Curly baby Libby
When I look through my baby photos, I see images of a chubby, wavy-haired toddler. “You used to have the most beautiful hair! Why is it all flat and poofy now?”, my mom would complain. To which my angstful, teenage self would roll her eyes and respond “None of the cool girls have curly hair, MOM!" I grew up longing for silky, straight hair, just like Disney's Mulan. Because I was born and raised in Indonesia, a country where the media only portrayed one type of beauty, to us, beauty meant fair skin and sleek straight hair.
I was blessed to be born with a head of thick, jet-black hair. But unlike the ladies in the hair commercials, my mom and I both had coarse, wavy-curly hair like the bristles of an old broom. Our natural hair type was under-represented by mainstream media, so neither of us grew up knowing how to properly care for our awkward hair type. By the time I turned three, my mom gave up and chopped off her long, thick hair. Since then, she has worn her hair like a boy.
To make matters worse, all the cool girls I knew in school had perfectly straight hair and the boys picked on girls with textured hair. Naturally, this led me to believe that I needed to have straight hair to fit in. Afraid of being considered “uncool," I subjected my hair to a series of unfortunate, straightening treatments. These treatments would give me smooth hair for a week, before my hair would return to a state of awkwardness. The more I tried, the frizzier and poofier it became. My hair was suffering, but I continued to blow dry my hair every single morning for school and that made things worse.
Poofy hair, (I actually) care
My obsession continued into adulthood. At 22, I moved out to the United States, and it was there I discovered the magic of straightening irons AND the GHD for the first time. GHD gave me the sleek, straight hair of my dreams and it quickly became my weapon of choice. This tool rocked my world. There was one time my husband and I came home to SF from a road trip and we needed to stop by our friend’s apartment in SOMA to pick up some packages. We were too tired to notice the suitcase sitting in the backseat in plain view. You can guess what happened next. We came back to find out the car had been broken into and my suitcase, containing all my essentials, including my GHD straightener, had been stolen. I was devastated. The thought of living life without my GHD straightener was unbearable, so naturally I rushed to Sephora the next morning to purchase a new one. Full price. Ouch.
Rocking the straight bob throughout my 20s. Shout-out to GHD!
I rocked the straight bob into my 30s thanks to that GHD iron. I wore my hair straight for so long that I forgot what my natural hair texture really looked like. During my 20s, I somehow convinced myself that I was born with bone straight hair because it was how I saw my hair every day.
It was during this period I joined Creator Deck Media (Chictopia.com at the time) and started working with fashion influencers. I was meeting all the cool bloggers in person and I noticed how everyone always looked like they had just stepped out of a dry bar. Eventually I developed curl envy and resorted to YouTube tutorials to learn how to get the perfect “beach waves” and “soft curls” using heat tools. Beauty YouTubers make everything seem so effortless, so I was left frustrated when my hair wouldn’t cooperate with all the different curling wands I purchased. I wanted pretty, mermaid hair badly, but my hair just didn’t want to hold a curl no matter how hot I set my curling wand.
Failed attempt #421 at using a curling wand. Curls loosened 10 minutes after this photo was taken.
Fast forward to 2017, the year I became a mom. I gave birth to a chubby baby boy with chubby cheeks and curly fry hair.
My curly fry haired baby
At this time, I was struggling with postpartum hair loss and I barely had enough time to sleep, let alone take care of my hair. Strangers would frequently come up to us, compliment my son's hair, then ask if I had curly hair as well. I would respond with a shrug because I no longer knew what my natural hair was supposed to look like. My hair was dead from all the hormonal changes and all the years of heat tools were finally catching up to me. I’d see mom bloggers on Instagram looking picture perfect after childbirth and here I was stuck with dead and ugly hair. Nothing I did made my hair look good. Not even my GHD straightener helped.
A year into being a full-time, working mom, my hair was at its worst and I was ready to chop everything off. Ironically enough, it was during this time I was leading a YouTube campaign for one of our hair brand partners, AQUIS (oh… hello!). Prior to this project, I had NEVER watched a hair routine video or even heard of the terms “transitioning” or “natural hair”. I had run numerous beauty campaigns in the past, but I had no concept of natural hair care. During our first call with the brand, they walked me through the brand’s philosophy. They spoke about how they believe hair care should be easy and natural hair will be your most beautiful hair if taken care of properly. Umm... Lightbulb!
I had always been obsessed with making my hair look good, but I was never interested in knowing what was good for my hair. Was this philosophy the answer to all my ugly hair problems?
Determined to educate myself for the campaign, I discovered a small corner of YouTube where women got together and shared tips on hair care and embracing natural hair textures. Watching Ebonee Davis’s TED Talk made me tear up because the story she told hit close to home. All through life, I struggled with hair because I was determined to make it look like something it wasn’t supposed to. I felt inspired by how this hair community celebrated uniqueness and encouraged women of all hair types to embrace natural, healthy hair. The hair YouTubers I talked to about the AQUIS campaign were so knowledgeable that the more I talked to them, the more curious and interested I became with the whole concept of embracing natural hair. Slowly, my perspective on my hair shifted and a few weeks into the AQUIS campaign I was ready to start my journey back to healthy hair.
Desperate to start fresh, I called my salon and scheduled myself for an overdue trim. They introduced me to Denege, a lovely hairstylist who had the most beautiful head of 3A curls. I talked to her about how I was willing to do anything to revive my dead hair and I complimented her on her gorgeous, mermaid locks. “I’ve always wanted hair like yours! Curling wands just don’t work on my hair." She laughed as she played with my hair and said “You know your hair is naturally wavy, right? You don’t need a curling wand. I’ll show you." She cut off inches, getting rid of my dead ends, then did some fancy scrunching and diffused my hair. When she was done I was shocked to see myself in the mirror. This lady somehow managed to “re-activate” my curls without the help of curling wands and I was rocking a head full of shiny waves and curls. She pointed out that my curls and waves had been “asleep” because I was using blow dryers and straighteners so much. That night, I FaceTimed my mom in Indonesia, and she was overjoyed seeing how my hair was wavy and curly just like it was when I was a chubby little toddler. “My baby," she cried! It felt great.
Back to my natural texture after 30 years, and working towards healthy hair.
It has been two months since I started my journey back to natural and healthy hair. While I’m still working on “teaching” my hair to be curly again, I’ve developed a solid, healthy, hair routine and am slowly seeing results. I get product recommendations from all the AQUIS campaign videos and I’ve become one of those women who spends hours at Sephora staring at ingredient lists. I use the AQUIS hair turban religiously on every wash day to protect my hair against water damage and I’m happy to say that I’ve *almost* cut out heat tools entirely from my routine! I’m even considering getting a second AQUIS just to keep in my gym bag because there was one time I forgot to pack my AQUIS and I was forced to use the gym’s terrycloth towels. Omg. Can you say FRIZZ TOWN? Never again!
Every day my hair gets a little curlier, a little stronger and a lot healthier. I still have lots to learn when it comes to natural hair care, but knowing that I am working towards becoming a better version of my own self, instead of trying to be someone else, feels empowering. It’s silly that it took me 30 years to realize that my version of perfect hair was already within me to begin with. Regardless, I’m thankful for the journey that brought me here. Who knew something as simple as hair could teach me a life-changing lesson on self-love?
My name is Libby Kusuma and this is my #HAIRSTRONG Story.
Social Media Strategist, Creator Deck Media