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When I was little, my mother would set my curly hair with giant rollers on Saturday mornings and sit me under the bonnet hair dryer she'd set up on the kitchen table. If I dared to complain about the tug of the rollers or the heat of the dryer, she would remind me that pretty (meaning straight) hair required fixing. Who was I to disagree?
It was around my 12th birthday that she declared I was capable of straightening my own hair -- so I did. In fact, the entire process -- now consisting of a blow-dryer, a round brush, and, at times, a flatiron -- felt so natural that I never considered letting my curls just be.
Recently, though, I found myself studying the curly manes of certain celebrities, such as Sarah Jessica Parker and the singer Shakira. And at home I was mesmerized by the bounce of my 6-year-old daughter's ringlets and thought, I wish I had curly hair. But hold on a minute -- I did! I just didn't know how to style it. My earlier attempts had all resulted in an undefined, frizzy mop that I would immediately slick back into a ponytail.
My curiosity landed me in the care of Michelle Breyer and Gretchen Heber, founders of NaturallyCurly.com. Frustrated by the lack of styling information for stylish curly-haired women like themselves, this duo from Austin, Texas, launched their Web site. Today they have 7,000 hits daily and offer nearly 500 products.
"By and large, curly hair is considered something that needs to be 'fixed,'" says Heber, echoing my mother's famous edict. Many hairstylists aren't trained to work with the special qualities of curly hair, she adds, including its fine, dry texture, so the curly-haired are usually encouraged to go straight. But the last five years have been good to them: Many product lines now cater specifically to curls and more and more "curly hair" salons have opened nationwide.
NaturallyCurly.com taught me that curls, just like skin, fall into different types. According to its classification system I'm a 3B, which means that I have bouncy ringlets and tight corkscrews, and that I should stick to extra-hydrating products. Armed with the appropriate styling tips for my curl type, I was well on my way.
Here's what I did -- and you can, too.