Whip My Hair

Conquering my wispy, curly mop.

Illustration by Ana

Illustration by Ana

Growing up, I had a head of thick, curly hair that my classmates envied. I was often asked about my parents’ race, the implication being that if I had “good” hair, I must be part white. At the time I didn’t realize how racist and hurtful this distinction between “good” and “bad” hair is; I just felt lucky to have a head of voluminous curls. My white single mother made every effort to learn how to style my biracial hair, and each morning she used handfuls of conditioner and detangling spray to tame my mane as she brushed it. I was super self-conscious about my body, but my hair was one thing I could be proud of.

As my hair grew longer, I had some difficulty managing it. By middle school, it cascaded down my back, and because of its density, my mother and I decided I should use a relaxer, which I applied every couple of months to loosen the curls. This definitely helped me with my transition into boarding school as a freshman, when I no longer had my mom to help me style my hair every the morning.

It wasn’t until college that I had my first hair meltdown. During one super traumatizing semester, as I was dealing with a horrible breakup and a health scare, all that stress caused a lot of my hair to fall out. Naturally, I freaked. My hair was the one thing I wasn’t insecure about, and now it was half-gone. I got healthier a few months later, but unfortunately my hair did not—it would never return to its previous abundance. I could no longer just wash it, throw in some curl-defining product, and head out the door. It looked frizzy and sparse. I decided the best thing to do was to get rid of the chemically processed hair altogether, so I cut it into a fauxhawk. This helped for a while, but I wanted longer hair again, so I let it grow and made it through that awkward in-between stage by experimenting with extensions and wigs. I started looking for blogs by other women of color and reading about their styling tips and nightly routines. I tried twist-outs and flexi-rods, but no matter how much I practiced, my hair never looked as great as the theirs.

So I took the experts’ advice for curly hair: I used sulfate-free shampoo, followed by a leave-in conditioner or hair cream, and then left my hair to dry without touching it. (Playing with your hair while it dries, according to stylists, messes up the curl pattern and creates frizz.) The result was limp hair; my curls were well-defined, but they looked more like ramen noodles than the rock & roll fros I admired.

Around this time, I was cast as a style expert for a new show on MTV. The executives of the show really wanted me on camera with my natural hair, so they sent me to an upscale salon that specialized in curly hair. The salon was great, but as I predicted, they went with the technique that I think works better for girls with thicker hair: after washing and conditioning, they slathered my hair in a curl-defining cream, scrunched it a few times while wet, and used a diffuser—without laying their hands on my hair till it dried. In the end, my curls were beautiful, but still limp. There was no way I’d be caught dead on TV like this.

The day we taped the pilot, I hopped in the shower and washed and conditioned my hair with what I had on hand: Herbal Essences Color Me Happy shampoo and conditioner. It was a random discovery—I think my sister used it, and I loved the way it smells, so I bought some. It turns out it works great on my hair (though it isn’t organic and contains sulfates, which some people prefer to avoid). When I got out, I used their Totally Twisted mousse and threw my head back and forth while scrunching. The hair-toss is something that I’d done growing up to help dry it, but now that my hair was thinner, I found that the more I did this, the more volume it created. So while the other hosts were getting their makeup done, I was in the greenroom, just tossing my head back and forth to make it bigger. At one point, the makeup artist had to stop me, because she said it looked great. And you know what? I agreed. The TV show didn’t end up going anywhere, but I was grateful for the experience, because I learned how to handle my hair.

I’ve since learned that getting a great haircut also helps. Going to a good salon can be pricey, but finding the right shape makes a big difference when it comes to managing curls. Between my cut and my newly perfected scrunching-and-flipping technique, I finally love my curls again. For those of you who struggle with thin and curly hair, I made a video tutorial of my process that I hope helps. Sometimes it’s a process of trial and error, so don’t be discouraged if it takes some experimenting to figure out what works for you!

