Stranded: Model Khadijha Red Thunder Tells Us Her Curly-Hair Love Story

From Cleopatra’s beaded headdress to Diana Ross’s iconic afro, hair has been an emblem of power, rebellion, and pride throughout history. In our new series, Stranded, we’re profiling people with enviable hair whose strands tell a story.

When Khadijha Red Thunder was a little girl, all she wanted was curly hair. Her Native-American aunts and uncles had thick, glossy strands, but there was only one person whose hair she lusted after: her mother’s. “She had these amazing curls down to her butt,” Khadijah says. “She would put my hair in braids and pull it out to try to make it curly, but no matter what she did, my hair wouldn’t get curly.”

During this time, Khadijha turned to what she calls “water styling,” where you style your hair into twists, braids, and buns when it’s wet, and then allow it to dry overnight for curls in the morning. After years of experimentation, the hair gods finally answered her prayers. “I remember getting out of the shower and looking in the mirror and thinking, Am I going crazy, or is my hair going curly?” she laughs. “It was a miracle. I woke up with big boobs and curly hair.”

Nowadays, the doe-eyed Spokane, Washington, native lends her face to campaigns for Marc Jacobs Beauty and Free People, “bodacious” curls intact. When I ask if she could ever picture herself with different hair, her answer is definitive. “I try everything, but I would never permanently change my curls,” she says. “They are my life. I love them.” And would you, if you finally had something you’d been dreaming of since childhood?

Especially in a society that has pushed one idea of “beautiful” hair (namely straight or, at the very most, acceptably wavy) for so long, Khadijha’s love story with her curls is refreshing—and one that will hopefully be the rule, not the exception, in years to come. Ahead, find out Khadijha Red Thunder’s hair routine and strand story.