To curl or not to curl: A journey of hair care and love

Illustration of curly hair
Rhea Dias/Staff

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Hair. Biologically meant to keep us warm. Socially, a way for us to express ourselves and show off our style. For me? A disaster waiting to happen.

For the longest time, I grew up with a vast hatred of the chocolate-colored locks growing out of my head. Well, they weren’t locks at the time. When I was little, I thought taming my curly hair meant brushing it out and tying it back. And if you have curly hair, you know how much of a no-no this is. Because when you brush it out, you ruin the curl and acquire an unpleasant amount of puffy frizz, potentially breaking the ends and preventing you from growing your hair out to a desired length.

I’ll admit that for a while it didn’t bother me that I looked like one of Alex’s cousins from “Madagascar.” Except for the fact that most of my friends had long, straight hair that was mesmerizing to look at and touch. Seriously, do you know the amount of times kids would look and claim my hair was “rough,” just because it didn’t look as straight as everybody else’s? Or, they would assume it was dirty and run away crying. Not exactly something a six-year-old should go through.

What made me more self conscious, though, was when I decided to cut it for the first time. Tanya, a girl I envied because of her trendy, sparkly pink Skechers and ability to make even the mean girls befriend her, cut her hair. Now there was a girl that looked like Dora. Her hair didn’t move when she didn’t need it to, and it perfectly swayed when she walked or jumped off a swing set. I wanted that.

So, somehow — and this is something I regret to this day — I convinced my mother to cut my waist-length hair (I’ve never been able to get it back to that length until now, so I just want to emphasize how much I’ve spent my whole life regretting that decision). But when I went to school, my hair didn’t look like Tanya’s. It was four times the volume of her silky strands, and it settled around my face like a huge chunk of cotton candy. My hair had gone from being a lion’s mane, to looking like one of the trees from “The Lorax.” Trust me, it was not pretty.

My hair had gone from being a lion’s mane, to looking like one of the trees from “The Lorax.”

That’s when I realized my hair was different.

And so began my journey with the trusty ol’ flat iron. My mom wouldn’t let me do it every day, thank god, but I managed to convince her to let me use it during special events.

And yet my hair still wouldn’t stay! I would wake up, with the nape of my neck curly and the strands turned wavy. What was I doing wrong?

Now, I think it’s time to clarify what kind of hair I have. If you’re familiar with hair types, I have what is referred to as 3A-B curls, meaning some strands are more coiled and defined than others. For a better visual reference, my hair basically looks like cavatappi pasta!

When I don’t brush it out of course.

But when I was little I didn’t know that.

I grew up hating my hair, wishing it was straighter and hoping to one day grow up and magically have the hair I wanted.

I guess it’s safe to say I have grown from that and learned to accept my hair, to love it. But I definitely didn’t go from trying to change my hair to offering it Valentine’s Day roses and chocolates overnight. This transformation is still ongoing, and every day I learn new ways to improve my hair care even more.

The beginning of this journey was when I discovered water in middle school. Yes, I know, I know, crazy right? H2O, made of hydrogen and oxygen. I realized I could not only drink water, but also use it to make my hair stay. I was tired of weighing it down with gels and decided I would try to brush it out with only water.

Success! But only for like 30 minutes …

Simply adding water to my routine would give my hair lovely shape only for the first two class periods of the day. Then, it would go back to being frizzy, and I would hate it even more.

This transformation is still ongoing, and every day I learn new ways to improve my hair care even more.

Not to mention this was the age when other girls were also discovering how to take care of their hair. While their curls were bouncy, defined and adorable, mine still looked like a mess. So I decided it was just genetics. That my hair was just meant to look this way. I didn’t have curly hair; I had puffy, knotted, frizzy hair.

Some time went by before I discovered mousse. Now, curly girls either hate or love it. Mousse is fun to play with, but it can give you the texture of crunchy hair, and not everyone is into that. This foamy product can especially weigh down your hair if it’s thin and should be avoided if you want to maximize volume. But, 14-year-old me was in heaven. I can’t tell you how many bottles I went through, but finally, finally my hair was stable. It was no longer in my way, looked curly and bouncy — there really were no problems.

Until the flakes kicked in.