Products I used:


  • Teez March 15th, 2013 7:24 PM

    yaaasssss gabi!

  • Maryse89 March 15th, 2013 7:34 PM

    oh my gosh your hair is so beautiful!
    I also had a lot of my (already thin) hair fall out last semester because of stress… :(

    now I look like one of those drawings you do when you’re a little kid with just two lines for hair :(

  • mayacolor March 15th, 2013 7:56 PM

    haveing an afro for me is so damn hard, my mums mixed race and dads jamacian but i don’t live with him so i’m my own with doing my hair and its tighter than a 4a afro. i cornrow it every night because it straightens it out, and is easier to deal with. But i still get asked by (generally non-”black”) people if they can tough my hair or if it was born like that. CANT PEOPLE JUST GOOGLE THESE QUESTIONS?!

    • ColoredSoft March 15th, 2013 11:26 PM

      heh :) I love wearing my afro and people ask to touch it all the time as well. They like touching our hair because it’s interesting different. Asking if you’re born like that is just plain ignorance. Don’t let it get to you.

      • hanalady March 17th, 2013 7:00 PM

        i have (white-girl) curly hair and people CONSTANTLY ask to touch it, it’s so obnoxious. i’m like “no, get your hands away from my head.” when i was little strangers would just come up and touch me without asking too, which was kind of scary. but there can definitely be a different (often unintentionally racist) tone to it when white people ask black people to touch their hair… i have a friend who has black-girl curly hair which is now in dreads and she hates when white people ask her about her hair, she finds it really exoticizing and rude

  • Kimono Cat March 15th, 2013 7:59 PM

    I have mixed race hair, but kind of on the opposite side of the spectrum to Gabi: thick, but with looser curls. I’d definitely describe it as more caucasian than afro. Because of this I don’t use shampoo and conditioner designed for curly hair. Instead, I like Aussie’s high shine shampoo and conditioner, because they make my hair super shiny, but only if I use loads of conditioner.
    Unlike Gabi, I find that air drying my hair *guarantees* its limpness. What actually gave me my ideal hair was tying it back, while wet, into a ponytail, and then the next day I would have perfect hair. Because it’s winter now I can’t do that because of pneumonia, so instead after I towel dry my hair for a few seconds I will immediately put it into a shower cap to trap in the wetness. I then dry it using a hairdryer, which I hate because I certain it’s giving me split ends. It does give me super glossy well formed curls, however.

  • georgie fruit March 15th, 2013 8:08 PM

    Gabi your hair is AMAZING and you are such a babe. I mean DAMN GIRL!

  • ewesjustfluffy March 15th, 2013 9:00 PM

    Yes yes yes! It’s so hard to figure out what to do with curly hair because every curl is unique. I have thin, curly hair, too, but it’s longer and blond. Every time I think I have it figured out, it changes texture on me! I rarely shampoo, always let it air dry, and sometimes put some leave in conditioner on it after i shower. I have a problem with touching and pulling on it, so it’s often frizzy, though no one seems to notice but me…or so they say.

  • lydiamerida March 15th, 2013 9:25 PM

    I have “ramen noodle” type curls, and i’ll definitely try that head tossing trick! I think I’ll also try a mousse instead of gel. rookie is always perfectly timed with my needs, because recently ive been looking for new products!

  • umi March 15th, 2013 11:02 PM

    this is so cool! i’m biracial and i have….how do i…um…well i have CURLY hair but it’s not ‘biracial hair’ i do not know the correct terminology???
    i remember i once went to a biracial friend’s house and her mom and she asked me if our mom allowed us to straighten our hair.She kinda asked me in a disapproving tone and i looked at her IN THE MOST CONFUSED FACE and everybody had to explain that this is my hair.ANYWAYS,i really appreciate this bc i feel like i cant relate to a lot as a mixed girl.this is really great.Thank you,Gabi!!

