Some days, I look back and wonder how I could have been so obtuse.
I mean, as you can see by my picture when I was three, my hair was trying really hard to be curly. And yet, all during my growing-up years, even though we would tell people it was naturally curly, my parents and I just saw it as wavy and unruly. But not once did anyone tell me that curly hair needed a completely different kind of care than straight hair!
One of my mother’s brothers had curly hair. It was full of short curls. Mine never looked like that. So, in my mind, I didn’t have curly hair.
Except once. It was the oddest thing. Around my twenty-first birthday, I spent a weekend at a conference that was held at a hotel with an indoor pool. Our rooms circled the water, and it was really humid. The location was north of Winnipeg, and it was January, so while there was snow outside, we felt we were in a tropical resort.
I have no pictures, but over the three days we were there, my short hair just got curlier and curlier.
This was the one and only time in my life it had ever done that.
Now, I know why. It was, of course, the humidity. Because I grew up on the dry prairies, my hair was always dry. And curly hair like mine thrives on water.
The day after I got back to university in Brandon after that weekend, my hair was back to normal. But that experience left a question mark in mind.
I was reminded of it when I read the letter from the Post-Adoption Agency in Regina after I contacted them after my first granddaughter was born. I’d always known that I was adopted, but now I had been given some information about my birth parents. Two words jumped out of the brief description of my mother. “Curly hair.”
But believe it or not, even that didn’t make me think my hair was curly. Wavy, yes. Annoying, yes. But not curly.
So what finally got my attention?
In 1999, after I’d spent several years trying to figure out why I was so tired all the time and why my hair had virtually become straight, my doctor finally put me on synthroid.
In April of 2000, after letting my hair grow longer, I wanted to see if the synthroid had made a difference to the new growth, so I cut my hair and then let it air dry.
I was astonished by how curly it looked.
You can see the result in this picture. All I did was wash my hair and let it air dry.
Andre Talks Hair, by Andre Walker
While most of the book wasn’t really what I needed, I did find the first part interesting because he separated hair into 4 types, and subsets within those.
Straight – with 3 subsets
Wavy – also with 3 subsets
Curly – with 2 subsets
Kinky – with 2 subsets
In trying to decide where mine fit, I wavered between Wavy Type C and Curly Type A, but finally decided that it was just remotely possible I fir under Curly Type A.
I felt dazed.
And I still wasn’t sure what to do next. And after suffering through all those hairdressers making my hair short (none of whom had ever said the word curly), I’d been cutting my own hair since I first grew it long in my early twenties.
Not long after this, however, I began doing a lot of speaking all over Canada. I knew I needed to look more professional.
With some prompting from a friend who gave me the name of her stylist, I decided to go to a “high-end” stylist.
I really hoped he’d know what my hair needed. Turned out he did and he didn’t.
The good parts:
When I asked him if my hair was curly, he said yes.
He told me I should never brush it and I should get a comb with large teeth.
He recommended I use products for curly hair.
The not-so-good parts:
He thought I should keep it fairly short.
He styled it with a comb.
He dried it with a blow-dryer.
He made it go where he wanted it to go.
So things were better, and I no longer thought of my hair as bad or unruly, but…
Eventually, I stopped speaking and focused on writing.
Since I hated getting my hair dyed, I stopped and let it go au naturelle.
And then I let it grow it long.
And experimented with it.
But I still wasn’t happy with it.
A book I found practical, informative, and really, really helpful.
The Curly Girl Handbook by Lorraine Massey with Michele Bender
I found this book so helpful! I identified with many of the stories of people who also didn’t know their hair was curly or how to care for it. I really liked the pictures and the CD, which showed different kinds of curls.
This book identifies 7 types of curly hair:
I decided that mine might fit into the Corkicelli group. Which was weird. Looking at the pictures of people with those curls was not looking at my hair. And yet… the possibility was there. If I just did the right things.
And the good news was that the book gives all kinds of advice as to how to look after curly hair. Not only what not to do, but also what to do.
So now I can wash my hair on any random day, let it air dry, and it ends up with actual curls.
Like in this picture, which I took after trying their advice for a couple of weeks.
Yes, those are actual curls that formed with no help from me other than to wash them with the right kind of products and let them air dry.
Wondering what the secrets are? Stay tuned for my next blog.