My Natural Hair Journey: How I Embraced My Curly Hair

My Natural Hair Journey: How I Embraced My Curly Hair

By Leah Smith

Starting At The End 2024.....

For me, my natural hair journey has been and is still ongoing.  It’s had ups and downs, is sometimes an important aspect of my life, and other times – not so important.  But it’s always an experience in which I am learning new things about my hair – what it means to me, how to care for it and how to love and accept it.

Back To The Beginning 

4 Years Old

As a mixed White British and Black-Caribbean woman, my hair is very curly… my dad has course, curly hair and my mom has looser curls – so my hair has turned out literally a perfect combination of their textures.  As a young child, my hair wasn’t really something that I was aware of – it was only ever brought to my attention when passers-by in public would comment on it and make a fuss (probably because it wasn’t something that was so common in our society back then) which would of course at the age of four/five would make me shy and bashful, but I always remember 99.9 percent of the time, these strangers would say to my mom ‘Is it hard to manage?’ It always confused me as to why they would ask that.  Thankfully, my mom managed my hair so well! There are no memories of my mom struggling with my hair, she styled it well in two little plaits, used a comb to create ringlets, and of course washed it and conditioned it so well, leaving it to air-dry into my signature tight blonde curls with a side-parting - no fuss, and amazingly, no styling products…just a leave-in conditioner.  It was only that re-occurring question, ‘Is it hard to manage?’ or sometimes the more presumptuous ‘I bet that’s hard to manage’ that made me start to realise that my hair was ‘different’ … at least different to a lot of other children at the time.  Rather than see it as a positive and something to embrace…my young mind saw ‘different’ as a negative, and thus began the ‘I wish my hair was straight.’

From then on, throughout my school years (primary AND secondary) I had more of a hate than love relationship with my curls.  I started to pay more attention to comments in years 4-6, mainly from silly boys saying ‘woah, look at your crazy frizzy fringe!’ ‘hey SCARY SPICE’ or a few girls asking ‘why is your hair so big?’ after running around in the playground at dinnertime, loving life, so that my ponytail had come a little loose and strands had escaped. I didn’t want to be Scary Spice, I wanted to be Baby Spice (typical), and I didn’t want to be labelled as having big hair (NOW I’d welcome someone labelling my hair as big – the bigger the better – and hell yes I would rather have scary-spice hair!)  So, then came the ‘Mummmm? Please can I have my hair straightened?’ to which my mum would stand her ground and give me a solid ‘No!’ telling me my curly hair is beautiful and people would pay good money for it.  I didn’t know what she meant – I literally thought she meant people would buy the hair off my own head, but now I understand she meant people would shell out money for treatments and styling, even extensions/wigs to have the same.  But I just couldn’t understand why my mom wouldn’t give in and let me straighten my curls, I was dying to have it done. Now, I know it’s because she didn’t want me to strive to be like everyone else, and I am grateful for that. 

Anyway, I continued to ask, but didn’t get what I wanted.  By the time I got to secondary school in 2001, then came the ‘wet-look’. By now, I had started asking for hair products other than my shampoo, conditioner and leave-in.  My mom used Wella Shockwaves hair mousse, so I asked for the same, AND the Wella Wet-look gel. By year 9, I was piling those products on whilst my hair was wet, so that it would dry all crispy - today the common wavy/curly/coily community term for this is ‘the cast’ and you’re supposed to break it to get your volume – but back then, I didn’t…I hated volume, I wanted my hair to be flat, and long. If it couldn’t be straight, then the way it looked after just coming out the shower would do.  However, those curls would spring up throughout the school day, and off I would go to the girls’ toilets to ‘re-wet’ my hair over the sink and apply more gel. I washed my hair pretty much every morning before school – this would be any curly/coily person’s nightmare today! And I would do that, just to fit in… supress my natural curls, because I thought I was more accepted with wet, flat, elongated hair. Honestly, If I could travel back in time to speak to the younger Leah, I would tell her to leave those curls alone and just let them be natural!  Don’t get me wrong, I had people telling me I should wear my hair natural, and my mom of course told me to stop putting in so much product, but I just didn’t listen…I thought I knew what was best (typical teen!). So eventually I got my friend to straighten my hair – she had those GHD’s! I was so excited! It took us a few hours, but we did it, and I couldn't wait to go to school the next morning and show off!  It looked AWFUL by the way. You see the thing with my curls is, no matter what expensive straightener you use, my curls just won’t take to it. They literally FIGHT with everything they have to come back… within an hour of straightening, there’s no more flowing straightness, but rather stiff, straight hair, which looks puffy and coarse - just craving moisture.  BUT the kids at school loved it – ‘Omg you look SOOOO DIFFERENT’ – that was good enough for me. Mom, understandably, hated what I had done and was so disappointed …she made me promise to wash it after that day and bring my curls back.  I disobeyed, instead styling my straightened-out hair into two French braids for a couple of days, and then for the rest of the week I enjoyed the new loose wavy style I achieved when unravelling the braids.  I did this a couple more times, until the novelty wore off and in year 11, I discovered a nice little afro hair shop called ‘Ebony Rooms’ which stocked all sorts of products for curly/coily/afro hair. I was in heaven and finally started to take a better route with my hair - I started experimenting with different curl creams and lotions like ‘Sofn’Free’ and ‘Luster’s Pink’ and wore my curls more natural, still wanting the slight wet-look, but gradually letting go and letting those curls spring up.