My first mistake was thinking I had dandruff. I assumed flakes and dandruff were the same thing and didn’t bother looking up the difference, proceeding to buy shampoos marketed toward dandruff and eventually drying my scalp even more. Flakes are caused by skin coming off of your scalp when you scratch because it’s dry, while dandruff is the buildup of skin from excess oils on your scalp.

I was confused. Why wasn’t the “dandruff” going away?

I assumed then that it was the product, and I was half correct. While the problem on my scalp, which was actually flakes, was due to dryness, it was also due to product buildup. I was using too much mousse on my head, in addition to washing it too often. The mousse made me itch, and that made me shower, only to put more mousse on my head and so on. Thus repeating the vicious cycle.

Sadly, I figured I would have to stop using this life-changing product, and for a while, I did. But then I couldn’t stand the frizz and ended up going back to mousse, bearing with the buildup and dryness it contributed.

I never knew scalps needed to be moisturized. In fact, all my curls needed to look luscious was moisture. Wouldn’t that have been nice to know!

But I didn’t learn that until recently. Entering college was both a blessing and a curse. It was the reason for my suffering, mentally, but an eye-opening experience for my hair. By this time freshman year, I had gone back to assuming my hair was always going to be horrendous and that I was going to use mousse forever. And after I cut it because I had no time to take care of it, I figured, whatever, que sera, sera.

When I went back home after freshman year, I decided I wanted to dye my hair. I had never done it, and my mom was being surprisingly calm about letting me go through with it. I had to take advantage of this moment!

So I booked a salon appointment, sat down in the chair and waited. Told my stylist what I wanted, how I wanted it to look, and even showed him a bunch of pictures — only for him to laugh in my face!

I was confused, embarrassed and shocked. Were my requests too much? Was my hair also incapable of being dyed? I had just had the worst year in my life; didn’t I deserve to doll myself up a bit?

Still, I listened anxiously to what my hair stylist had to say. And honestly, I’m grateful for his tough love.

He told me my hair was too damaged. That it was dry and broken, and it was obvious how much I had neglected it. If I dyed it now and continued the way I was looking after it, it would only get worse.

I didn’t notice the damage until I started looking after it. It was dry. It was broken. It was not ready to be dyed.

I vowed to protect my hair and then came back to UC Berkeley, and — guess what? Nothing changed!

For a while I tried to take care of my hair, but it was tiring. I was not seeing results, so I wasn’t motivated to keep going. But then, out of the blue, came another blessing: Mixed @ Berkeley.

I don’t often leave my room, but I couldn’t help myself when I saw that this amazing club on campus was offering an info session on hair care! Not only did this info session provide amazing information and is the reason why I discovered my hair type, but it also gave me free samples of products that have changed my hair care journey.

It makes me feel accomplished and happy. I wouldn’t want any other hair type and am now working on ways to help other girls love their hair too.

I now know that I have to deep condition my hair after a shower, and thanks to tons of curly-haired youtubers, I have purchased products that work like mousse and keep my curl definition without the crunch. I have started wearing silk bonnets to bed and will soon be transitioning to silk pillowcases as well. And most importantly, I exfoliate before my shower to get rid of any product buildup and make sure to brush my hair only on wash day to detangle and get the perfect curl shape for my hair.

Now, every time I wake up in the morning, my hair doesn’t look like a bird’s nest atop my head, and instead it bounces around and looks well-defined. It’s no longer too frizzy, and I actually enjoy styling it.

It’s been a long journey, and it’s not over yet. I still want to learn how to grow it out faster and gain more volume, but I no longer hate my hair. It makes me who I am and ties me closer to my Hispanic roots. It makes me feel accomplished and happy. I wouldn’t want any other hair type and am now working on ways to help other girls love their hair too. It can be anything from sharing tutorials on different hairstyles to sending videos on how to take care of their hair. Even when I’m in class, I try to compliment some lovely locks if I see them because everyone deserves to hear how nice their hair is!

Straight, curly, long or short, all hair is beautiful. Hair care is a universal practice, and so is love. So this Valentine’s Day, I dedicate this haiku to my hair (and some new deep conditioner):

Curls that frizz and poof,

Are just as beautiful as

Curls that bounce and sway.

This Valentine’s Day, remember to love yourself first, but don’t forget to learn yourself too. Because once you learn what makes you you, you’ll appreciate it even more! And that’s on self love.

Contact Pamela Hasbun at [email protected].

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