curly hair woes
August 17, 2019 1:06 PM   Subscribe

I have a vague, ill-formed idea of what I want my hair to do, but I have no idea how to describe or achieve it - making it difficult to get good info from the internet. Maybe someone could help me figure out what it is I'm trying to accomplish?

Since puberty, I have had thick, curly Bob Dylan hair. To be clear, I do not want to look like Bob Dylan. I also hate the way my hair looks when it's really short. So I'm threading the needle between the two, and so far I have been extremely unsuccessful. In addition, I'm a guy, but I'm very very femme, and trying to get my hair to match up with that - my failure thus far leaves me feeling very sad and unattractive.

What I've been trying to do lately is to shave up the back, bring the neckline pretty far up, and then grow it out nice and long in the front & on the sides. I guess something like an "asymmetrical wavy/curly bob" is what I have in mind. But I guess I don't know if this is really possible with my hair. I basically just tell the stylist to not take any length off, but to scoop out the super thick fro material using thinning shears. This sort of works okay, except that (1) my hair is not actually getting any longer and more flowy, because it seems to *only* want to grow outwards, not down; and (2) it reaches Bob Dylan status so quickly that I don't get much time to enjoy my hair and need to get it cut way too often.

I just got a haircut and have totally reached my breaking point. The stylist went through with thinning shears, didn't do any trimming, and lo and behold, I have short, cropped, boyish hair, with no flow and no waves. Disaster! I am frustrated to tears! And I can't figure out how to express/translate into hair stylist lingo what it is I'm looking for, so I haven't been successful in getting any tips from the internet (though I've been looking at subreddits dedicated to curly hair and all manner of curly websites and articles). Could someone please help me figure out (1) how to describe what I'm trying to accomplish, and (2) whether it is possible? At this point I'm very actively thinking of making the leap into getting it permed. Should I be? I just don't know. Please make it make sense!
posted by myitkyina to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total)
Dear God no don't get it permed.

Are there any photos of what you want? Are you treating your curls right? What is your hair care routine? Have you had your curls typed?
posted by DarlingBri at 1:28 PM on August 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Seconding no perming. Perming or any chemical treatment will only damage your curly hair and wreak havoc on your natural curls, which can look more defined with the right products and routine.

Do you have a curly hair salon in your city? Search for devacurl salons or naturallycurly salons. These stylists should be able to determine if you can achieve what you want, and how to get there, with your hair texture.

What products do you use? Products can greatly improve how your curls look. You might find a person with a similar texture on YouTube and research his or her routine and products. There are loads of curly girl method videos on YouTube. They can be involved with lots of steps and products. They are still helpful in educating how curly hair works and how it should be treated. Conditioning and some sort of styling creme /gel for curly hair is essential to prevent frizz and help with definition, (as you're probably aware) and never blowdrying.

I have wavy/curly hair. I don't spend a lot on products. I use the curly girl method approved Giovani shampoo and conditioner from TJMaxx or Marshall's, a small amount of leave-in conditioner, or curl-enhancing creme, sometimes a bit of mouse for curly hair (Clairol Herbal Essences). Air-dry with t-shirt on head. let dry completely and then shake out and run fingers lightly through hair -- the more you mess with it, brush or comb it, the greater potential for frizz and such.

Good luck and don't despair. It's only hair and it will grow.
posted by loveandhappiness at 1:39 PM on August 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I won't threadsit, but just to make sure I have all the info out there:

I'm not totally sure of my curl type, but maybe 3a or 3b. When I say Bob Dylan - like, young, unruly Bob - I really mean it, I could be one of his rumored illegitimate children. I'm kind of flexible on what I'm looking for, but maybe something like this or this or this. I shower like every other day, use cheapo shampoo and conditioner, leave much of the conditioner in or use leave-in conditioner when I have it. I don't blowdry or drag a brush through them or anything, just fingers, air-dry with t-shirt, etc.
posted by myitkyina at 1:48 PM on August 17, 2019

DevaCut, DevaCut, DevaCut. Go to someone who cuts curly hair all the time.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:57 PM on August 17, 2019 [8 favorites]

Thinning shears are not a friend to curly hair. I have the back shaved underneath to the nape of my neck - it takes out a lot of weight and helps what's left hang down instead of out, keeping me from becoming Roseanne Roseannadanna.
posted by Flannery Culp at 2:13 PM on August 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

Follow the (ill-named) Curly Girl method for 2 weeks, and see what happens. It’s possible that your hair won’t do what you want it to (go ahead, ask me about my silky side-swept bangs!) but you’ll get a better sense of what it can do.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 2:38 PM on August 17, 2019

It sounds like you want more definition to your curls/waves so that they'll "flow" and grow down rather than out. I would very much recommend experimenting with products like gels or creams to see if that helps with both definition and taming down the bushiness. A couple easy/cheap options to experiment with would be La Sportiva sports gel or Garnier curl gel, or that Garnier cream stuff.

