I cried after every haircut until this life-changing discovery.
I had big, blonde curls as a baby. At toddler age, I had thick, sandy-brown waves. By 5, my dark-brown tresses flowed straight down to my waist. And by ten, it was frizzy. I’m a mixed chick: African American, Native American, German and some other unknowns — and my curly hair represents this glorious mix.
Blonde curly-haired tot.
In my grandmother’s hands, who’s a representative of my African-American side as well as some of the “unknown” we haven’t been able to trace, I always boasted gorgeously crisp braids, pristine buns and perfectly parted pigtails. There wasn’t a type of braid she couldn’t perfect. Every three months, my grandma pulled me aside and give me a delicate trim. As she snipped barely a quarter of an inch off my ends, she’d firmly warn, “Don’t ever trust ANYONE to cut your hair. Hairstylists? They’ll cut it all off.”
It might sound extreme, but grandma was right.
When I Didn’t Listen to Grandma
Tightly coiled hair in tween years.
I lived the #longhairdontcare motto up until my pre-teen years because for me, being a pre-teen meant caring a lot. I tried dozens of shampoos, oils, curlers, combs, brushes, gels, moose, satin hair wraps and pins. I tried hot and cold water, coconut and castor oil and still found myself with limp curls and frizzy ends. When I felt like I tried everything humanly possible, I decided to do the undoable: get a haircut. I begged my grandma until she relented.
The stylist was Priscilla. I hopped up on the chair, pulled out all my picture references and showed her exactly how I wanted to look. She asked, “Just the ends, right? The dead ends, right?” Grandma looked at me for the answer and I confidently said “Yes! Just the ends.”
I heard the clip of the scissors. I saw one horrifically long piece of hair fall to the ground and felt the tears instantly run down my cheeks.
Grandma was right. Priscilla chopped off all my hair. It wasn’t until it started to dry and curl and frizz all the way up to my shoulders that Priscilla gave up her poker face. “You have curls? I didn’t know it was going to curl up this much!” she exclaimed. I thought she knew my hair was curly.
My extremely long hair was now a thick nest of curls. It was unidentifiable to me.
Believe it or not, I repeated history several times by trusting stylists to cut my hair. I’d go home and try to fix it, only to have no choice but to accept it. I’d let it grow for a couple of years, terrified of scissors. Somehow, I’d convince myself that I should try a new hairstylist, and maybe by some odd factor she/he would finally be the right one. I tried the Dominican spot, the white salon and even an Asian one. I tried the expensive one and used different tactics like having my best friend stand guard and mark exactly where to cut it. The results were never the same — and never what I wanted.
Until I found Kamara, that is.
How I Finally Got the Perfect Haircut For My Curly Hair
Kamara welcomed me in, sat me down and went silent as I started to give all my disclaimers, reservations and warnings.
She clearly wasn’t listening. She got up and started twisting my hair around a pencil and stared at it. She sprayed some strands with water. She dumped the rest of the water on the top of my head and stared at me some more. All the while not acknowledging a single thing I had said to her. I felt like a science project. She fluffed it. She scratched my scalp and then flipped it over my part. Was this a joke?
Just when I started planning my escape route, she asked, “You’re 3A right?” (3A? Is that a type of eccentric hustle?) “Your hair grade,” she said slowly as if I was the one not listening.
Current natural hair curl and texture.
Turns out 3A is code for a specific type of curl and texture. It’s a grade of hair that is curly but on the looser and thinner side of spirals. There are various grades starting from 1A, completely straight, to 4C, the tightest and coarsest of a curl. She explained, 3A meant that it would be better to cut my hair while wet. It meant that cutting upwards would make it curlier and that although it would look great with layers, it would have to be specifically no more than three long layers.
After you figure out your hair code.
I walked out of the salon looking like myself, Malika Jones.
Grandma had the right advice, but it wasn’t until that moment that I figured out there was more to it.
Don’t ever trust anyone to cut your curly hair until you know your hair’s identity.
You have to discover how your hair defines itself. It’s too easy for you and your hairstylist to get distracted trying to identify your hair into cultures, or celebrity looks and societal trends. It’s your hair, and once you embrace its self-declared identity, it’s much easier to find a hairstylist that has the specific skills and techniques that bring the best out of it.
*All photos courtesy of the author.