For someone who fancies herself relatively confident in the skin she’s in, I have a really shitty relationship with my hair.
I’m one of those wavy-slash-curly-slash-frizzy-haired people who has—hook, line, and sinker—fallen for the tired beauty myth that straight hair is prettier, more polished, more professional. And for years, I assaulted my hair with hot tools to make it behave like I thought it should.
I can pinpoint the exact summer it all started: It was between my sophomore and junior years of high school, when I spent several weeks traveling around the northwestern United States by bus with 40 other Jewish high schoolers. Much more interested in mountain biking with the boys than shopping with the girls, I fit in more seamlessly with my non-Jewish teammates at soccer camp over previous summers than I did with this group of strangers with whom I only had a religious upbringing in common. But at the end of our weeks-long adventure, a few of the girls dolled me up for our final night together—complete with a borrowed, too-tight, too-sexy top; glittery eyeshadow (hey, it was the '00s); and freshly straightened hair.
The hair straightening stuck—and it stuck hard. Part of the reason had to be that I just didn’t know what to do with my natural hair. At that point in my life, I thought you brushed your hair when you got out of the shower and went about your business as it air-dried. While I wholly understand there’s no one specific type of Jewish hair, there definitely is a stereotypical one—and I have that. It took me decades to learn I have hair you don’t brush before you air-dry.
But another part of the reason was trickier to untangle (see what I did there?). I suddenly liked how my hair looked straight because all these other people liked how my hair looked straight. I had lost the innocence of not knowing what a hair straightener was. I had learned through the seductive oohs and aahs of a bunch of teenage girls that my frizzy waves were something to be self-conscious about. Their straight-hair-preferring coos echoed in my memory as I spent longer and longer doing my hair—into my 30s.
Then, I read an article on Alma titled 9 Jewish Women on the Love/Hate Relationship With Their Hair and something clicked. I didn’t want to hate my hair. I found myself coveting not only the perfect curls but the curl confidence of other women who embraced their natural styles. I didn’t want to force my hair to be something it’s not, just like I wouldn’t force my belly or my legs or my eyebrows to be. Suddenly my hair straightening felt decidedly body un-positive, and I wanted to be the kind of woman who loved her natural hair.
I let the idea percolate until one day I dared to bring it up around my (very supportive) colleagues here at Health. That morning, I confessed: I was newly 33 and still didn’t know what to do with my own damn hair.
Several favors called in later, I was armed with 10 different products for curly hair that other online reviewers have raved about, and I set out on what just might be the most nerve-wracking experiment of my professional life.
OK, so that’s more than a little dramatic, yes—but it really was an emotional test. Here I was expected to show up at my place of work with hair I had previously considered bedhead. My frizzy waves felt unprofessional and undone to me—and to me only, I quickly learned.
Aside from one (male) coworker who said he didn’t recognize me, most people in the office didn’t notice, didn’t care, or didn’t mind my freed-from-the-straightener mane. And the more I saw my hair transformation wasn’t a big deal to anyone else, the smaller of a deal it became to me. Before testing out each new product, I took a deep breath and wished for the best, hopeful I would at least not hate how my hair looked and at best feel comfortable leaving it down all day.
As I tested each product, I jotted down notes. My criteria: I wanted something lightweight that didn’t make my hair too stiff or crunchy or leave a sticky residue on my hands. Something without an overwhelming fragrance. Something that tamed frizz and volume but encouraged Beyoncé-like movement.
Throughout February and March, just about every time I washed my hair, I tried a new product for curly strands. I spent a lot of time looking at my hair in the mirror, trying to figure out if I was just tolerating this look or if it was actually growing on me.
I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable yet with my natural waves, but I’m moving in the right direction. It helps that I found two products I really liked—and that using them saves me so much time and energy in the morning that I used to spend straightening my hair.
The curly hair products I'll buy again
Moroccanoil Curl Control Mousse (left)
Mousse can be a recipe for crunchy ramen noodle curls, which was definitely not my goal. This product makes a lot of mousse-y noise going on, so I was skeptical at first. But it dried with ideal definition and very minimal frizz. It controlled volume nicely too—insecure about the sheer size of my hair some days, I liked that this mousse kept my curls subtle rather than enormous. The slight bit of residue left on my hands after re-scrunching was worth it for the soft, streamlined look.
To buy: $23; amazon.com
DevaCurl The Curl Maker (right)
I didn't expect the delicate formula of this spray-on mist to have so much hold compared to gels or creams. I figured it simply wouldn’t have the oomph to create curls that lasted all day. I was so wrong. This spray transformed my waves into higher, bouncier curls that were actually soft to the touch. It also didn’t leave any noticeable residue on my hands as I gently re-scrunched to work out any stiffness once the spray had semi-dried.
AG Hair Care Re:Coil Curl Activator
Personally, I thought this formula dried a little too crunchy—although my curls were salvageable with some finger combing throughout the day. The downside of all that re-scrunching, of course, is that more touching = more frizz. That said, I’ll still keep using this until the bottle runs out, but I don’t think I’d buy it again.
To buy: $22; amazon.com
Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream
I ended up loving how my curls looked with this lightweight cream—they were nicely defined with minimal frizz—but I found the fragrance overpowering. I know I’m sensitive to fragrance and usually opt for fragrance-free products—but if fragrance doesn’t bother you, I would definitely recommend this baby. One Sephora reviewer swears “the fragrance is amazing!!!!!” (Yes, with five exclamation points!)
To buy: $34, sephora.com
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