How the curly girl method helped me get over my heartbreak

Heartbreak is a sensation that feels absolutely crushing. You’ve given a person the power to hurt you to your core and they have and it’s so hard to believe that someone who used to promise never to hurt you has hurt you in the deepest possible way. Studies even show that even seeing an ex or a person who has broken your heart can cause physical pain. Heartbreak can manifest itself even physically and it’s so so painful.

With my most recent heartbreak, I stopped taking care of myself. I hardly slept, I spent most of my days crying, and I stopped eating. I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone. I shut people out and only did work. The only person I wanted to talk to was still him. I promised myself not to check in on him but I did. I suffered through conversations with him where he was totally fine because he “still wanted to be friends” but I died inside knowing that just a few weeks ago, he was telling me about all his plans for our future and now he stopped everything between us because he “couldn’t handle a relationship” (a week later he told me he was seeing someone).

It killed me. But I couldn’t stop. It’s like I didn’t know if I wanted to keep hurting myself as long as I got to speak with him or if I had to cut off all communication–even just for a bit. It broke my heart so deeply. I was inconsolable and devastated.

When things finally overwhelmed me and I knew I needed time and space away from him, I broke down again. It was like an addiction, talking to him even after he stopped wanting to be with me, and I had to stop feeding it. I knew I had to. I threw a tantrum and bawled all night long at a friend’s house until they stood me back up on my feet and told me what I had to do: Cut off communication, at least for now. I stopped talking to him and though I itched to, I didn’t. I knew it wouldn’t do me any good. I thought it’d fix everything but, unfortunately, I was still sad.

Around this time I’d been part of a group called Curly Girls Philippines where girls with curly hair talked about the Curly Girl Method, a specialized way of taking care of curly hair. I’d had curls all my life and didn’t think there was a right or wrong way to take care of them. It was almost hypnotizing, the best distraction I had in a while just looking at all the safe ingredients, the products, and most especially, the results people were getting–their smooth, shiny curls all tumbling down their shoulders.

The more I tried to stay away from my ex, the more absorbed I became in the group. I needed something to keep me from thinking about him and talking to him. At first, it was to make sure I stayed away from him, but eventually, it became a place where I saw girls who had the same hair as I did–curly manes and all–and how they were healing their hair from years of damage. I thought: These girls look like me.

I was terribly heartbroken, did nothing at home, didn’t go out, and became practically a shut-in at this point. And so I thought, after reading through all the steps, that I could try it out.

In February, after a particularly pathetic Valentine’s day I spent drunk and eating popcorn by myself, I Marie Kondo-ed my bathroom and threw out all the bad hair products. Anything with silicones, especially, because they build up on curly hair and keep moisture from it. Which is something I never knew. And then it was time for the final wash, a way to strip all the hair of all the bad build-up. The finality of it was something I didn’t quite understand until I held the dishwashing soap in my hands (yes, that’s what’s recommended) and squirted it out onto my palm. Was I really about to do this to my hair?

I did. And as much as I hated how it looked right after, I kept at it because it kept my mind off he-who-must-not-be-named. When I finished deep conditioning and looked at myself in the mirror, I was surprised at how puffy my eyes were, how pale I looked, and, surprisingly, how curly my hair was. I didn’t notice any of these things until that moment. The way my hair curled looked different from how it usually did those days and it made me smile for the first time in a while.

Washing my hair became something I looked forward to because I wanted to see results. At first, it was because I didn’t want to think of him, I would spend an hour just drying my hair after spending the previous hour deep conditioning it, eating up time I wasn’t working and killing any moment to think about him. But as soon as I saw results, I noticed I was eating again, talking to my friends again, sleeping again.

Taking care of my hair somehow made me take care of myself.

I didn’t notice it at all at first. But the more I saw results in my hair, the happier I became and the more I would check on myself. Was I eating right so that my hair would grow? Was I sleeping comfortably so it would look good in the morning? Was my hair alright today? And eventually, my questions became: Was I eating? Was I sleeping? Was I alright? Being careful with my curls made me be careful with myself and I didn’t even know it until I was looking forward to my day again.

I talked to Ria Fernandez, the woman who jumpstarted the group, to thank her for the group and to ask her about the curly girl method’s impact on curly girls all over the Philippines. When asked what pushed her to try it for herself, she said:

I was basically tired of looking like crap all time. I had never known what to do with my hair because curly girls never had anyone teach them proper hair care. Once I discovered the Curly Girl Method online and saw the results other women had with it, I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain from taking a chance on it.

Her reasons resonated with me. The whole idea of having nothing to lose, especially at such a low point in my life, made me nod in agreement. With a community of girls all over the Philippines growing bigger and bigger by the day, Fernandez said that, at the start, she never imagined the group would grow as big as it did. It was initially her way of informing friends and family of how she “recovered [her] healthy curls” but membership spiked.

Once the membership started spiking, I realized that it was inevitable for this movement to take off. Majority of the join requests we get – probably 80% – mention “I’m tired of straightening my hair.” Many Filipinas have curly hair, but we are not visible because we’ve been hiding it all our lives. We have no resources or support on how to take care of it, on top of the fact that media and advertising shuns it. Curly Girls Philippines offers community, support, learning and somewhat of a refuge for curly pinays, which is something completely unheard of in a country that is obsessed with straight hair.

It was such a breath of fresh air to see girls who looked like me and had the same issues with their hair–the tangling, the knotting, the falling. All of it. I’d never been so overwhelmed with a sense of sisterhood before. Ria says her favorite part about it is the empowerment: “We empower each other everyday. Empowerment is like lighting other people’s candles. You don’t have to put out your own flame to help someone else shine, and you end up making the world a bit brighter.”

When I told her that it pushed me to take care of myself after my heartbreak and in general, Ria agreed. “On the outside, the Curly Girl Method is a hair care regimen, but at its core, it’s a process for self-care,” she told me. “Every curly Pinay is no stranger to bullying and the pressure to straighten our hair. Beneath all that is being subconsciously taught the idea that ‘I am ugly, I am not enough, I need to change who I am.’ The Curly Girl Method aims to reverse all of that damage – inside and out.” At the peak of feeling ugly and not enough, it was my curls that brought me back.

I can’t say I’ve completely bounced back from what happened. It was painful and hurt so so much, and sometimes I still want to feed that addiction of talking to him. But I know better. And I’ve found a way to treat myself better and a community to cheer me on as I do. It’s incredible the things I’ve waded through just to get myself back. And my curls are thriving now more than ever, too. Win-win, I say. But the most important part? A healing heart. And an opportunity to be kind to myself again.

August 2018–frizzy, dull hair

August 2019–my curls are alive!

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