Monday, April 27, 2009

When You have Naturally Curly Hair

This weekend I met a new curly girl, a redhead. She suggested that we could discuss products. Yes, but I said more important was hair care routine. I am not often a zealot, but I am about curls. I told her that she must read Curly Girl, penned by Lorraine Massey, the owner of Devachan Salon in New York City (, which I recommend to every curly-haired person I know. It is a manual for curly hair care that is liberating, empowering and very playful. I know many who will only get their hair cut at Devachan or at Ouidad (; once you find your inner curl you get very fussy about who gets to come close with scissors. If you need more propaganda, look at for articles, photos and product descriptions. I like to play with products and often go browsing in stores that cater to ethnic markets. A particular favorite is; Avon’s Advance Techniques Dry Ends Serum is my single favorite product, even though it is not specifically for curls. (See
Frieda, the redhead in the Peanuts cartoon strip, (go to for a history and picture of the character) was also a curly girl and would tell you that people “expect more” from you when you have curly hair, but in my childhood it taught me to expect less, especially to have no hope of thinking I was attractive. Actually, I had fine, lank hair until the age of ten (I have the photos to prove it…somewhere) and my mother originally kept me in severe short cuts like hers. I hated them. As I grew older I was able to persuade my mother to let it grow a bit longer, but she never ceased to complain about it. I cut my hair a bit shorter in fifth grade and it grew back thick and curly, a marvel, except that it was impossible to manage. Who knew how to take care of it? It was the mid-70s, the era of Charlie’s Angels and straight hair, preferably feathered or flipped, was the ideal of beauty. No matter what, my hair could not learn any of those tricks and was a perpetual frizzy, messy disappointment. It makes sense to me that, as reported by Wikipedia, Frieda’s last appearance was in 1975. Also, I had black hair and almost all fairy tale princesses were blonde, redheaded if they were feisty and chestnut if they were sultry. Snow White was the one exception, but her hair was straight and she was drugged into sleep for most of the story. By the time the 80s came around and I hit junior high school I had given up on my hair ever being reasonable. Even when perms were in they did not look like my head, but had a slick perfection to them and remained in place. Real curls have minds of their own. The Medusa myth comes from deep truth.
At some point something happened and the trends turned around, as did my own attitude. When I graduated college I finally got rid of the woeful bangs that I had clung to, thinking that they would help frame my face. (I am so embarrassed). I think I first realized the potential of it all when a hairdresser in DC (at Supercuts on Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park) kept me in the chair so that he could play with my hair. “So tell me,” he asked “are you Jewish or Italian?” “Jewish, how did you know?” “Oh, the hair.” He played with it for a good half hour. I started to pay more attention to hair, and standards of beauty, as markers of ethnic identity. And I took charge of learning how to take care of my own coiffure. I have not blown my hair dry since around that time, even in salons, sometimes causing much consternation. A few years later I discovered hair product (I was late to this… I could blame my mother or my own puritanical streak or the lack of curl mentors) and found out that my hair curls instead of frizzes when it has enough moisture in it. Down the road I minimized the use of brushes, combs and shampoo. The book encouraged me to abandon them altogether. Gulp, I did, just about. And I have been happier ever since, as have my tresses, which stay soft and untangled with what is now minimal, easy care. I also figured out that many hair accessories did not work for me. I tended to use scarves instead of hair bands and elastics became verboten.
I am now on a personal mission to help other women unleash their inner goddesses, to stop punishing themselves and allow unfettered the tremendous beauty and energy in their locks. It helps that for the most part curls are in style these days, and I trust likely to stay so. Truthfully, it seems harder in our global world to justify prejudices against them, even though many still see them as unruly or even unprofessional. As a museum person I often stop to note the prominence of waves and corkscrews in the art of earlier eras, pointing it out to companions. Curls are timeless; Curly Girl has a great illustrated timeline. Curls, color and culture: our hair sends all sort of messages, intended or not. I feel most confident and calm when it sends the message that I celebrate who I am and what I have, naturally.
© 2009 Leah Strigler


chayaruchama said...

How unfortunate that it often takes YEARS to 'come to grips' with our unique gifts....

I thought you looked pretty HOT, myself.

May our dear, new Titian beauty friend soon unleash her own tresses on the world, LOL !

Ask Leah said...

Thanks! The experiment began and the first week was successful... I hope that our re-Raphaelite friend checks in and lets us know!

Erin said...

I just started the curly girl method and have a blog to document the experience.
How is your's going?

Ask Leah said...

I have been a Curly Girl for a long time now and am quite happy with the routine. When winter gets too dry I sometimes sleep in conditioner for extra moisturizing. I have been trying Christo prodyucts - the gel II and Structura Lotion are working great.