Transitioning chem. relaxed hair to natural curls - but for a white lady
March 15, 2019 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I have very curly hair. It's been getting curlier as I age, and I had it chemically relaxed because I was having a crisis over it. Bad choice. I'd like to transition back to my natural curls, and there's lots of advice on transitioning to natural hair for people of colour - but I'm white and I don't think it's appropriate for me to wear protective styles or headscarves.

I have about 3 inches of new VERY CURLY roots, (they curl up to about 1 inch when not stretched) and about 5-7 inches of chemically relaxed hair. I don't want to relax my roots, my hair feels incredibly damaged and I am kinda sad about it.

But now my hair looks kind of bonkers? I need some ideas on how to transition back to curly that isn't just "straighten your roots for 3 years" because if I want to start wearing it curly I need to avoid heat damage as well.

I don't have a pretty/interesting enough face to do the big chop to 1 inch curly length.

Anyone been there themselves? Any suggestions? advice? My work is pretty non-professional, but I think wearing hats would be pushing it!

The other things I've tried are: Headbands don't stay on my head for some reason - maybe I don't know how to use them, or maybe my head is weird shaped? Wearing my hair up isn't very flattering on my face, but I guess I could - but any longer than about 5 hours gives me a headache, and I've always had a major problem with flyaways above my ears.

I'm 32 F for context.

posted by euphoria066 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total)
If I were you... I’d chop it! My opinion is that anyone can wear a pixie, you don’t have to look like a supermodel, and curls are very flattering. It will take about 2 years to grow to something resembling “long,” but there will be fun in between styles with lots of curl potential. Just find someone good at cutting curly hair.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:45 PM on March 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

I would consider more updos of some kind- french twist (even with a banana clip), crown braid etc. Pinterest can be a great source for these looks (and it also quicker to sort through than having to click through web pages and realizes the advice within doesn’t really apply to you.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:19 PM on March 15, 2019

There are ways to straighten hair without heat, although they are more time intensive. My favorite was washing my hair at night and using a dooby wrap technique while it was still wet. It would dry pretty straight and would last OK as long as it did not get too humid. Another way to blend the textures would be to do a wet roller set.

I think a headscarf or headwrap would be perfectly fine. Try a more 40s pinup style and no one is going to mistake it for like a religious choice.

I don't know, I am not overly femme but in your position I would probably chop it off and wear a lot of bright lipstick.
posted by muddgirl at 2:21 PM on March 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

What kind of headbands have you tried? I am recovering from a terrible haircut that shredded my thick, wavy (almost curly) hair. I am coping by wearing this type of headband, it's really a tube of stretchy fabric so you can adjust the width of the band. It's a yoga-y look. There's thousands of choices online.
posted by stowaway at 2:37 PM on March 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Have you heard about the Curly Girl method? I read the book on Amazon Prime for free, but if you google "curly girl" there are summaries of it on the many curly girl sites and in YouTube videos. I've been doing it since September and I'm just about through the transitioning phase. There has been a lot of trial and error; one thing I've done is to try to find women who have curl types similar to mine and get tips from their wash day videos. Yes, it is taking a while, but so far I am loving my curls, and my hair is very healthy. The community of people is lovely and everyone is so supportive of each other's curl journeys.

To answer your question specifically, here are some YouTube videos that deal with transition hair styles. I hope they are helpful!
posted by NoraCharles at 3:12 PM on March 15, 2019

I also have very curly hair and I also suspect it is getting curlier as I get older. (I am about five years older than you.)

I feel your pain, but I have to recommend cutting off the damaged parts. Chemically straightened hair is not going to be saved or re-curled with the Curly Girl method, and your choices are either continue to straighten the curly bits or curl the straight bits (via heat or perm) to make them match. Neither of which are compatible with your long-term goals.

I don't prefer my hair at super short lengths, but I've done it twice and I've survived. The first time, things went so haywire I basically buzzed my whole head (guess what? Still curly. I looked like a poodle.) Then two years ago, I went for an asymmetrical thing that looked really great in theory but not so much on me (at least I knew the photo was also of someone with naturally curly hair...but turns out mine is much thicker/poofier than hers). The short side was....very short.

