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What do most religions have in common - besides the basic tenets of love, kindness, tolerance and compassion? A book. A prophet. Places of worship and of course, loyal followers. While the Curly Girl Method (CGM) isn't technically a religion, it does have at its core a book, literally referred to as a bible, and a 'prophet' of sorts standing behind it. There are indeed dedicated 'churches' (CGM salons) with enthusiastic pastors ardently reinforcing the key message and a loyal congregation who have a very strong sense of faith in it all.
With the international propagation of the CGM and the amount of vocal enthusiasm surrounding it, the religious comparison is quite accurate in my opinion. Please bear in mind this isn't at all judgement about the CGM, its author or followers, but rather a keen observation from the perspective of a professional who has lived and worked with curls for many years before it was introduced, and many years since.
With every religion, the key message is often a noble one and usually starts out on the right track. What we readily see though, is that over time the message can start to become interpreted in a host of different ways with each having varying effects on people and cultures. The same has happened with the CGM. What started out as an amazing resource to help individuals embrace their natural hair has morphed into something quite different today. There are now very different CGM factions with online communities that support them with an increasing vocal authority on anything and everything curl related. Some of these communities are incredibly strict and as a result there are now ones popping up which state that they are anything but. Just like every religion, each thinks they are doing the right thing and are nothing but welcoming and supportive to all.
As one who isn't a member of any of the many CGM groups, I find it quite telling that there would even be a need for at least 4 different Australian/New Zealand CGM specific groups - if they are all as welcoming and supportive as is claimed. From what I have recently learned, it all comes down to interpretation of the CGM itself and the steadfast belief in a strict ideology versus one which is more flexible. Even then though, there are at least two different ‘strict’ CGM groups. It's important to mention here that all the various online groups are all privately run closed communities with their own rules and regulations. In that regard, they are each absolutely entitled to run their group exactly how they each see fit. I know of many people who are actually members of all the groups and others who don't belong to any. I truly believe that it is great that all of them exist as there are many many different women out there each with different aesthetic preferences and needs for support.
There are however some concerns lately with how fractured the overall CGM community has become. In fact, an increasing number of women refer to the whole thing as a cult nowadays. While the CGM certainly has been incredibly helpful for many people the world over, it's good to remember that ‘to each their own’. Some will adhere to CGM strictly, some less so, and some not at all. Each should feel equally valid, supported equally and not make anyone feel as though others are 'doing it wrong' if they are doing it differently. Too, one should never approach others they don't know and try to 'convert' them to what they themselves believe in. Being approached by or preached to by enthusiastic religious people is often viewed as unwelcome and unpleasant. In my opinion and that of many women I have spoken to, this goes for the CGM too. Unsurprisingly, social media platforms like Instagram have absolutely have helped tip the CGM to it's more extreme interpretations and fandom.
"Where once the CGM bucked against societal beauty standards requiring women to have smooth, straight hair in order to look well put together, I fear we are simply replacing one set of unrealistic beauty standards with another."
I can understand WHY people feel the need to ‘preach’ their particular method – I have been told that ‘going curly’ is a journey that often becomes about ‘more than just hair’. It brings with it a sense of self acceptance that can spread across all aspects of an individual’s life. Why wouldn’t someone want to share that method and it’s potential results with others? Whilst the intention is a positive one, the delivery needs to be considered – it also needs to be understood that not everyone will be ready or even wishing to undertake such journey – or is undertaking it in other parts of their life. Again – the correlations with religion appear – people may resist being ‘converted’ as they are unwilling or not ready to consider another view or are more than happy with their current standing.
At this stage, one must ask. Despite the noble intention of self acceptance, how and why did the CGM and it's book effectively become a religious movement? Clearly there was a need for the main message, but was there also an intention of religious indoctrination from the start? Certainly there was an opportunity for prefacing the CGM book with a statement that the information contained is just that? That the opinions expressed, by a single individual, should not to be taken as gospel which people could potential take on as sacred scripture? If this wasn't at all considered, then perhaps that was always the plan from the beginning. The more people one can indoctrinate means more profit does it not? Many world religions knows this strategy works all too well. No doubt these questions will ruffle some if not ALL the feathers, but I believe it to be one which needs to be asked at this point in time. If nothing more than out of personal curiosity. Again, please bear in mind the point of this post is just to help start a conversation. There are no judgements, just observations.
Admittedly, I was raised in an incredibly conservative and rigid religious family. As such, I'm very sensitive to control apparatuses and easily become very wary of them. The whole notion that one would be best served by learning to control frizz and curls with any sort of absolute, rigid sensibility feels part of a control mechanism. This is something which women have been trying to rid themselves of for a very long time. That's what I see in certain strict aesthetics relating to one's overall appearance. Particularly for women with curly hair, the notion that their hair is not 'neat' and needs to be 'tamed' is an unfortunate consequence of the manipulative control mechanism placed on women through societal norms and now, social media. I think a strict regimented approach to the CGM, its book and the words of the author contributes to this in some ways. Where once the CGM bucked against societal beauty standards requiring women to have smooth, straight hair in order to look well put together, I fear we are simply replacing one set of unrealistic beauty standards with another. That said, I know many women who like their hair a particular, well defined and picture perfect way simply because it makes them feel good. I enthusiastically support this just as long as women with curls do not feel like they 'have' to adhere to a certain aesthetic principal in order to 'fit in' or be seen as acceptable or accepted.
In the end, I really dislike absolutism. I can not support any sort of fixed position, ‘one size fits all’ ideologies which are too strict and regimented. While I obviously have strong opinions on this topic, it's important to regularly reaffirm the key message here: to each their own, 'you do you' and all that. If there is one thing ardent followers of the CGM have in common with those who are completely indifferent about it is that each comes to see me for a supportive cut and shape. In that way, I am cheerfully welcoming to all, despite my own personal beliefs. We must all remember to give one another lots of room and support for unique individual expression. Like the key message in every world religion, lets us lead with love. We're all in this together.
One final note. I like to regularly remind people that no one truly needs the Curly Girl Method, or anything or anyone else to look and feel great, beautiful, valid, confident or strong. For countless decades before the CGM ever existed women from all walks of life in every race and culture were existing with curls just fine. Each of us is born with an abundance of natural beauty inside us and as such, we don't need the help of external sources to radiate. Let yours shine!
Author's note: Before publishing, the text was shared with a member of the Curly Hair Community for feedback. I wanted to ensure that my writing for this one was vetted even beyond my normal procedures. Her input, edits and clarifications from the perspective of a Curly Girl in this community have been quite valuable. As always, my clients have also helped form and reaffirm my views, through our discussions as they sit in my chair. As someone with a voice and platform in this industry, I choose to use it to balance the equation wherever I can. Not everyone will agree with some or all of this opinion piece, however, I am hopeful that it will be taken in the spirit in which it's intended, to open a dialogue and a respectful discussion of views.