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How I Finally Learned To Love My Natural Curls

Writer Del Sandeen embracing her natural hair

Little girls often look to their mothers for what they view as beautiful. My mother has naturally straight hair, while I do not. Growing up, I felt different from my mom, and as a result, didn't love the curly hair that set me apart. Her hair is stick straight and not what anyone would call hard to handle. Instead, it’s the kind of straight hair often seen in old shampoo commercials, where a gleeful woman swings her shiny locks around. My hair, on the other hand, was very thick and extremely curly. To use the popular hair typing chart, she’s a 1 and I’m a mix of 3B and 3C.

To make matters worse, my mom had no idea how to handle my hair. Styling sessions were not fun, to put it mildly. I don’t know how old I was when I realized how different our hair is, but since hers seemed easy and I began to really hate mine. The first time I had my naturally curly hair relaxed, at age 11, I felt like a dream had come true.

Over the years, however, the shine on that dream gradually wore off. I often experienced burning when having my relaxer touched up. Despite having long hair as a child, my relaxed strands never grew much past my shoulders. By my early 20s, I was tired of the process, but it took several more years before I stopped relaxing completely, mainly because I had no idea what to do with my hair without chemicals in it. How would I style it? What would it look like? I told myself it was simply easier to deal with relaxed hair.

When I was almost 30, I went full steam ahead and did a big chop, cutting my shoulder-length straightened hair down to half an inch or so. I also made a vow to not return to relaxers for at least one year, giving time to get used to this new style. That first year was tough, but eventually, I came to love my hair exactly as it grows out of my head, every curl and all.

author Del Sandeen with relaxed hair

The author with relaxed hair (complete with frosty eyeshadow)

My Struggles With Accepting My Natural Curls

After shaving off most of my hair, it took a while to adjust to my new look. It was definitely different, to say the least. But it didn't take long for me to enjoy the ease of styling my newly shorn locks. My hair was done for the day in five minutes or less. As much as I loved the simplicity of styling short hair, I was curious to see what my natural texture would look like in all its long glory.

The Awkward Phase

As my hair grew longer, I ran into a common trap among women moving back to their natural curly hair—looking for that holy grail product. As anyone who's gone on a holy grail product quest knows, you often try many (many) products until you find something that works for you. The cabinet under my bathroom sink looked like the clearance table at a beauty supply store. It was full of half-used and almost-full bottles and jars, products that didn't deliver the specific look I wanted.

That's another issue many women have when they stop relaxing. We often have an idea in our heads of how we want our hair to look, but reality may present a very different picture. This can be especially problematic if someone imagines she’ll have big, bouncy curls (maybe what she remembers from childhood), and her real texture is tighter and prone to shrinkage. She might be surprised by just how much moisture her hair needs or how it grows up and out instead of down.

Then there was the fact that I had no idea what my natural curly hair texture actually was. All I had was a memory of what my hair was like before it was relaxed, but no real experience styling it. Plus, my naturally dry hair was even drier due to a lack of proper conditioning.

I went from a stylish super-short ‘do to the awkward phase: it was—too long to be easy to style and too short to pull into a ponytail when my hair was misbehaving. Instead of giving in to the urge to cut or relax my hair, I got creative. I relied on accessories like skinny scarves as headbands and wore braided extensions from time to time.

author Del Sandeen flaunting her naturally curly hair

The author flaunting her naturally curly hair

How I Learned to Love My Natural Curls

Once I began regularly deep conditioning (about once a week), my hair finally looked and felt properly moisturized and was in much better condition. A product like Mizani Fusion Intense Moisture Mask can help immensely. As a result of having well-moisturized and cared for hair, it became easier to love it. When I found the right natural curly hair products for me, I regretted not going natural sooner.

I also discovered just how much I could do with my hair. I could twist it or braid it, create Bantu knots, or a combination of various styles. That doesn’t mean I gave up on straight hair for good. When I got the urge for a bouncy blowout, I could achieve it with help from flat irons and a heat protectant this time—not harsh chemicals. A product like Biolage Blowdry Glotion is a must for safe heat-styling.

Treating My Natural Curly Hair As a Friend

No matter what hair texture you have, acceptance is often a mental hurdle. After all, my hair was still thick and extremely curly, much like it had been when I was younger. That wasn't going to change, so my attitude toward it had to. Even this new outlook on life—or at least, hair—, that doesn't mean I didn't have bad hair days. I definitely did—and even now, still do. But I had to stop looking at my hair like it was my enemy. It was growing out of my head, after all. We had to learn to work together! Over time, I learned more about my hair, much like I'd learn more about a new friend. And just as you accept a friend, warts and all, I looked at the positives in my hair instead of focusing on any shortcomings.

One year turned into two, and so on. Before I knew it, it had been ten years since I'd relaxed my hair. Now, it's been twenty, and unlike 11-year-old me, who only wanted straight hair, I wouldn't trade my curls—sometimes frizzy, often bossy, always uniquely mine—for anything.

Interested in professional advice about how to embrace your natural hair? Use our salon locator to book an appointment at a salon near you.

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