I have never hated having curly hair, but I didn’t always love it. For a large portion of my life, my curls were a source of adolescent frustration and fixation. I worried constantly about frizz and volume, and applied horrifying amounts of crunchy gel and silicone-based serums to keep each curl locked down.
As I got older, I got busier, and keeping up my intense hair routine was not as feasible.
I learned to embrace my hair instead of controlling it, and unlocked a new well of energy and free time to allocate to other life goals and relationships.
Getting older and busier, coupled with a history of mental health issues and disordered eating, also led to weight gain. It led to quite a bit of weight gain, actually: from senior year of high school to now, I have gone up 3 pant sizes. I teeter on that cusp between straight and plus sizes, mainly due to my build and weight distribution, but I am definitely far heavier than I ever imagined I would be. And I’ve finally realized that it’s okay.
The journey to getting right with my body was similar to my journey to curl-acceptance, and I’ve definitely revisited some of the same lessons multiple times. When it comes down to it, accepting my bigger hair and bigger body has come down to three things:
It’s Okay to Take Up Space
Curly hair takes up a lot of room, especially if you have type 3 or 4 hair, a fact I denied for the first 18 years of my life. When I was a teen, I kept my hair long and as slicked down as possible in a desperate attempt to blend in with my straight-haired friends as much as possible. I had internalized social messages about femininity, namely that femininity is small, and delicate, and unobtrusive—none of which described me or my hair.
Guess what? I wasn’t fooling anybody. Just like I’m not fooling anybody when I try to hide my weight gain with loose tops and dark wash jeans. My hair and my body physically take up more room than someone with straight hair and a 5-foot, size 4 frame. No optical illusions or volume-deflating hairstyle will change that. Once I embraced my curl volume and got a short, bouncy cut that can get pretty dang big, I felt so much more at ease about taking up more visual real estate. Which is important, because:
People Will Comment, and It Will Be Weird
I get a lot of comments on my hair, like most curly-haired people probably do. Questions about how I take care of it, do I hate it, do you ever straighten it, what’s your ethnic background, etc. and such. People have used ugly words to describe my hair without intentionally meaning any harm. They have drawn uncomfortably prolonged attention to me because of my hair.
People have also done the same thing with my weight, albeit with far less frequency due to cultural norms and stigma around weight gain. It’s generally been well-intentioned, along the lines of “you wear it well” or “I barely noticed” or “you could probably lose it really easily if you tried.” Regardless how benign the comments are, it is uncomfortable for my body to be the center of attention even for a few moments. But, even though it’s weird and jarring to be reminded how physically “other” I seem to some people, it’s taught me a lot about keeping calm and unbothered. Because life is too short to let clueless people with mixed intentions affect my day for more than a few seconds.
The Way I Look Will Continually Change
Bodies are continually in flux. My body, in particular, responds to any change in environmental stress, especially at work. Our bodies don’t look the same day to day, and they aren’t meant to. Bad hair days and weight gain aren’t always permanent, but sometimes they are. And guess what? That’s okay.
My physical appearance is rarely, if ever, my number one priority. I loved this article from NC Content Editor Devri Velazquez about being “beauty-sick,” because I feel it. Between an intellectually- and creatively-demanding job, side hustles, a long-term partner and our shared home, two pets, a close circle of friends, and sleeping, my hours are well accounted for. Some days I can barely be bothered to wash my hair, let alone put product in it and style it so it looks cute.
Currently, my extra weight is not having a negative impact on my health. It’s not having a negative impact on my relationships, my ability to do my job, my ability to smile and laugh and bring joy to the lives of others—so why would I eat into my precious little free time and energy to focus on it? Losing weight isn’t easy for me: it requires a lot of calorie counting, meal planning, saying “no” to social stuff I want to do and guilt-induced cardio sessions. So, I am consciously choosing not to make it a priority, much in the same way that I have often chosen to not make my hair a priority.
Years of learning to love my hair despite its bad days and despite the time and labor it takes for a good day has taught me to respect the power of prioritization, as well as the impermanence of it.