The basic idea is wash and condition your hair as normal, apply the product when your hair is pretty wet-- for gel, use maybe a teaspoon or a little more, rub it between your hands and then use your hands to coat, trying not to seperate any curls that form. Then air dry. For creams, the process is similar but you'll probably want to use less.
posted by geegollygosh at 2:47 PM on August 17, 2019

+1 curly hair stylist, and someone who understands gender-spectrum presentarion. From your story, it sounds to me like thinning shears are not the right tool for your hair, as rempting as it is to want to de-bulk it. They are causing too many scattered ends in your hair, where you really want locks of hair of the same length to flow. And a stylist who gets gender spectrum will help you through the growing out process, rather than assuming that, as male, you want a shorter length.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 2:59 PM on August 17, 2019

I have wavy-curly hair. Thinning it makes it a mess. Do you want to release the curl & wave? Use some silicone shine spray. That makes it shiny and slippery and allows curls & waves to form. And use some gel, I get the biggest cheapest bottle, if you don't like frizz. When my hair is chin-length or longer, I have it layered., and the waves like this.
posted by theora55 at 3:52 PM on August 17, 2019

I think I have a similar hair texture and at least close to the hairstyle you want (short back; asymmetrical length on sides/front).

For my haircut, my stylist does thin it a little bit at the start. During the actual cutting, I sometimes have to remind her a bit on where I want my part (over further please!) and how much shorter I want the shorter side in front to be (shorter, please!) At the beginning, I brought in pictures of what I was going for, and also have taken pictures after particularly good cuts to say "Do this again, please!"

I don't shampoo my hair, and use this conditioner. I put leave-in conditioner in after, and then use a curl scrunch gel. I usually go 2-3 days between washes, and use a bit of water and the leave-in conditioner to neaten things up in between.

I'm still somewhat at the mercy of the curl gods. Sometimes, particularly if it's humid, my hair just goes up and out instead of down and curly. But most days, I get fun, swoopy curls. It's not quite what it is in my dreams--my curls aren't quite tight enough--but most of the time, (I think), I'm getting something closer to your links than the first Bob Dylan in this gallery.
posted by damayanti at 4:19 PM on August 17, 2019

+1 to the advice above to start following curl-specific product and styling advice to start, so that you can learn what kinds of non-frizztastic curl patterns your hair can do when it's treated the right way. search for "curly girl" on YouTube and in an hour or two of the rabbit hole you'll have a great handle on it. At the drugstore, the best curly hair product brands are Shea Moisture and Miss Jessie's.

It sounds like you are trying to give technical direction to your stylist rather than finding some looks that interest you and asking them to help you get there. So you might need a clearer visual language to share what you like first. Thinning is creating more "foof inflection points" (not a technical term) that your hairs can get snagged on, making it foofier. Since it sounds like you got a bit of a chop this time and have been using thinning to try to grapple with volume, a good transition cut back to something longer might be an undercut style with length on top. That will keep the overall quantity of hair manageable while giving more weight and length to the parts you grow out, so they won't poof so much. search terms I'd use would be combinations of curly, undercut, asymmetric, (pixie or bob).
posted by shelbaroo at 4:53 PM on August 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

If the Deva thing isn't available near you--I've heard good things about it but have not tried it personally--there's kind of an unfortunate gendered thing about hair going on that means you almost certainly need to go to a stylist who handles almost exclusively women, and it needs to be the sort of person you can trust to say that you want it to look femme. This is not easy to do with strangers. I have the opposite problem; it took awhile to communicate to my stylist that I wanted the *less* femme version of the short curly haircut she was giving me. Then, optimally, once you have a haircut you like, buy the products your stylist uses, then go home and try comparing those products to cheaper drugstore versions if you want something less expensive until you get something that's close enough.

But the big thing is being clear to the stylist, because you have to remember that for all their gender-conforming clients, if they wind up with a haircut that is more butch/femme than they wanted it to be, they will be upset and noisy about it. Unless your stylist serves a ton of queer and gender-nonconforming people, they will virtually always assume that no matter what you ask for, you meant the closest gender-conforming version of that haircut. It is annoying, but once you've made yourself clear you'll get way better results.
posted by Sequence at 5:14 PM on August 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

I fought with my thick, frizzy, curly hair until I was in my forties, when I finally figured it out (and since then, it’s been my best feature). I agree you don’t want thinning shears or a perm and you do want deva and curly girl. But before that, I think you need a clear idea, in pictures, of what to aim for. The links you posted aren’t your hair type if you’re a 3a or 3b. Look for photos of cuts you like with hair that’s very much like yours. If you bring those to a good deva stylist, I think you’d get closer to a good direction for you. Good luck!
posted by daisyace at 6:14 AM on August 18, 2019

I'm sorry you've been having this experience with your hair! Many stylists don't understand what to do with curly hair, and many more don't understand anything but stereotypical gender presentation, so you've got it double-difficult. Having been in a similar spot myself, here's what I'd recommend.