  • ShelbyNicole March 15th, 2013 11:31 PM

    This was awesome. I also do the “head banging” method. lol. After washing I’ll be flipping and tossing around my hair until it’s dry. I do use this stuff called Zero Frizz hair serum (I know, it’s a creative name…) after it’s dried. I just slick some on to tighten my curls. It’s important to note that my hair is very dry. Oily hair probably won’t look better after adding zero frizz, but I’m no expert! Keep rocking those curls!

  • spudzine March 15th, 2013 11:50 PM

    My hair needs VERY specific products in order for it to function. What I mean is, is that it’s hard to manage my hair because of the whole, “mixed race” thing I have going on, but I use Garnier Fructis conditioner which works SPLENDIDLY.

    • marineo March 16th, 2013 1:47 AM

      I love Garnier it smells like baby angels and flowers

  • AllieBee March 16th, 2013 2:03 AM

    I have the exact opposite problem with my curly hair; it grows way too thick and way too fast! Styling took way too long, so I buzzed mine off. I wear candy-colored wigs for special occasions, though! Great article, Gabi!

  • Mary the freak March 16th, 2013 6:22 AM

    WAAAH I LOVE YOUR HAIR. amazing article! I wish I had curls and not this flat weird hair…

  • Tasya March 16th, 2013 11:12 AM

    i’m biracial as well and my hair is about 3a/b but it can get HUGE. i love it sometimes, but people tend to stare without even being discreet and it annoys the hell out of me. i usually get people asking whether it’s natural, whether my hair is a wig, whether i was born with it, or like how long it took me in the salon to get it like that. SIGH like why is it hard for them to accept that not everyone in the world has straight hair??

    i also did an undercut (shaved the side of my head) so it’ll be a pain when it grows out hahaha. i’m enjoying it now though!

    but yeah gabi, sometimes i wish i had hair like yours! it’s less fuss and doesn’t get out of control like mine :-(

  • violetrainbow March 16th, 2013 11:25 AM

    i have curly hair too! :D and thanks for this video because since i became a teen , i was dealing with hair problems all the time and i was’nt proud of my curly hair and i straightened it all the time.

    Your video also makes me prouder about my curly hair :)

  • erin March 16th, 2013 2:46 PM

    your hair is aaaaahhhhmazing :DDDDD

  • bethleeroth March 16th, 2013 10:00 PM

    I totally have to try the head shaking method! Also, I do have to give a shout-out to NO ‘POO!!! Quitting using shampoo has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my curly hair. My transition phase (period of time in which your hair feels greasy while it’s adjusting) was only about 2-3 days, which I think is probably pretty standard for curly hair. My curls look great and my hair is super healthy and soft! I use the baking soda/ACV version on my caucasian hair but there are other no ‘poo options out there for all different hair types. It sounds weird but I promise it’s awesome.

    PS: Gabi, your hair looks amazing!

  • MaggietheCat March 17th, 2013 1:31 AM


  • mayaautumn March 17th, 2013 5:46 AM

    well, thankYOU!!! i have weird hair that changes all the time. like sometimes it’s fine but then on certain days it’s just all over the place and i can’t tame it at all!

  • hanalady March 17th, 2013 7:01 PM

    Gabi i am so happy you are writing for Rookie now. i love your blog and i love Rookie and it’s just such a good combination

  • Siri Hedstrom March 18th, 2013 3:58 PM

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post. I’m caucasian but I have super curly, frizzy hair, and I’ve read so many articles on how to style and care for curly hair that I don’t know who to trust! Your video was super informative and it was nice to know that other curly girls have thin, fine curls like me! Thanks Gabi! Keep rockin’ those curls :)

  • Willow G-G March 19th, 2013 8:37 PM

    I have curly hair, I’ve been trying the hair-whip thing, (and yes ha-ha your name’s willow, you whip your hair) and it really works! thank you soooo much for this tip. also, by the way gabi, you are gorgeous!

  • Serena Head March 26th, 2013 9:16 AM

    Thanks, this was so helpful! :)