Health Is Beauty

My Curly Hair: How (and Why) I’ve Learned to Embrace (and Even Love) It


Curly hair has attitude. It is imperfect and unruly and reactive to the mood of the person its attached to, as well as the weather. I have curly hair and I hate to straighten it; not only is it boring and time-consuming (there are so many other things I’d rather be doing than my hair), it rarely ever lasts; my hair wants to be curly and even professional blow-drys last 24 hours at most (and heaven forbid there’s a hint of moisture in the air, because then I either have to ‘ruin’ my blowout or run around like an old lady with a newspaper over my head – ugh).

I feel less attractive, more conventional (not my personality), and just generally less “me” when my hair is straight. Me with straight hair is….boring. I feel like I look like everyone else. At the same time, I always feel that when I’m supposed to look ‘nice’ I should straighten it. I always get compliments when my hair is straight: “You look so pretty!” whereas when my hair is curly it is always about the hair: “Your hair is so curly!”

My hair straight from the sea, dried in the Bahamian winds and my face makeup-free.

I’m not the only curlyhead caught in this conundrum; the last few years have seen a wealth of conversations about hair textures, and I say, it’s about time! Not only do hair chemical hair-straighteners have some pretty nasty health effects, they invariably take all the energy out of one’s hair; I always notice that naturally curly hair that’s been subjected to Brazilian straighteners looks sad and flat (which in turn makes me feel sad that these women feel that their natural hair is so unacceptable to society that they have to tame it into submission with some seriously harsh chemicals). Blow-dried curly-to-straight hair doesn’t have the same sad aspect, as it’s only temporary after all.

Even without chemical straighteners, the lengths that curly-haired people go to, from layering on the (likely filled with toxic ingredients) products to spending hours with a hair dryer and/or straightener is really wasteful and requires a heck of a lot of effort.

What if curly hair just became totally acceptable? What if those of us with curly hair wore it openly in professional settings? After all, it is up to those of us with the curlies to redefine what curly hair means; we can’t expect straight-haired people to do that for us.

My curly hair styled and smoothed with my fingers and hair oil. Never brush curly hair; I only do right before I wash it.

For so long, straight hair has been seen (and still is) as tidier, more feminine, and more desirable. And if that’s your natural texture, that’s great—but why does one have to be better than the other? African-American women have been dealing with this issue over the last decades, with the issue of natural kinky hairdos costing women their jobs when bosses don’t see it as ‘professional’ for a woman to wear her hair as it grows out of her head. That, to me, is crazy (not to mention racist). Let’s take back our hair!

There are more women in the world with curly hair (65%) than with straight; but among those of us descended from Europeans, only about 15% of us have naturally curly hair (about 45% have wavy hair and 40% straight tresses). Most traits that are more rare, like blue or green eyes, blonde hair color, tallness, and slimness are considered desirable—except curly hair. Why?

I’m much more relaxed now that I just wear my hair curly!

As part of my own personal project of loving who I am as I am (and as I age), I have been experimenting with wearing my curly hair out and about (before I tended to put it back in a ponytail or up in a bun when it was curly, or I would half-heartedly straighten it). I’m thinking of myself as an ambassador for curls!

If you want to love and rock your curly hair, my best advice is to go to a curly-hair-focused hairstylist. Ever since I went to Devachan salon in NYC (there are locations across the country) for a single haircut especially for my kind of curls (there are kinky curls, wavy curls, swirly curls, and more) I have been much more comfortable and able to manage my hair type. A curl-appropriate cut and consultation and instruction on how to preserve and enhance your curls, as well as sulfate-free shampoos and curl-specific conditioners makes a huge, huge difference.

(Also, check out YouTube videos for how to dry curly hair naturally and try plopping your hair for beautiful curls.)

The Curly Project is an interesting project on how curly-haired women view themselves; what’s your take? I think wearing your curls is a little bit revolutionary.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.