First off, ditto on what everyone is saying about how gorgeous your hair is. I'm sorry that folks in your town how made you feel like your hair is freakish or strange because, honey, your hair is bomb.
Anyway I was going to ask what products other than conditioner you are using. I definitely recommend going experimenting with products before you experiment with a permanent chemical process. Have you tried medium hold gels? My hair looks similar to the picture you posted of your hair wet. I find that if I use a leave in conditioner and then shingle in a gel my roots do not shrink and I don't have problems with tangles.
Also I think that wetting your hair frequently (like once a day or once every other day) and reapplying conditioner and gel may help you with tangles/shrinkage/matting. Basically I wet and finger-comb my hair every day and I use a cleansing conditioner every other day. After wetting I always reapply and leave-in and then gel. I've found that this keeps my curls elongated, defined, and tangle-free.
P.S. Do you have a target in your town. There are some great gels there.