I bond with no stranger as I do with a curly-haired Indian one, especially if they are a '90s kid like I am. It feels like no matter how different our narratives and journeys might be, we are inevitably bound to have one thing in common—a lifelong struggle with a hairbrush. It took me years to realise that it was an enmity I need not have had in the first place. Most curlies I’ve met have had mummies/daddies brushing out our curly hair while in school, leading to perpetually living with that Monica look from Friends. Most of us have gone through our teenage years being told by parlour aunties and well-meaning friends to straighten, iron, rebond, smoothen, relax, keratin-ise our hair. Many of my comrades (including a junior college-me) succumbed to some treatment or the other that allowed us (and our lovers) to run fingers through our hair. With almost zero representation in the pop culture landscape, shampoo adverts glorifying annoyingly Photoshopped straight hair, and no hair products meant specially for us—us Indian curly-haired girls have often had to live in a full-time identity crisis mode.
When I look back at those growing up years which involved a lot of oiling and brushing in an attempt to flatten out the curls or pulling them tight into a ponytail so they appear straighter, I also realise how much this played on my sense of self. Over time, the idea that straight hair was ‘right’ and ‘normal’, and curly was ‘wrong’, ugly, unworthy and undesirable found deeper roots—an entire society that glorified the 2-for-1 fair-skin-straight-hair combo contributing to the idea. Considering how scientifically linked bad hair days are with how you feel and behave, living through everyday as ‘bad hair’ days chipped away at my self-esteem. I remember being so pleased with compliments that I received when I had straightened my hair in college, without realising that this was feeding my bias against my own natural hair even further. It took a lot of growing up, consciously battling my self-imposed ideals of beauty, plus learning how to bring out the natural beauty of my hair, to come to a point where I haven’t just accepted my hair but am proud of it, and find it to add to my identity than take away from it. The daily frizz and dry hair, though, is another story.
And then last month, my editor suggested I check out the Curly Girl Method (CG Method), one that has been around in various forms for years, but the current popular format of which is largely derived from Lorraine Massey’s 2001 book Curly Girl: The Handbook. An advocate of celebrating naturally wavy and curly hair, it’s been the kickstarter for a slew of blogs and websites that exist solely to tell you how to love and take care of your curls (just ignore the ‘girl’ bit of the name—this is open to anyone on the gender spectrum). I’m just two washes down using a CG-approved product here and a technique there but I can already see how much bouncier and shinier my curls are looking, also—hang on—manageable (goals!). Maybe this is what I needed to have my friends stop calling me Mangal (reference: Aamir Khan’s flyaway frizz in the movie Mangal Pandey).
In a nutshell, the CG method includes: Throwing the shampoo out and co-washing (aka conditioner washing) your hair with CG friendly products (read: no sulphates, silicones and drying alcohols—all of which are sworn enemies of your should-be BFF, ie hydration), using a leave-in conditioner and/or a gel on soaking wet hair, and swapping your towel with a microfiber one or a T-shirt to wrap your head in. But beyond this, it does get technical and at times, overwhelming, with acronyms like Scrunch out the Crunch (SOTC) making appearances. I found this and this as great starter blogs for people like me who were ambling in the dark till now—both by Indian women with curls I am lusting after. But to know how you (and I) can make the CG Method our own through products available in India itself, we spoke with three curlfriends who’ve done the same.
1. Amreen Husain, 27
“I came across the CG Method when I read Massey’s book in early 2017. I found YouTubers following it but could never relate to it, so I looked up those doing it in an Indian space, which led me to The Curious Jalebi. When I started, I went the whole shebang, throwing out all products with sulphates and silicones, and getting my haircuts dry. But six months into it, I visited my parents who live in Jabalpur, and realised I couldn’t buy those products there. So I adapted the method to make it my own, stopped being a product junkie, and bought products off the shelf. I now use:
- The L'Oreal Paris Smooth Intense Smoothing Conditioner - An Argan Oil serum or cream - The Enliven Hair Gel - A L’Oreal shampoo once a week to clarify my hair.
- A towel from the Honest Liz site + a satin bonnet to sleep in—one that my dad used to make fun of earlier but has gotten over now.
I decided it wasn’t worth it for to me to do everything in the CG Method because life gets in the way, but even this has turned my hair around. I now get curls naturally instead of having to style my hair.”
2) Sohnee Harshey, 29
“I’ve always had curly hair but as a kid, I had very thin, wispy hair. My parents were very anxious about my hair not turning out thick or nice enough and so I spent the first 7-8 years of my life bald, or with ‘triangle hair’. I came to know of the [curly girl] method in 2013 when I started growing my hair out. I chanced upon Right Ringlets, one of the few blogs that was talking about curly hair in an Indian context, and while there were too many terms like ‘scrunching’ and ‘plopping’ in there that I didn’t have time or patience to invest in, one thing that stuck with me was not using a comb on dry [curly] hair ever.
About a year ago, I finally figured out and bought products that work for me. I am not very into the whole scientific aspect of it. I know it’s supposed to be silicone- and paraben-free but I haven’t felt the need to invest time in identifying what is what. The ones I use include:
- Shampoos: WOW Apple Cider Vinegar shampoo, or the DevaCurl No-Poo Shampoo - Conditioner: The L'Oreal Paris Smooth Intense Smoothing Conditioner (one of the cheapest ones in the market), Enliven Fruit Conditioner, or the DevaCurl One Condition Conditioner - Curl Cream: The Cantu Shea Butter Curl Activator Cream is the best product in the CG regime. It’s slightly expensive but works wonderfully.
- I also use an argan or jojoba oil to scrunch out the crunch. Once in a fortnight, I use a deep conditioner.
My advice to people—I feel like an evangelist at this point—is to not invest in expensive products but start off with the right techniques. At the end of the day, we have to recognise that while we are trying to challenge the straight hair beauty ideal, one does not want to fall into the trap of buying curly hair products because it’s the next beauty ideal to follow.”
3) Vandana Krishnan, 34
“I am fairly new to the CG method—just some months into it. One of my friends on a WhatsApp group spoke about how she was experiencing a lot of frizz while transitioning from straightened hair to her naturally curly one, but how she was almost frizz-free because of this method. I looked it up and found the Curls and Beauty Diary blog, which explains the process in a simple way. I started by ordering inexpensive products and tried it out only in November last year, though I can already see the difference. I’ve even got my mom started on the Squish to Condition technique. The products I use include:
- WOW Coconut Milk Shampoo (though I find this too drying) or the Rustic Art Biodegradable Aloe Shampoo.
- Giovanni Smooth as Silk Conditioner: I co-wash with this one alternatingly.
- Arata Hair Cream or the Cantu Curl Activator Cream.
I feel like for the first time in my life, I am letting my hair be— the way it was always meant to be. While a hair bath would take me about 30-40 minutes earlier, now it’s just a 20-minute process. On a deeper level, I feel like I’ve accepted myself rather than criticising my hair and consequently, myself, all the time.”
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