If you’re a curly-haired Latina, chances are you grew up hearing the dreaded words “pelo malo,” which translates to “bad hair.” The term, which has practically been embedded in both the Latinx and black community, refers to textured hair but usually curly or tight coily, kinky types. For centuries, Latinas have been plagued by Eurocentric beauty standards that have conditioned us to believe that the closer we resemble whiteness — whether it be our skin tone, our features, or hair texture — the better.
“Pelo malo” in many ways insinuates that your hair is “so bad” that in order for it to beautiful, good, acceptable, and desirable it has to be straightened. In the Latinx community, long, straight hair that hangs down your back has long been the prevalent beauty standard. This is why chemical hair straighteners like relaxers and keratin treatments along with hot styling tools have been such big business among black and Latina women. The Dominican hair salon, known for straightening textured hair to the bone, has also contributed to this mindset.
I grew up in the Dominican hair salon, where for years I was damaging my natural curls getting a blow out week after week, just to sport sleek straight strands because I had been conditioned to believe that’s how I looked best. For many of us, it wasn’t just the lack of representation of curly haired brown and black women on the cover of magazines or on television, but also the dialogues we were hearing at home. When you hear the words “pelo malo” coming out of the mouths of your own relatives, it can feel like it rings true.
Fortunately, we’ve come a very long way with proud curly haired Latinas challenging Eurocentric beauty standards, fighting against colorism, and creating the representation we finally see today. In fact, some of these women we would call pioneers. From hairstylist to natural hair innovators and influencers, here’s a look at a few Latinas who have done the work, greatly influenced the natural hair movement in our community, and contributed to the change we so desperately needed!