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Breaking Free From the Braid: My Journey with Curly Hair

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

There are two popular narratives that emerge in the curly hair community: while some transition from heat damage to embracing their natural curls, others, like myself, discover their curls after years of managing their hair with braids and ponytails. My curly hair journey began during early COVID-19, when I was complaining to my best friend about my untameable frizz. She sent me a link to a TikTok, which led me to another TikTok, until the algorithm had trapped me and I fell down the Curly Girl Method rabbit hole.

Every first day of school picture I have from first through eighth grade features the signature braid my mom carefully plaited every morning of my young life. Whether in one braid or two, my classic hairstyle became my trademark. It wasn’t that I was particularly fond of my braid. Per my mother’s ruling, straightening my hair was strictly reserved for special occasions, and any attempt at a low ponytail was deemed “shabby,” as she often put it. A high ponytail wasn’t even on the table — my hair was too thick and heavy to hold it up. The most practical solution, as she saw it, was a neat, simple braid that would keep my hair out of my face and hide its unruly nature. When I discovered the Curly Girl Method (from here on out: the CGM) in March of 2020, I forged my path to break free from the braid that had defined me for so long.

As it turned out, my experimentation with the CGM did not last very long. Every corner of the internet was crawling with people sharing their contradictory opinions and various rules. Opinions on sulfates, hair types, and refresh routines were too overwhelming to absorb at once. It felt too restrictive for me, but if it works for you, that’s great! Slowly, I found that TikTok was my greatest resource. More than internet blogs and YouTube tutorials, a 60 second TikTok was so beneficial in teaching me different techniques, the best (and most affordable) brands, and different hairstyles to try during the pandemic.

Over the course of several months, I watched tutorials, researched, and learned as much as I could about different shampoos, conditioners, hair masks, leave-ins, curl creams, mousses, and gels. Here are some things I’ve learned about my curly hair — but a quick heads-up, these are tailored to my unique needs! What suits me might not necessarily suit you, and I must emphasize that this isn’t professional advice; it’s simply what I’ve discovered works for me. I’m still navigating my own curly hair journey.

1. Co-Washing 

CGM recommends that you co-wash your hair, meaning that you skip the shampoo and just condition! Personally, I wash my hair once a week and like to use a clarifying shampoo to remove product build up. I don’t feel like shampoo strips my hair of any moisture.

2. Sulfates 

The method also suggests avoiding sulfates at all costs. I’ve used products both with and without sulfates, and have honestly never noticed much of a difference. Recently, I’ve seen that sulfates are sometimes even good for your hair. Take this with a grain of salt!

3. Affordability 

Drugstore products are in!  With curly hair, it is 100% okay to go the more affordable route. While high end products are nice, TikTok has great suggestions for drugstore dupes that’ll get you the same results.

4. Refreshing 

Refreshing your hair is hard. I struggle with refreshing my curls every day. It’s tedious and exhausting, and everyone has an opinion on it! I like to wet my hair and reapply gel or mousse to hold it in. Treat yourself kindly! Not every day is going to be a good hair day.

5. The Curly Hair Police 

Figuring out your hair texture is hard, and the curly hair police only makes it harder. Once you figure out your Curl Type, trust yourself and don’t let anyone else tell you what your hair is or isn’t! I myself have 2B, 2C, and 3A curls in various parts of my hair. You know your hair better than anyone else. You got this!

I’ll be the first to admit that there are days when I find myself reverting to my old habits with the braid, lacking the energy to dedicate to my hair.  For me, the braid represents comfort, and I always keep a hair tie handy just in case. Each day, I discover more about my hair and what feels right for me. Even though there are times when I wrestle with the temptation to straighten my hair before leaving the house, I remind myself to take things one day at a time, accepting both the good and bad curl days. Though I myself openly struggle with problems like flat roots and heat damage, I wake up every day and remind myself that I’m only at the root of my journey (pun intended!), and I have a long way to go.

Snigdha is a new writer at Her Campus MSU. As a first-year Humanities Pre-Law major, she hopes to pursue a career in IP Law and has fresh perspectives to contribute to her ongoing experiences as she navigates college in East Lansing. Essays are Snigdha’s favorite assignment, and she loves to write both academically and creatively. In high school, she co-founded a School Communications Committee that ran social media pages to increase student-to-teacher engagement. She was also a board member of the club Girl Up and served as her school choir's social media manager. In the summer of 2024, she will be a Learning & Engagement Programs intern at the Henry Ford. Snigdha has dedicated over fifteen years of her life to performance, mostly in the theater. She loves her found family and looks forward to fostering the same community at HCMSU. In her free time, Snigdha loves to read, sing, vlog, and spend every second she can with her friends and family.