The History of Curly Hair

Nowadays, luscious locks that spring from your scalp are sought after. But they weren’t always and even now, they’re not always appreciated.

Let’s take a step back in time for a moment, to the 1500s. Just eight years earlier, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and Henry VII was ruling over England and Wales with his wife Elizabeth of York, bringing peace to the two warring houses for nearly 15 years. Things were peaceful in Europe and people’s global curiosity was growing.

About hair however, people were less than curious. If you were wealthy, the curls might add some glamour to your extravagant styles and to hang over your rich crowns and clips. If you were a commoner, let alone a schoolgirl, your curls were pulled into a tight bun atop your head. It was believed that hair curled due to sins or evil within one. People were wary of those with curls, who knew what they were up to.

Skip to the 1600s, hair styles grew ever more extravagant and artificial. It could definitely be referred to as the Century of Wigs, with locks heavily powdered grey and clipped in circular pillars that surprisingly never sent them soaring in flight. Curly hair was still, more or less, not perceived in a positive or stylish light, but was passed and allowed as the Renaissance deepened into the Middle Ages.

As we wander through the 1700s, we follow the traditions set by our predecessor with wigs and powder now lasting two centuries through wars and revolutions. Our perception of hair stayed basically the same, to serve as a societal mark for class and prestige. For two centuries our locks of all shapes and colors were ignored as battles flared and governments rose.

In the 1800s, hairstyles could be described in one word, “up”. Braided and clipped up, loosely clipped up to one side, a ponytail with clips, clips here and there and bands everywhere. Hair was sashaying with the pioneers as they rocked back-and-forth traversing West in their hunt for gold. No one had time to spend on his or her hair, constructing houses and monitoring the harvest didn’t leave enough time in the day, let alone while caring for a family. So hair was over-looked and decidedly bland for everyone, the one tone of up hid any curious colors or shapes to be spotted or appreciated.

In the curve of the century time passed in decades, varying eras of styles and fashions. I’m sure plenty of you have seen videos of make-up styles, hair styles, wedding styles, this style, that style, of 100 years in a couple of minutes. If you have seen them, you’ll be thinking you saw curly hair there. And I agree with you, you saw curls, that’s correct, but you did not see curly hair. The bouncy locks you saw in those videos were not natural curls, the model’s hair was probably straightened and then curled to create those uniform loops or light wiggles.

It might surprise you to know, that up until very recently, society knew very little about curly hair. I myself grew up in a town completely confused by my spirals while once I stepped outside of it, people asked me constantly about my curls.

In 1984, a young woman who had created a name for herself in the hair industry opened her first salon in the heart of Manhattan. Ouidad, the name of the salon and of the woman. She began creating products specifically formulated to treat curly hair and have it growing strong and healthy. She had to create techniques on methods to properly cut the curls as to not damage the style or hang of them. She basically had to create the foundation for curls in society.

Even now, Ouidad is still creating and learning more and more about curly hair, what it needs and what works for it. She’s already deciphered four different types of curls and created countless products to treat all different types of problems, curls, and styles. Ouidad’s flagship salon is still open and highly functioning in New York City on 57th Street, another one in Santa Monica, California, and Fort Lauderdale Florida. Sadly, that’s not enough salons to help every curly haired girl and boy in the world, let alone the United States. And to speak frankly, not many can afford the services or products that Ouidad has to offer. Luckily, society is taking a strong learning curve to curly hair.

In January of 2015, Dove launched a “Love Your Curls” campaign to teach young girls to love their hair. Hair has curled for centuries and it has taken us until the 21st century to teach people to appreciate them. So many girls have already been lost to the heat of a straightening iron, to the comments of classmates, to the lack of information circulated to parents. Curls are incredible and beautiful and we should appreciate them.

I was the curly haired spawn of a thinning haired father and stick-straight hair mother. Although they tried as they did, they definitely were not educated in how to treat or handle my hair. Right out of the gate, I hated my curls. When I was around five or six-years-old, my parent’s took my brother and I to the family barber for a hair cut. And to this day, 15 years later, I can still remember the pain I felt as the barber pulled this dry comb through my hair. Before he could finish, I was sobbing on the floor grasping the right side of my head, I could feel my heartbeat and heat radiating into my palm.

After that, for years I couldn’t deal with going to another barber. For days after I couldn’t handle having a comb run through my hair, so it just knotted and sat atop my head. Which just fueled the fire of my, who I consider now-a-days naïve classmates, which just fueled my hatred for being born with these horrible curls. When I was finally ready to deal with my hair again, my mother took me to get a Brazilian relaxer. I was still young at this point, somewhere in Middle School and trusted my mother’s research and connections that this would be good for my hair. Wrong. A Brazilian relaxer is a strong chemical that basically chemically heats the hair into being straight because killed everything else within the lock. All nutrients, vibrancy, even texture is completely lost because your hair has basically been killed from the inside out. I guess it was better than the knot, but not by much.

I was lucky enough to have a friend with a curly haired mother who saw what happened to my hair and advised my mother to take me to Ouidad, they then spent years healing my hair as the dead ends grew out and they nurtured the incoming roots. My mother still wasn’t the best at advising with curly hair, when she was calling the shots, she kept having my hair relaxed in a healthier method. When I was able to take control of my own hair, I stopped that trend completely.

Because of my past I struggle everyday with being proud or courageous in my curls, but I love them all the same. I know I wouldn’t look good in straight hair and I really hate it when people ask me to try it. It’s not because I’ve come far with my confidence in my curls that I hate that question, it’s because it’s the constant reminder that people and society still don’t know much about curly hair. For many curls, straightening their hair even once can damage it for months up to years as the burned follicles grow out. Yet I should know how wonderful dry shampoo is for straight hair people and that they should always carry that or leave-in conditioner after the beach and pool.

Benny Harlem is trying to change that. A native Californinan artist has been documenting his and his daughter’s hair on Instagram to show the world what untreated or undamaged hair looks like. Using his photos, he’s trying to change the perception of natural hair and really highlight its beauty and wonder. Showing the potential for the hair and the demand to welcome natural hair and all hairs into stylish society.

Benny Harlem is making a statement, now it’s time to offer education for parents and friends and family. If I need to hear all about your dandruff shampoo and beach wave sprays, isn’t it only fair if you hear about our defusers and deep treatments?

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