Life & Culture

Curly crisis? I can help

Has your Jewfro turned to a ball of frizz in lockdown? Leah Pennisi-Glaser can make you shine again


Shot of a beautiful young woman indoors

Hair is everything,” declared the character Fleabag in the hugely popular comedy series of the same name.

It certainly was at my secondary school, a girls’ comp in north London where more than half the pupils were Black and Muslim and at which, during break, classrooms became makeshift hair salons where locks were sprayed, moisturised and braided into submission.

“You need a curly girl routine,” my friend Paradise would tell me as she French-plaited my frizzy, blonde bob. At first, I didn’t listen. My hair wasn’t curly, it was frizzy — and fast-growing. I used to feel I had weeds sprouting from my head and would try to tame them with harsh chemicals and straighteners.

My Jewfro felt like my worst feature even if, ironically, it was nothing to do with my Ashkenazi mum whose hair is silky and straight. I inherited my unruly barnet from my Sicilian dad. Mum’s hair requires zero maintenance which meant the bathroom of my childhood featured shampoos and conditioners from Poundland — and zero styling products.

Then, when I was 15 and had my first proper boyfriend, I started listening to Paradise. One Saturday lunchtime in October 2017 I got busy in the bathroom and, a few hours later, emerged with glossy ringlets. It was an inverse of the hair scene in The Princess Diaries. I now see myself as a bit of an expert on how to tame a Jewfro — even one that’s gone out of control in lockdown. Here are my five top tips.


1. Read the ingredients

Choose hair products as you should food — read the label before you buy. And if that shampoo contains sulphates, silicone and rubbing alcohol, put it back on the shelf. These things are as bad for your hair as a bacon sarnie is for your soul. They will strip your hair of its natural oils causing it to dry out and become frizzy. Unfortunately, many hair products in this country contain them. But you can find affordable curly-hair friendly brands like Cantu and Shea Beauty in most branches of Boots. Similarly, when it comes to styling, you don’t need to fork out much. I use Tigi’s Catwalk Curl Rock Amplifier (£6 from Amazon) and Argan oil from Poundland.


2. Wig It Up

Wigs aren’t just for frummers! They are brilliant for bad-hair days and when you simply want to change your look. Many of my schoolfriends owned several. If I fancy a straight-hair day, I don’t reach for the straighteners, I pop on a wig. Although wigs can cost up to hundreds of pounds, there are plenty of cheaper alternatives. My go-to place is Pak’s in London’s Finsbury Park, but there are also great shops in Dalston. I bought a great pink bob there that I wear to parties.


3. Rain, rain, come again

Water is curly hair’s friend. My hair often looks its best after the heavens have opened. And then I air-dry it, or, if I’m pushed for time, wrap my head in a cotton t-shirt. And when it’s hair-wash day, I sleep with my locks fanned across a satin pillow case. It’s a bit uncomfortable, but the results justify the discomfort. What the curly-haired should never do is use a hairdryer and towels: they’ll leave you with a frizzy triangle.


4. Dyeing

If water is curly hair’s best friend, then box-dye is its arch-enemy. Our hair does not absorb dye well — you’ll never end up with the advertised colour. You’ll get patches of it, a sort of two-tone 80s look. Nice. If you want block colour, go for henna. This time-honoured natural product coats, rather than dyes, your hair, leaving it shiny and thick.

During lockdown 2.0 I got my flatmate, Tom, to colour mine bible-black.


5. The snip

One of the biggest advantages to having curly hair is you can cut it yourself. In the midst of a pandemic, this is a particular plus. Curly hair isn’t naturally even, so it doesn’t matter if you cut yours unevenly. Part yours where it naturally falls and then just snip the split ends.

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