How a curly hair stylist’s journey of self-acceptance helped in creating a platform that empowers countless others to embrace their natural hair.
“It’s only been a few years since I started wearing my hair curly,” reveals Karachi-based curly hair stylist, Komal Malik. Looking at her luscious curls, one could be forgiven for assuming that her tresses have never been tortured by styling tools. But, as Malik confesses, not only did she blow dry and straighten her hair for years, she also had her straightened multiple times chemically before hearing the siren song of the curly hair goddess.
Malik’s journey of embracing her curls was equally a path of self-discovery and acceptance that helped her heal holistically.
Malik’s hair story is similar to countless women’s experiences growing up with textured hair in the subcontinent. Driven by a Eurocentric idea of beauty, coupled with lack of knowledge on how to truly treat textured hair and the prevalence of tools/products that helped transform it, Malik spent a large part of her life fighting her natural hair pattern and consequently, herself.
“I used to be called Medusa in school because I’d brush my hair and then it would look like the proverbial bomb blast that we’ve come to associate with textured hair that had been brushed out. Kids would try sticking pencils in my hair; it was compared to a bird’s nest and classmates would try landing small chits of paper in my hair to see how long it would take to fall out,” she reminisces.
The names, the pranks and constant wishing for straight hair are probably the cornerstones of every textured hair school girl’s experience.
Malik shares that she had no idea that curly hair is never meant to be brushed out and discovered this detail years later, a hair care tip that might come across as an anathema to our modern minds but is probably the first and most important pillar for curly hair converts to follow. Living in Canada, Malik grew up to befriend her hair dryer and remained in a close relation with it for years. She was also seeing someone who preferred that she wore her hair straight, banishing her natural texture out of sight for years.
A divorce, a move back to Karachi and the closing of her multi-brand clothing store prompted Malik to look deep within and find her joy/anchor. Malik switched gears and started training with Mubashir Khan for hair, learning how to cut and colour hair but it wasn’t until she ended up in New York and the Lorraine Massey DevaCurl academy that Malik had her first dry hair-cut.
“That cut and that month in New York changed my life,” Malik exclaims grandly. What the month did for Malik was that it taught her to not fight against her own self and nature. She learnt how to treat her hair and in learning to care for it, Malik learnt a larger life lesson, which she propagates extensively and within her online community: kindness, care and compassion can undo years of extensive damage, if you have the patience to stick with it.
Malik reveals that when she switched to the Curly Girl method, her hair was a mess from years of abuse; chemical treatments, heat styling, incorrect products and their application. “The ends were straight because the rebonding was growing out and it looked hideous. I probably wouldn’t have made it this far if it wasn’t for a group of other like-minded women who I was in a WhatsApp group with as we went through the journey together,” she adds.
They are now co-moderators with Komal for the online community. Since there was no awareness about the curly girl method on a larger scale and no salons or professionals that offered curly hair care in the country, Malik and her friends learnt through trial and error, compiling their findings on an online platform.
Curl Talk Pakistan, a women-only community on Facebook, is a trove of information that has helped countless women embrace their natural hair since its inception a few years ago. Malik also started a small home studio where she offered specialized curly cuts, hair consultation and styling services. A major in sociology, Malik laughingly adds that she also functions as a semi-therapist for her clients – a dynamic that most women share with their hair/makeup stylists that tends to become amplified with curly hair since the styling takes between 4-6 hours.
Two weeks before the pandemic laid waste to 2020, Malik had inaugurated her professional salon. She is finally operational now, following strict SOPs and is currently only taking a few appointments each day and only offering hair-cuts at this point in time, keeping health and safety measures in mind. But she hopes to resumes complete services once the situation is less uncertain.
Malik’s main aim, with her salon and her online community is simple: she wants to provide the guidance she never had and the professional care that is missing from the country to other women who might be on similar journeys. While fat shaming and colourism have been identified in mainstream media, bullying over textured hair is still widespread and leads to the internalization of a narrative that pit women against their bodies.
For Malik, the mission is change the framing of the narrative: the fight isn’t against our hair but against colonial mindsets that convinced us of its inferiority and she’s taking it head-on, one curl at a time.