A Fresh Start

I could go on forever – establishing my point about the journey being on-going. By the time I reached my mid-twenties, I had turned a wrong direction and hit a phase where I wanted my hair to be much bigger! Twice it’s size in fact.  I’d diffuse-dry my hair, but then violently brush it out with an afro-comb, turning it into a big ball of frizz, then use curling tongues to ‘add some curls back in’ which were a different curl shape/texture to my natural curls, causing a load of heat-damage (on top of bleach damage from highlighting kits!).

My friends asked what’s the point and why not just wear my natural curls?  I didn’t listen. After a couple of years, my curls couldn’t take it anymore.  They were worn out, parched, had straight ends and were suffering from breakage, so I finally realised that I had to start again and leave my curls alone – no more heat, no more bleach, just let them be.  So, in 2015, I gave my curls a good cut, and took the advice of my dad to take biotin religiously and research and invest in suitable products - and never looked back.


2020 The Start Of Something New


Since then, I started my Instagram page ‘Curleah.s’ (formally Curleelo) in November 2020 focussing on my curly hair journey, product reviews and tutorial’s etc - I figured I watch and follow so many others on Instagram with similar hair, why not give back to the gram and join the community? But things have even changed for me since then, it wasn’t the end or ‘happily ever after’ there.  Back then, I felt positive sharing my journey and starting to embrace my natural hair, but I got caught up in the whole concept of ‘perfection’.  In my opinion, that’s negative and so damaging.  I’d spend hours on my curls, comparing them to others, going through long and laborious washdays, trying to master a finger-coiling method and using the right styling brush to achieve PERFECT curls. At the time, I thought I was embracing my hair and finally accepting it, but when I look back on it, I was still manipulating my curls! Rather than just letting them dry naturally like my mom used to do for me back when I was a child, I was still changing the shape – interfering with them. I was forever trying brand after brand and product after product, just because they were ‘in’ or I needed them because every curly influencer on Instagram had them.  It took suffering from a severe bout of hair shedding in 2021 after catching covid (and possibly due to my pregnancy hormones), for me to really wake up and realise. It was a traumatising experience for me to be stepping into the shower to wash my hair and ending up crying, with handfuls (literally) coming out with each stroke from my detangler. Once I lost my volume, had thinned scanty patches on my scalp and felt like nearly 50% of my hair had gone – I realised that I had mistreated my hair for so long, wanted zero volume and wished it was straight, only to finally embrace my natural curls BUT expect too much from them and chase perfection.  I’d pushed my curls to the limit. And now I was losing them – If I would have just nurtured them, and allowed them to flourish and ‘be themselves’ perhaps my journey wouldn’t have taken this direction – I should have appreciated what I had in the beginning.


Back To Where We Started

Now, it’s 2024 and I have a much different outlook. I love my natural hair, I don’t expect much from it at all – it is the way it is. One week my curls may look shorter because they are more elasticised, others they look longer because the curls have dropped – that’s perfectly ok. Some days they look shiny and golden – others they look dull and dry – that’s perfectly ok too! I have learnt to just be gentle with them, don’t manipulate them and most importantly be very minimal with them.  Washday is not long and laborious anymore, but quick and simple, just wash, condition, detangle. Styling is always just a cream and gel, sometimes a mousse or serum/oil if I feel the need, then brush it all through and go. How my curls turn out each time is unknown, but whatever the result is beautiful to me because it’s natural. I no longer feel the need to chase the latest methods and products, but just stick to what I like and what’s ‘easy’ – don’t get me wrong, I do still try new products, but only if I run out of a product/s type, and it makes sense to and they will most likely suit my hair. 

Sticking To A Natural Hair Routine That Works

Two brands I swear by and seem to always reach for are Pattern Beauty and Boucleme –

- Pattern products for when my curls crave a lot of moisture

- Boucleme products when I need a lighter touch.



Then just sleeping using my Ashanti Curls satin pillowcase (I don’t bother with bonnets!) and using their satin scrunchies or spiral hair ties for the days I want to wear my hair up and out my face, is all I rely on to keep my curls happy post-wash day.  


Where My Curls Are Journeying Next

So, to end, I am finally in a place on my journey where I am learning to accept my curls for what they are and what they are not, I don’t expect the world from them – it is what it is!  And that is what I would advise to any curly/coily/textured hair person – never focus on perfection.  Keep your routines as quick and simplistic as possible – it should never feel like a chore, and you shouldn’t feel like there are boxes to tick and stages to include in a specific order – learn to understand your hair and what it requires and craves – and most importantly, never compare to others, your hair is your hair, so work with what you’ve got. 

I can’t say where my journey will go from here, but I hope it maintains a positive direction.

Back to blog

Leave a comment