The only other thing I can think of is will your straightened hair hold a non-heat-set curl? Like if you went to bed with wet hair in rollers, would it keep that curl for a day or two? Mine would, but I wouldn't have the patience to mess with it every other day.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:31 PM on March 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm 32 and a white lady. When I was growing out my really-damaged curly hair, I wore it in either a single French braid or two braids that I pinned up into a braid crown. It's not uncomfortable like wearing your hair all the way up, and a loose braid is a protective style that prevents breakage (but also hides weird texture changes).
posted by assenav at 4:19 PM on March 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

Have you tried some variation of a coronet of short braids? If you are good at braids you could French braid your hair together. The braids will pull the curl out of your roots and disguise it until your hair is longer and you can cut off the straightened part. Braids often work very well with curly hair because the hair texture makes the braids larger.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:51 PM on March 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you are looking for white women wearing head scarves, try googling "tichel" for a colorful style commonly worn by the current generation of Orthodox Jewish women.
posted by metahawk at 5:33 PM on March 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you don't chop your hair off, I think wearing it up every day would work well - high bun, low bun, french braid, regular braid, etc. You may be able to see some of the texture differences between the curly and straight hair with a braid, but it won't be too noticeable or draw attention.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:07 PM on March 15, 2019

I didn't transition (I'm a black woman, I cut off all my hair, I would never do this again), but I think some of the advice about how to get your two textures to blend together better might be helpful -- like braiding or twisting wet/damp hair.

As far as headbands, are you talking about the kind that wrap all the way around your head? For me, I find that these kind of roll up and slide backwards on my head. I use teeny tiny bobby pins to get them to stay in place.
posted by sm1tten at 6:25 PM on March 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

Just going to say if your “uninteresting” face is the main reason not to crop then you may be surprised. I describe my features as aggressively plain and I look much more interesting when I cut my hair fierce short. There’s also the wonderful feeel of dropping what was (the straightened hair) and taking a brave move towards the future. And if it doesn’t look amazing? Meh, hair grows.
posted by Iteki at 3:51 AM on March 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've done this multiple times (I'm an idiot). I wore my hair up a lot. Any kind of updo, even a simple ponytail, is your best bet.

Also, how often do you need to wash your hair? Curly hair doesn't usually get greasy very quickly. I know you're trying to avoid heat damage but would you be comfortable flat ironing your roots, say, once a week? I did that and then got a few days of straight roots out of it before needing to wash my hair again.
posted by sunflower16 at 6:00 AM on March 16, 2019

Depending on how bold you're feeling, you might take some inspiration from this google image search for "rhoda morganstern scarves" (or watch some rhoda reruns which .. wouldn't fix your problem immediately but would take your mind off of it?)
posted by elgee at 6:04 AM on March 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've done this (I'm biracial). I definitely recommend cutting it off. It will start to break at the natural v. relaxed part anyway, so at some point it will have to go anyway!

If cutting it off all at once is unappealing (it was for me), you can just do it gradually. I found a supportive stylist who would style my hair every week, cut off chunks of it at a time, until one day she told me it was all my natural hair. It took a while, but I'm so happy and forking over for my stylist visits during that time was definitely worth it for me!
posted by heavenknows at 6:20 AM on March 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

It will start to break at the natural v. relaxed part anyway

This never happened to me; maybe depends on what your hair texture is like, what sort of relaxing you had done, etc.
posted by sunflower16 at 6:28 AM on March 16, 2019

What happens if you brush it under running water in the shower, then leave it drip-dry without towelling or brushing or combing it afterwards? That's the only way I (male, 57) have ever been able to persuade my long hair to present as curly waves rather than an insane floaty frizz. Seems to me that there's at least some chance that the way the weight of the water distributes itself during the drip-dry might tend to straighten your roots a bit while still allowing the relaxed ends to assert whatever residual curl they still have.

The other thing that happens when I brush under running water, which I do every day, is that a small amount of hair breaks off in the brush. I've been advised many times to use a comb instead of a brush to stop that very thing from happening, but the fact that it does happen means that my hair has settled at quite a manageable length and I've not needed to cut it for fifteen years. Breaking it wet also seems not to cause split ends.

That kind of effect could be quite useful for somebody trying to phase out straightened hair and phase in the curly, especially as the part you're seeking to get rid of has been chemically weakened and would therefore tend to break a little more readily than newer growth.
posted by flabdablet at 8:41 AM on March 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

How about deep conditioning and/or using a leave-in conditioner on your root section so that it's less curly? If you can't get the damaged hair more curly, you can go the other way and soften the curls you're growing until you get to a place where you can start cutting the damage away.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 11:23 AM on March 16, 2019

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