Loving your curls is about loving who you are…or is it the other way around? Whichever way it was for you, embracing your natural hair is about staying true to your identity and no-one knows that better than my next admission into the Curly Kella Hall of Fame. Meet 25-year old Mishelle Sandali; an Australian-born Sri Lankan working as a radiographer in Melbourne. We’ve been Instagram buds for a good part of a year, but our friendship goes beyond the world wide web. We are curl comrades in arms. Despite being both beset with hormonal issues that have affected our curls, and relatives who weren’t exactly exalting over our frizz, we’re proud Sri Lankan kellas with a love for our desi DNA. She’s been curl-ready for little over a year and wants you all to know that championing curls was all about reclaiming her South-Asian roots- hair and all!
It’s February 2019. My hair was in need of help. I was losing it due to hormonal issues, vitamin deficiencies and genes. I didn’t want to further the damage by not taking care of it. So I went to Rizo Loco in Melbourne to get a curly haircut from lovely Jo. It was a life changing experience; the cut suited me, she listened to my hair and scalp issues and explained that I had low porosity 3A type curls that needed lots of water and showed me products that would bring the best out of my hair. I learnt so much and looking back I felt disappointed that it had taken me this long to get here…
Blame it on my Youth
Throughout my childhood I found it hard to get to grips with my hair. I always thought it was neither a this nor that sort of style. But I did know that it was extremely prone to frizz. My parents gave me a short haircut that didn’t go past my shoulders until the age of ten. When it grew longer I decided to take control of my styling – I say styling loosely because the extent of it was keeping my curls in place with a headband or fashion a little ponytail on top of my head. I spent a part of my childhood in Sri Lanka and with such intense humidity resorted to oiling and then running a brush through it to leave a slight kink. I used whatever shampoos my parents bought me and didn’t start using conditioner until I was much older.
My parents gave me a short haircut that didn’t go past my shoulders until the age of ten. When it grew longer I decided to take control of my styling – I say styling loosely because the extent of it was to keep my curls in place with a headband or fashion a little ponytail on top of my head.
But it wasn’t just my own struggles with my hair that made things complicated. Like many Sri Lankan-kids, my parents were pretty strict and forbade me from wearing lots of make-up. When it came to my hair they discouraged me from straightening my curls, saying it would ruin them (now pearls of wisdom). But on the other hand they kept telling me how messy it looked. I really couldn’t square the two and it was so ingrained in my mentality that curly hair was untidy that whenever I wore my hair in its natural state, my parents only needed to give me a disapproving look and I would head on upstairs to slather on the oil and sport that annoying wave, which I just couldn’t get out.
…it was so ingrained in my mentality that curly hair was untidy that whenever I wore my hair in its natural state, my parents only needed to give me a disapproving look and I would head on upstairs to slather on the oil and sport that annoying wave…
After months of begging and blow-drying out my fringe and doing whatever I could to settle my hair, I got a pair of hair straighteners as a Christmas present. My parents still weren’t so keen for me to use them and so for many years I would straighten my hair in secret. The compliments I got were hard to ignore; people loved it, though when someone said I look so much better, it mildly offended me. But I kept going and made the fatal mistake of not using heat protectant. Like any teen, I dabbled in dyeing my hair a few times- admittedly a really a bad idea that set in motion the decline of my hair’s state.
Sure enough I noticed my hair starting to thin. Turns out all the time I scraped it into a tight ponytail was causing traction alopecia. Then at the age of 21 I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and put on the Pill for two years. This was my wake-up call and I knew I needed to start prioritising my health. But to do so meant looking further into myself and appreciating who I really was- hair and all.
Loving the Skin I Live In
I started turning towards people and things I could relate to as a darker-skinned South-Asian girl. I got into watching South-Indian films and marvelled at these beautiful dusky women rocking their roots and looking so empowered. I’m completely obsessed with actresses such as Sai Pallavi, who unlike the Bollywood starlets you see, wears little to no make-up and yet plays the heroine – and does a bloody good job at it too! Then there is Nithiya Menon – a super intelligent actress who rocks her natural curls with such confidence. I now prefer these films any day to North-Indian movies. The storylines are so much more realistic and I felt like the actors could comfortably fit into my life and I into theirs! Finally I was in a world that I could completely relate to. It steered me to towards giving my natural curls a go.
My Curl Calling
My first try at going natural was thanks to my best friend at the time. She had super curly hair that had never been straightened. One day at her house we decided to experiment. I washed my hair and she styled it. I was so excited by the results. I couldn’t believe it was my own hair. The very next day I went out to buy the exact same products. But after a few weeks I went back to the straighteners. I realise now I just wasn’t using products that were suitable to my curl pattern. Furthermore along with PCOS and dealing with traction alopecia I knew it was time to take drastic action.
And that’s what brought me to Jo’s salon and I will stick with her no matter what. After that visit I went on Instagram and the curl community opened my eyes. It was such a help especially with finding fellow brown girls like honestlizhere who has hair just like mine and learning techniques from Kelly Shabazian. Social media has been a great source of education. I can now learn from those with my own curl pattern in the assurance that their routines might work on mine. As a plus I’ve made new friendships along the way!
Social media has been a great source of education. I can now learn from those with my own curl pattern in the assurance that their routines might work on mine.
What’s great to see is that the information about styling curls has exponentially increased. But there is something that still bugs me. I wonder why there are so few curly hair stylists out there in Melbourne and that they are so exclusive. They would always be booked for months in advance and get away with charging an arm and a leg. I really wish it didn’t have to be that way. Curly hair is normal too, so why are we being charged sometimes six times the usual amount? Only now that I am older and have an income am I able to afford products, but I still order everything online. When I was young this wasn’t the case so I just hope that they would be more accessible to the younger generations so they don’t make the same mistakes that I did.
Curly by Nature
Celebrating and caring for my curls has been a long and worthwhile process. My parents love the look and never tire of saying “I told you so!” which always makes me give them an affectionate eye roll. I get compliments from colleagues, my patients, friends and strangers alike and while I know I shouldn’t look to others for confirmation, the vain part of me can’t help but feel pleased. But the one man who has loved me no matter what is my now fiancée Ryan. We met at university and would accept me regardless of straight hair, curly hair or even no hair! He’s a beautiful person and takes me as I am.
Loving my curls is about embracing my identity that comes from my ancestors and no way was I going to nit-pick the very things that symbolise it. I now no longer sideline myself to keep up with Eurocentric beauty standards and that has brought with it so much peace.
So I come back to you out there daring to free your curls. The biggest lessons I learnt from my journey are: less is more, moisturise lots, get lots of Vitamin D, and forgive yourself if your wash day results don’t come out as much as you would have liked. But it’s not all about achieving perfect results. Loving my curls is about embracing my identity that comes from my ancestors and no way was I going to nit-pick the very things that symbolise it. I now no longer sideline myself to keep up with Eurocentric beauty standards and that has brought with it so much peace. The curls, the frizz, the strands that have a mind of its own – they’re all mine!
Mish’s CG Method
- Deep condition twice a week – use detangling comb afterwards to reduce frizz
- The less products I use, the better the results
- Air dry works wonders
- Stick to organic products: Bergamot conditioner from Everescents; Ashba Botanics cream and gel, Bada Bing gel (outlasts humidity in Sri Lanka)
- Get into DIY hair masks; I use Jojoba and Argan oil to break styling casts and avocado/raw honey
- Occasional ACV rinse to remove product build-up
- Leave hair down after wash day- switch up hair parting