Tom Zappala Haircutting Insights Sacred Scripture

Sacred Scripture

The following article was written and published in 2019 for my former website. It was one of the few posts I chose not to migrate over when creating this new site because I no longer found the topic that interesting or relevant. While that remains the case, due to a related article published in The Age, there’s been renewed interest in reading my post. Before republishing it here, I made a few edits and clarifications. Also, I’ve added a newly-written addendum.

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 proudly standing behind it. There are indeed dedicated churches (CGM salons) with enthusiastic pastors (curly hair specialists) ardently reinforcing the fundamental doctrine. Their loyal congregations often have a very strong sense of faith in what’s preached, packaged, and sold to them. With the international propagation of the CGM and the amount of vocal enthusiasm surrounding it, the religious comparison is quite accurate for myself and many others. Please bear in mind that this article isn’t a judgement about the CGM, its author or its followers. It is nothing more than a keen observation from someone who has lived with and worked with curly hair for many years before it was introduced, and many years since.

With every religion, the primary message is often a noble pursuit of doing good through fundamental truths and concepts. What we readily see though, is that over time the core message starts to become interpreted in a myriad of different ways, each having varying effects on people and cultures. The same has happened with the CGM. What began as a terrific resource to help individuals embrace their natural hair has morphed into something quite different today. Unsurprisingly, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok have helped tip the CGM to its more extreme interpretations and fandom. To that point, there are now very different CGM factions with an increasingly vocal authority on anything and everything curly hair related. Some of these communities are incredibly strict, and as a result, new ones popped up that state that they are anything but. Just like different religious groups, each CGM community thinks they are doing the right thing and are nothing but welcoming and supportive to all.

As someone who isn’t a member of any of the many curly hair groups, I find it quite telling that there are at least four different Australian/New Zealand CGM-specific Facebook groups. If they are all as welcoming and supportive as is claimed, surely one group should suffice? From what I have learned, it all comes down to interpretation of the CGM itself and the steadfast belief in a strict ideology versus one that is more flexible. Even then though, there are at least two different strict CGM groups. It’s important to mention here that the various Facebook groups are all privately run closed communities with their own rules and regulations. In that regard, they are each entitled to manage their group exactly how they see fit. I know of people who are members of all the groups and others who don’t belong to any of them. As there are many different aesthetic preferences and needs for curly hair support, it’s probably helpful that they each exist.

As a result, there is no denying how complex, obsessive, and fractured the overall CGM community has become, with an increasing number of people referring to the whole thing as a cult. While the CGM certainly has been incredibly helpful for many people the world over, each person should engage with it in a manner they feel comfortable with. Some will adhere to CGM strictly, some less so, and some not at all. Each should feel equally valid and supported while not making anyone else feel they are doing it wrong if they choose to engage with it differently.

"Where once the CGM bucked against societal beauty standards requiring women to have smooth, straight hair, I fear we are simply replacing one set of unrealistic beauty standards with another."

Despite the noble intention of self-acceptance, how and why did the CGM and its book effectively become a cult-like religious movement? Certainly, there was a need for the main message, but was there also an intention of religious indoctrination from the start? Surely there was an opportunity for prefacing the CGM book with a statement that the information contained within is just that? That the opinions expressed, by a single individual, should not be taken as gospel that people could potentially turn into sacred scripture? Interestingly enough, during my research for this article, it was discovered that the admin from Australia’s largest and strictest CGM communities is also an enthusiastically vocal Evangelical Christian. While there are certainly no judgements regarding anyone’s religious beliefs, I found that bit of information to validate much of what is written here.

Admittedly, I was raised in an incredibly conservative and rigid religious family. As a result, I’m very sensitive to control apparatuses and easily become wary of them. The whole notion that curly hair is best served by learning to manage it with an absolute, rigid sensibility feels like another type of control mechanism. I think a strictly regimented approach to the CGM contributes to this in some ways. Where once the CGM bucked against societal beauty standards requiring women to have smooth, straight hair, I fear we are simply replacing one set of unrealistic beauty standards with another. That said, many women who like their hair in 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 principle to fit in or be seen as acceptable.

In the end, I dislike absolutism and can not support fixed position, ‘one size fits all’ ideologies that are too strict and regimented. While I have strong opinions regarding this topic, it’s important to regularly reaffirm the key message here: to each their own. If there is one thing passionate 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 haircut. In that way, I am welcoming to all. Ultimately, we must remember to give one another a lot of room and support for unique individual expression. I also like to remind people that for countless decades before the CGM ever existed, women from all walks of life in every race and culture happily lived with their curly hair. None relied on expensive cosmetics and time-consuming rituals to look or feel radiant, beautiful, confident, and strong. That reality is a fundamental truth I can really get behind.

2022 Addendum | Something that has always bothered me about the CGM is the language the book uses. There are ongoing themes and phrases contained within it that I find infantilising. Also, there are multiple statements in the book regarding curly hair, delivered as factual truths, that I disagree with as a professional. Some of these relate to the recommended techniques for cutting curly hair, while others are opinions based solely on the author’s professional choices and experiences. As someone with a long history of living and working with naturally curly hair, my experience is vastly different from theirs, despite working in the same city during the same period.

Was there an intention for the CGM to become more than just a helpful guide? At this stage, and based on several emails I received as a response to the original article, I doubt there was any such intention. Still, many people feel the CGM remains an overly complex, product-dependent, and obsessive cult. So why hasn’t the author come forward to make an official statement addressing the fact the CGM is no longer what they originally intended, that it has taken on a life of its own? I believe the answer to that is simple: profits. The author is one of many individuals and cosmetic companies using the social-media popularity of the CGM to drive profits. These days, when asked about my feelings regarding it all, I have a definitive answer. The CGM is nothing more than a curly hair styling aesthetic sold to people who are helplessly addicted to social media and purchasing cosmetics.

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