doesn’t negate the fact that it is a huge problem. Many employers claim to not discriminate based on appearance, but I think women wearing their hair curly and not being given a position, or being told to wear it differently certainly counts as an act of discrimination. Thankfully, more and more people are beginning to break that stereotype and expectation to wear their hair a certain way in order to conform.

Now I want to address the elephants in the room… one, shrinkage is the devil, but don’t ever be fooled. Just because the curl is super tight, doesn’t mean that it isn’t 14-inches long. And two, the common misconception that wearing your hair straight means that you permed it. This myth or fleeting thought that women have straighter hair because they regularly perm is not always the case, and more often than not, these women have straight hair only because they straighten it habitually.

My younger sister has extremely tight curls, however from the time that she was in middle school up until her senior year of high school, she wore it pin straight and was constantly asked if she had a perm or wore a weave. This accusation has become part of our culture, and suddenly women who wear their hair straight are deemed as not embracing their real hair, or are ostracized for putting all of those chemicals on their hair.

For some, straightening their hair was merely a phase. Thomas explained that she too preferred to straighten it every day growing up, which ended up damaging her hair immensely.

“It hit me when someone told me that when I straighten my hair that much I would lose my curls. When [they] said that, I started wearing my hair curly,” said Thomas. “Wearing my hair curly has taught me to love myself.”

Thomas shared that although she wears it curly now, she still straightens it from time to time, but it just doesn’t feel the same. “Curly hair suits my personality. It’s taught me to learn to embrace who I am,” Thomas said.

Getting in the habit of wearing your hair curly influences a lot of women to get used to their process, to the point where they may even want to implement different ways of wearing it curly.

Junior Kymaia Gadsden, is someone whose hair journey has been nothing short of inspiring. She has been natural since 2011, and has since tried many different products and curl styles. Gadsden is very unique in the sense that she actually has many different curl patterns throughout her hair, however she explained that hair typing can sometimes divide the hair community because of all the different types of hair.

Until recently, I wasn’t aware of the curl pattern spectrum, but now I can see why it can be educational, but also demeaning in a sense. It can have a positive or negative effect. It has the power to make women who don’t have a certain type of hair feel less about themselves, and makes them fully aware of the type of hair that they have so that they know what works best for their hair.  

Senior Morgan Benson said that she too, has different curl patterns, and she tends to give certain parts of her hair more attention than others. Benson has been natural since 2014, and has since dyed her hair, causing her hair treatment to change quite a bit. “The dye has made it a lot drier, but I wash and I deep condition every time. It is a tad bit frizzier, but I don’t hate frizz because it actually gives me a lot more volume,” Benson explained. “When you have curly hair you’re very particular with it.”

Morgan Benson | Photo by Joy Kostansek

One thing that all of the women interviewed have in common is their very specific hair regimens. It takes some people time, like Thomas, who explained that she is still figuring out what works for her. But when I asked all four ladies what their secret was to their beautiful curls, they all shared their favorite beauty products, which include Shea Moisture Dry & Damaged, Vanity Planet Scalp Massaging Brush, Shea Moisture Intensive Hydration, Carol’s Daughter Leave in Spray, Kinky Curly 2Day, and Shea Moisture Mousse.

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There are also little things that one may not think about investing in, such as a towel from Deva Curl, which Morgan Benson uses. There are also various ways of achieving a certain curl pattern that you can get by using foam roller sets, doing twist outs, bantu knots or braid outs. The options are endless, and overtime you find out what works and what doesn’t.

When I asked the women what the advantages and disadvantages of being natural were, there were far more perks than setbacks. Overall, the common answer for setbacks was the upkeep, cost of products, the confusion on what to do with it in the winter time vs. in the summer, and the beginning stage. However, all four women reported having natural hair to be much easier to deal with in warm weather, less limiting in terms of outdoor and water activities and such a unique part of their look.

Cunningham, Thomas & Benson | Photo by Joy Kostansek

While being natural may feel like it is a long and hard process, each of these women found that it was worth it. Cunningham, Gadsden and Benson all agreed that women should definitely take the leap of faith.

“It’ll be hard at first, but after you get into it you’ll be so proud of yourself,” said Benson. “Don’t be afraid to ask other people what to do.” Thomas also added that it’s important to go at your own pace, and to progress in a way that is good for you.

During my short, natural hair journey, I realized that it wasn’t going to be something where you snapped your fingers and your hair would be exactly how you wanted it to be. It is so much more than that, and it requires a lot of patience and self love.

What people fail to realize is that it is so much more than your hair that develops in the process, it’s your confidence too. The willingness to stay strong through the hard phases, seek help from Youtube and other websites, and be your own advocate isn’t always easy.

But then again, when has being a woman, and trying to achieve a certain look ever been easy? Women should wear their hair in whatever way makes them feel beautiful and fearless.

If there is any advice that I could offer, it would be to give it a try. I think every woman should do something that makes them step out of their comfort zone and experience something different than what they are familiar with, because when it’s all said and done, no one can ever rock your natural hair like you can.