I was born with relatively straight hair, but when my personal episode of Puberty Blues started, things changed. The individual strands of my mane rebelled on me: some got kinky; others wound themselves around invisible garden poles; the rest zigzagged outward and even upward. As the ’90s came to an end, so did my confidence to wear my hair naturally. (Thank goodness straightener technology upped its game soon after.)
People talk about the money they’d save if they didn’t buy takeaway coffees. I cry for both the dollars and time I’d save if I didn’t spend so many hours forcing my hair to be something it’s not. Imagine not having to wake an hour earlier on hair-washing days! Imagine not spending such an abominable amount on new straightening technology and products! Imagine being able to cut blunt Sandra Bullock-style bangs! Until recently, I couldn’t even.
If I had a dollar for every time a (naïve) person with straight hair told me they wish they had my curls I’d feature somewhere between Gina Rinehart and the Atlassian boys on Forbes’ Rich List. Not to mention the bucks I’d have for every time a curly-haired acquaintance asked if I’d heard of the Curly Girl Method.
What is the Curly Girl Method? For those out-of-the-know, the Curly Girl Method (CGM) encourages people with waves, curls and coils to ditch damaging habits and embrace their hair’s natural shape by doing less to it. It originally comes from Lorraine Massey’s book Curly Girl: The Handbook and reached viral status when it wound up on the Internet. There are now hundreds of Curly Girl Method Facebook groups and Insta accounts, with almost every country represented, amassing millions of followers.
Basically, it’s a guide for what not to do, with slight variations for different curl levels and types. It (strongly) recommends avoiding shampoo, heat, brushes, and hair products containing sulphates, silicones, alcohol and artificial fragrances. Think this all sounds easier said than done? You’re right – I know because I tried it. Here’s how it went down.
Step 1: Cleanse
After a bunch of Googling amounting to much confusion (there are hundreds of conflicting CGM interpretations, tips and tricks online – my aim here is to spare you the trouble) my first challenge lay in categorising the stuff on my head as wavy, curly or coily. Mine is all of the above.
Those with waves are allowed to use shampoo once a week, but those with curls and coils should slowly wean themselves off it entirely and “co-wash” with just water and conditioner instead; once a week to every 10 days for curls, as little as possible for coils.
Like most people I know with curly hair, I don’t need to wash my hair often; once or twice a week usually does it. But skipping shampoo altogether? Yikes. Luckily, I had the convenience of trialling this step just as my city went into lockdown, so smelly hair was less of a concern. The results of the first co-wash, which involves giving yourself a head massage with conditioner, took me by surprise. My hair felt moist (sorry) and soft for a week, and there seemed to be less haywire frizzy fits around the place. Co-wash two, same. By co-wash four my hair was up in a permanent top knot and hidden under a cap during my daily walk, so I couldn’t tell you. I gave in and washed it with shampoo after almost 23 days, before a Hinge date; not because it reeked (surprisingly it didn’t), but because I wanted to wear it straight (exactly what the method says not to do. Oops). Shampoo has stayed in my life, but I now only use it during every second-or-so wash – and my curls seem to happier for it.
Step 2: Condition
This step is about how much conditioner you should leave in your hair after co-washing it. Never – ever! – rinse it all out. Wavy-haired folk should leave a little in, curly-haired most if not all of it. There’s an extra step for those with coils: to wrap your hair when you come out of the shower and apply heat for 10 to 15 minutes for a moisture boost (you will need to rinse it afterwards to avoid a film). One thing I’ve learned is, you can never use too much conditioner – especially when you don’t use shampoo. Contrary to all belief, your hair won’t get greasy. It’ll get luscious - trust me.
Step 3: Dry and Style
This step was the biggest game changer for me. In my pre-CGM days (on the rare occasion I wasn’t doing the full blow-dry and straighten) I used to comb my wet locks after a shower, wrap my hair up in a towel turban, blast dry it when it was half dry, then chuck it in a messy, effortless knot on top of my head because wearing it down was simply not an option. Here’s what I do now: bend forward and blot dry my curls with a towel – exactly like you’d blot excess oil off roasted veggies – then let it air dry. That’s it. No brushing (I take the knots out with my fingers or a wide-toothed comb in the shower). No forced styling (let your part fall where it does naturally). No heat. If you want to give your curls some extra loving, scrunch some product in it from the ends toward the scalp, while bent over. (Hot tip: I couldn’t live without this Killer Curls If you’ve got enough time or the weather’s nice enough to let your hair dry outside, do it.
I might not be a die-hard CGM follower in that I still shampoo, blow-dry and straighten my hair every now and again, but doing these things less has made a massive difference to my mane. It feels softer, it looks shinier, there’s far less frizz, and, with time, the shape of my curls (and waves and coils) is becoming more defined. Elderly family members complement my hair instead of asking “what happened?” Good news all ’round.
My only gripe with the Curly Girl Method is that it suggests its three variations (for waves, curls and coils) will work for everyone. However, when it comes to curly hair, there is no one-size-fits-all method.
I spoke to curly hair experts Adrian Dimarco and Anthony Pilgrim who own Curls Curls Curls in Sydney’s Potts Point, to find out more about cutting, treating, styling and maintaining one’s curvaceous locks.
“Think of the simplicity of making bread,” Dimarco explains. “The recipe hasn’t changed for thousands of years. It’s just flour and water, full stop. The idea of combining moisture and curls is the same; as long as you have curly hair combined with water, you have a recipe for gorgeous shape”. Here’s their advice:
Moisture, moisture, moisture
“You need to combine water and conditioner. If you don’t combine the two it’s like trying to make bread with just water, or just flour – it doesn’t happen,” Dimarco says. Apply conditioner in the shower, and leave most of it in. And don’t be afraid to add more moisturising product to your damp hair afterwards. Think of your curly hair like a sponge.
Use the right products
It’s probably not the simple answer you want, but you need to experiment and find the right ones for your particular curls, through trial and error. Generally speaking, gels are more suited to fine hair, and thicker hair tends to prefer creams. Feel free to mix and match both, and always apply products to wet hair. And you don’t need to spend a bucket-load of dough, either – products bought at the supermarket or chemist can work a treat (just try to avoid ones containing lots of nasty stuff).
Styling straight from the shower
After your last rinse in the shower and squeezing out the excess water, put your hair where you want it (without being too forceful). Define the part, give it a zhuzh, then don’t touch it again. If you must, use a diffuser to dry it quicker.
Touch ups between washes
If frizz starts to form before you’re due for your next hair wash, wet it and work in some conditioner or other moisturising product. This is when serums and oils might be called upon, too.
Have fun with it
Forget blondes – “people with curly hair always have more fun,” Dimarco says. “Rather than being scared of it, you should finally embrace it and relish in it. You’re in control. It’s not shitty hair. You’re lucky.” For the first time in my life, I agree.
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