1. Start by rehabilitating your curls. If your hair currently looks like young Bob Dylan's, than I guarantee it needs more moisture and less stripping shampoo. The r/curlyhair CG beginner's guide is BRILLIANT and CHEAP and it WORKS -- give it a shot for a month or so, and reassess what your hair looks like! Visit r/curlyhair for further help and inspiration. Definitely don't do thinning shears or perms -- they are not your friends. The CG method is a much more effective way of controlling volume, creating flow, and getting definition.

2. Experiment with dry-cutting your own hair. Sounds radical, I know, but curly hair is forgiving! I've been doing it for years, with only the occasional salon visit, and nobody points and laughs at me that I can tell. Once you've followed the CG method for a few weeks, you'll start to see your hair's real curl pattern, and you can start playing. Key things to remember:
- You MUST cut your hair when it's dry. No exceptions. Try to do it on a good hair day, when you've let your hair fully air dry without putting it up or messing with it, and you can clearly see the defined curl pattern.
- Get yourself a hand mirror so you can see the back of your head.
- This is not a one-and-done thing -- you may want to keep adjusting over several days, as your hair dries slightly differently each day, and you may notice different areas need attention as the curls fall slightly differently. Adjust as you go.
- It's great to have a friend to help with the back (but it's not strictly necessary).

3. Only if you decide you want/need a stylist, look for one who specializes in curly hair, and that you trust enough to discuss your gender presentation. The best way to find one is to ask another gender non-conforming curly-haired person where they get their hair done. If a stylist ever tries to wash your hair and cut it dripping wet, they do NOT know what they're doing -- curly hair MUST be cut while it's dry to account for shrinkage. Bring in pictures of what you want, and show them. I've had the best luck by getting partway to what I want by cutting my hair myself, then going to the stylist and saying, "My hair is already the general shape and length I want, but I wish that this section were a little more XYZ," and having them fix it. Doing it this way may take a couple of sessions, but may ultimately get you to the result you want.
posted by ourobouros at 7:55 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have 3b tending to 3c curls that I struggled with as a kid, and through a lot of experimentation with hair care/products/routine, advice from other curly-haired people, and finally finding stylists specializing in curly hair it's definitely my most noticeable feature and I get compliments all the time. A turning point for me (almost 20 years ago!) was finding the naturallycurly website. I haven't been there in a long time and my suspicion is that r/curlyhair is probably a better resource at this point. My experience is that a good haircut and good products are key. Unfortunately the first can be really, really hard to find, but to my mind it's worth paying more (maybe much more) than you're used to for a cut. It sounds like the challenge of gender/presentation makes it much harder and I don't have advice for navigating that.

I use quite a lot of styling product and that gives me what I want. I am NOT a fan of the whole Deva thing - it's really cultish and the techniques and products don't work for me at all. If you don't have time to let your hair air dry (and I don't) definitely use a diffuser. It's a game changer. I actually prefer how my hair looks when it's been diffused.

A few years back I had a haircut that sounds similar to what you're aiming for. Cut up to the nape of my neck and then angled forward to chin length, with some layering. It was very cute! The drawback for me is that I like to pull my hair up sometimes and it was too short.
posted by weirdly airport at 8:21 AM on August 18, 2019

That's my go-to haircut - very short in back angled to just long enough in front that it can pull into a ponytail. Sometimes I think of it as a reverse mullet.

Agreed that dry cutting curl by curl is optimal, but man, I did that once and do not have the patience for 90-min haircuts. If you do get yours cut wet, make sure the stylist is clear about how your hair behaves and what you want it to do up front. My hair is 1-2 inches longer when wet and the curl patterns on the left and right are different, so I have to say "cut the right an inch longer than we agreed on and the left an inch shorter than that in front, trust me, you'll see when it's dry".
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:44 AM on August 18, 2019

I found it super helpful to join the curly girl subreddits and just look at loads of photographs of people with curly hair to get an idea of what my hair might do (and what it isn't curly enough for, and what my curls might do at different lengths, and what my hair is too curly for). The bonus is that they require people to say what products they use on their hair, and people frequently do before and after shots, which are eye-opening.

I just get mine cut by a standard hairdresser because it's short. I don't know the right words to use so I went in with loads of pictures of things I liked, and about 8 pictures of hairstyles I hated. That worked quite well.

I don't really shampoo my hair any more and while I do sometimes use expensive conditioner, I've also used very cheap conditioner with pretty good results, so do experiment to find what works for your hair (and don't be put off by the extreme level of detail and geekiness that many people get into).
posted by kadia_a at 11:40 AM on August 18, 2019

Oh, and I actually want to put a good word in for perms ... in beauty school they called it a reverse relaxer or something ... the idea was that wrapping a tight curl pattern on a bigger rod and then rebonding it results in a more desirable curl ... it is the theory behind a jerry curl.

Again, needs to be a tool in the hands of the right stylist, and perms are horrible, long processes with lots of hair tugging and stinky chemicals. Certain deep conditioners or light relaxers could get the same result with less fuss. But I agree with posters who emphasize your day-to-day care is what makes or breaks it.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 8:04 PM on August 18, 2019

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