My hair was about four times as thick and coarse when I was a child as it is now. As a child, I had somewhat of a mullet helmet, and as it grew longer it became a giant mass of hair. I can remember relatives always telling me to put my hair up because I looked like a witch, and I remember always breaking hair ties because my hair was too thick to tie up. Needless to say, I spent years wishing in vain that my hair looked like the girls and women on TV and in magazines. Middle school was a time spent trying and failing, to straighten my hair with Velcro curlers and weak curling irons. That’s when I cut it short in an attempt to get the “Rachel,” I was so disappointed when my hair ended up looking nothing like Jennifer Aniston’s, and I didn’t understand why (hello hair type). This was also the era of Sun In, ouch.

In high-school, I discovered Infusium, which finally gave me the curl definition I had been missing all my life. It became my Holy Grail. I would put a towel over my shoulders and then douse my wet hair with Infusium, then air dry. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t satisfied and I was getting relaxers which the salons promised would straighten my hair, but never did. In college, I had my hair relaxed at a Filipino salon that finally did the trick. I’m sad to say that permanently banished my curls, and it took years to transition that straight hair out.

I’ve seen my hair mostly as an element of my style - at some points in my life I’ve preferred it straight, sometimes I’ve liked it curly. Sometimes long, short, blonde, purple. Ever since I realized how incredibly difficult it is to go from straight or colored back to curly, I’ve pretty much stuck to wearing it natural.

What has been the most memorable moment of your hair journey?

Cutting it all off! I had hair down to my belly button, it was wavy, balayage, and people loved it that way. When I cut it off into a pixie there were a lot of people who couldn’t understand why I would do that. They warned me that I was going to cry and miss my long hair, but I never did. I think before I cut my hair I had a lot of fear and what ifs - what if I’m not pretty without long hair? What if my hair gets damaged and won’t curl? What if I can’t pull off short hair the way bolder women can? Cutting my hair freed me from all of that.

My hair says that I am my own person, that I’m comfortable in my own skin (and hair) and feel free to express myself without worrying what others will think.
Cristina Cleveland

What was your transitioning hair regimen? 

To be honest it was a bit hopeless. I would wear my hair in a ponytail to hide the grow out, or I would straighten the roots to make them match the ends. When I bleached my hair blonde I had to transition that damage out. The bleach destroyed my hair, and eventually I was ready to cut it off. The curls that were left behind after my cut were the healthiest they've ever been!

What is your current hair regimen? Any favorite products you’d like to share?

My regimen is all about making my waves last as many days as possible without washing. On day 1 I cleanse, condition, and put a light styler in my hair. A few favorites for cleansing and conditioning are Elucence, DevaCurl’s Delight line, 2 Girls with Curls (the lavender smells so good). My favorite stylers right now are Kevin Murphy Killer Curls, Jessicurl Spiralicious, Camille Rose Aloe Whipped Butter Gel, and Everyone’s Style Hair Gel. My Holy Grail refresher is the Curl Keeper water bottle, which I use every morning to refresh my hair. With my waves, sleeping on them, pulling them back or up pretty much makes them straighten out, that’s why it’s essential for my refresh regimen to be on point. I wet my hair with the water bottle, then take a small amount of styler and rub my hands together until they’re coated with styler, then I scrunch my hair to encourage the curl. If I have time I air dry, but if my hair needs to be dry before I leave the house then I diffuse. The difference in my hair before and after this quick routine is like night and day.

Any advice you’d like to give other women who may be in the transition phase and need some encouragement?

Find ways to enjoy the challenges. When I was growing my hair out I dyed it platinum blonde, then when I got tired of dealing with the damage I chopped it into a short bob. Yes, of course, there were frustrating times, but when I look back on it I think of all of the fun I had expressing myself in those stages of my life.

How do you remain confident along your natural hair journey? We'd love to hear from you, comment below!

Want more from Cristina? Follow her on Instagram @cristinacleveland

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