Curly girls speak curly hair. It's a language we share , in Instagram captions, and in salon chairs. It's rich, nuanced, and built on the bonds of follicles that fray, fluff, and—yes—frizz. For as long as I've had hair, I've had frizz, but it was only recently that I decided to stop fighting it.
I learned, early on, that while curly hair is gorgeous, enviable even, frizzy hair is a different story. This lesson, taught by TV, shampoo bottles, playground jabs, and magazine editorials, is still being taught to girls and women today. Frizz is a thing to be quenched, beaten down, defeated. So pervasive is this punitive outlook on frizz that I was still in elementary school when I started asking teachers if I could please be excused to the bathroom, where I would dunk my head in the sink to smooth out the top of my hair. I'd return to my desk damp and dripping—both of which were preferable to frizzy—and feel better about myself. I hate that memory now, but it stands out in my mind. I did it over and over again. Yet for all my head-dunking and, later, straightening and hot-combing, I was never able to achieve eternally smooth hair.
Growing up, more than anything else, I wanted to fit in. I would have traded my whole self for a high ponytail or a pair of smooth French braids. I mimicked the hair trends my friends pulled off to frizzed effect. At the time, it was all about sleek, shiny, silky hair. Forcing mine into submission was never a good look. I knew it, my friends knew it, and my hair knew it too. I'll never forget mouthing off to a teacher who laughed at me, rolled his eyes, and said "OK, Frizzy." Still, I persisted.
Ironically, achieving my lifelong goal of straight hair was what finally convinced me that frizz is beautiful. The journey from was paved with little frizzy moments. Each time my hair reacted to humidity, and every day that it was noticeably larger than before, was a victory and cause for joyful celebration. After working so hard to shed my own skin from top to bottom, I was elated to look like myself. Now when I see frizz in the mirror, I welcome back the old, familiar friend with open arms and volumizer.
To me, frizz means an extra-large halo of light-filtering, face-framing awesome floating around my head. It's a departure from my self-loathing, straight-ironing, and wretched crunchy-gel teenage and college years. To me, frizz is a badge of self-acceptance. So why is it such a dirty word everywhere else I look?
Over the course of a week, I parked myself in the Glamour beauty closet and pored over labels of products tailored for curly hair. For that entire week, I never once left the closet feeling good about myself, confident, or secure with my hair (which has looked amazing since I started exfoliating my scalp: another story for another day). Instead, I left a space that literally brimmed with beauty feeling self-conscious. I found that I touched my hair more often, smoothing it down throughout the day. When I got home, I immediately pulled it back, away from my face, so I didn't have to see the frizz halo I usually love. Why? Because out of more than a hundred products, I could only find three that didn't mention frizz fighting or control. I interrogated the labels on dozens and dozens of bottles, reading words and phrases that eventually blurred together in one big insult. "You need fixing," the bottles told me. Here are just a handful of ways they said it:
"Anti-frizz!" "Stop!" "Fight!" "Tame!" "Combat!" "Banish!" "Reform!" "Cure!" "Control!" "Unruly!" "Battle!"
At first glance, a product that promises to cure bad hair days and boost your confidence in one pump or spray sounds great. But think about scouring shelves at Sephora year after year and reading hundreds of labels that critique and find flaws in your appearance. One week of being inundated with anti-frizz language made my head hurt. Imagine what a lifetime could do.
I have to admit that the products I've adored—recent discoveries and also lifelong favorites—use this kind of language. And in a lot of ways it makes sense. Frizz is fairly universal, and in this way, it's a refreshing equalizer in an otherwise weightily-biased world (women of color have long been ignored and pigeonholed in beauty-product land). Frizz control spans the entire spectrum of hair products, from curl and coil natural hair jellies to volumizers and dry shampoos for fine, straight hair. Culturally, frizz can claim universal infamy, and perhaps its intersectionality is why, in part, it has such a bad rap. If women of all ethnicities the world over want to rid themselves of frizz, then why not meet their needs? Why not banish, fight, and control it?
Sure, frizz can be, but absolutely isn't always, a sign that your hair needs something it isn't getting. When you’ve got curls, they’re probably thirsty. “The natural oil from your scalp takes a lot longer to make its way down your hair shaft,” celebrity hairstylist told me when styling my hair for a Glamour photo shoot. (We hit it off right away because she knew what to do with my curls. When that happens, I glom onto a stylist and never unstick.)
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At the end of the day, there's no perfect answer or single solution, though there are ways to make frizz work for you. Doing so for me means microfibre towels, scalp treatments, and lots of positive self-talk. Without frizz to keep it buoyant, my hair would be limp. Without follicles that don't evenly distribute moisture, my curls would be nonexistent. If frizz is the price I pay to look and feel like my entire, wholly unique self, I'll gladly pay it. But I'd rather not think of frizz as a problem at all.
As a beauty editor, I recommend a lot of things, but for women with curly hair, I have just one big can't-live-without-it must-have: one affirming, self-directed compliment or Instagram scroll through the feed of a curly icon for every anti-frizz label you read. Because, whether you're for or against it, frizz-free curly hair can be an exhausting expectation. I'm not 100 percent secure with my appearance, but that has zero percent to do with my unruly, unmanageable, and rebellious hair. The hair that I adore—every frizzy inch of it.
Amber Rambharose is the former beauty editor at Glamour US.