We’ve come a long way with the natural hair movement. Relaxer sales continue to plummet as more and more curly girls have chosen to embrace their natural rizos. Even the dialogue around naturally curly hair has changed, as I hear more people do away with toxic terms like “pelo malo” or “bad hair” and embrace the idea that ALL hair is good. But as much progress as we might have made, studies show that there’s still bias against natural hair and there are still assholes out there that think it’s okay to tell curly haired girls to straighten their hair. And while most of the feedback and comments I’ve received around my curls over the years has been positive, it was only very recently that I overcame my anxieties around going on a first date rocking my natural curls. There was something about dating that made any hair insecurities I might have still had, start to get very real.
In 2017, Perception Institute conducted an experiment called the “Good Hair Study” in partnership with black-owned hair and body products company, Shea Moisture. The mission behind it was to understand the connection between implicit bias and textured hair and it found that “ a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias towards women of color based on their hair.” It also found that women of color with textured hair—black women especially— are almost twice as likely to experience social pressure at work to straighten their hair compared to white women. Yet we still wonder why WOC with curls, waves or coils have so much anxiety about their hair.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the male gaze impacts how we perceive our hair. In fact, one woman on Reddit recently shared how she went in on a jerk she connected with on a dating app who had the nerve to tell her she’d look prettier with long, straight hair.
As a Latina with naturally curly hair, I totally related to this. Though I will admit that every single dude I’ve ever dated since my teens until now, has liked—and in many cases preferred— my natural curls over sleek straight blowouts. And yet my anxiety over going on first dates rocking my natural curls didn’t go away until very recently.
For years, I made sure that my hair was always blown out on the first date because I believed that it would impact their first impression of me, despite all the positive feedback I’ve always received about my curls—even when they were severely heat-damaged and awkward. But unfortunately, we live in a society that’s conditioned us to believe straighter hair is more beautiful and desirable and it’s not always easy to shake that off.
Almost three months ago I decided to get my first curly haircut, in efforts to get my natural curls healthy and bouncy again. I had struggled with heat-damage for years, after years of getting professional blowouts on a weekly basis. The stylist cut off all my dead, wavy ends and practically brought my hair back to life. I’ve only worn my hair straight three times since the cut and even so no direct blow-drying was done. I never let anyone blow-dry my wet hair. Instead, my Dominican stylist would set my hair in rollers, have me sit under a hooded dryer and then gently blow out the roots with lower heat-settings, preventing any damage to my now healthy curls.
When you get a curl cut after years of rocking awkward damaged curly waves, the last thing you want to do is eff it up again. My first Hinge app date this fall was only a few weeks following my cut and I heavily debated whether I was going to go with my curls or go get my hair straightened.
“What if he doesn’t think I look as pretty?” I remember asking one of my close girlfriends, who is also a curly girl who wears her hair both curly and straight. She pointed out that not only had I included one selfie of me rocking my curls in my dating app profile but that it was very unlikely that the dude would find me any less beautiful with my curly hair. And if he did—eff him! I felt a lot less anxious about it after talking with her but that was until I had dinner with a guy friend who insisted that going on a first date with curly hair was a bad idea because according to him, “most men prefer women with straight hair.” Mind you, this advice came from a half Brazilian, half Dominican brown man who once had naturally curly hair himself before going bald—just saying.
I internalized his advice for the longest and then thought long and hard. For starters, every man I’ve ever been involved with always praised my curls. Why did I feel a need to always meet them the first time with my hair straightened? It’s not like I’ve ever had negative experience around sporting my curls. But more importantly, why was I giving in to the whole male gaze mentality where my worth and my self-esteem was suddenly being tied to how men felt about my hair? It was at that moment that I realized that any man who didn’t find me beautiful for the hair that naturally grows from my scalp was not worthy of my time or affection.
I went on the first date with my curls. It was a great first date that eventually led to more. Every dude I’ve gone on a date with since has also seen me with curly hair on the first date and it’s honestly been NBD.
Was it all in my head? Not really because like I mentioned before, hair bias against textured hair especially on WOC is a VERY real thing. The whole “pelo malo,” good hair/bad hair dialogue is not something women of color just made up. It’s something that’s actually existed for centuries due to colonization. It stems from the European beauty standards that are still often placed on us. With that said, we now have information and the agency to do away with these standards and embrace our own unique beauty despite what others may think or say about it. I also acknowledge the fact that hair bias might look very different for a woman with a much tighter curl texture than mine. I have soft medium curls that are not exactly loose but not tight either and that fall down my back. I understand that the struggle of hair bias could be felt even more for someone with tighter, coiler curls than mine.
With that said, I truly believe that when we own our beauty and let the world know that we believe we’re beautiful regardless of the standards placed upon—the world eventually catches up with us. The natural hair movement has been proof of that. I’ve even experienced that myself recently. Going on all these first dates with my natural curls, I have never received so many compliments on my hair on a first date—go figure.
I even updated my dating app with a photo of my curls post curly cut and I’ve received more likes and comments on that photo than any of my straight-haired professional pics. One dude even told me “You should win awards for this hair.”
I’m still coming to terms with the fact that so many people genuinely love and even prefer my curls. It still surprises me. But the truth is, it shouldn’t. My curls are beautiful—I’m beautiful—and I’m owning it. In fact, I think I’ll be rocking my curls on every first date from now on and that my friends—feels liberating AF!