6 Latina Pioneers in the Movement to Embrace Natural Hair

If you’re a curly-haired Latina, chances are you grew up hearing the dreaded words “pelo malo,” which translates to “bad hair

Latina Natural Hair Movement Pioneers

Photo: Instagram/@miss_rizos

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!


Carolina Contreras (Miss Rizos)

Carolina Contreras, a.k.a Miss Rizos, has become an unstoppable force in the natural hair community and for Latinas especially. The founder of Miss Rizos Salon in the Dominican Republic opened up her doors in 2014, in an effort to create a safe haven for women of color who wanted to embrace their natural curls. The decision was inspired by her own hair and identity journey. She has become such a powerful voice in the movement that it even lead her to open her second salon location this October in Washington Heights, which offers everything from curly cuts, color, styling, as well as education.

“This is going to be a place where people can receive a lot of education because we don’t believe in creating a dependency between the client and the salon. We believe in creating solutions to people’s problems and making them the experts of their own hair and giving them the tools and the resources and the knowledge to be able to care for their hair and in some cases their kid’s hair,” Contreras says. “Also, Miss Rizos is a community and a social justice project. I plan on hosting classes and workshops, where it’s not just going to be just about hair but it’s also going to be pretty holistic.”

Contreras has witnessed how the natural hair movement has helped a lot of Latinas heal from the Eurocentric beauty standards that were being pushed on them, as well as, create space for them to embrace their African roots.

“I think the movement has definitely had a major impact because what happens with curly hair is that it’s an easy way to dive into such a heavy subject such as race relations in Latin America. And so, with curly hair, it’s oh this might take care of this. These are curly cuts. This is how you hydrate it and so it becomes a fun conversation that you can create around hair that helps you channel the more difficult conversations surrounding blackness,” she says. “If I’m looking in the mirror and I’m loving my hair and I have yet to confront the other aspects of it, which is confronting my blackness, loving my hair makes the other parts easier to navigate and to discuss.”

Contreras also agrees that we’ve made tremendous progress on this front. The kind of progress we would have never anticipated seeing twenty years ago. 

“There’s a lot of education surrounding hair now. Hair is curly, hair is wavy, hair is coily, hair is kinky, and hair straight. Being able to have access to these words and understanding what they mean and how to identify with these words allows them to eliminate any other terms that are not really representative of your hair,” she adds. “So one is about being able to educate but the other part I think is definitely the empowerment that is going on in the Latino community where we are understanding that our hair is not bad because our hair hasn’t done anything to be bad. It’s continuing the education and continuing to empower women so that they don’t even feel comfortable calling their hair bad.


Ona Diaz (a.k.a The Hair Saint)

Diaz, who is known for her curl expertise and styling, grew up in the Dominican salon business. Her mother owned four Dominican salons in NYC, so it was only natural that she’d get into the business herself. Known for her sleek Dominican blowouts, Diaz took a step in a different direction after being inspired to embrace her own curls. She brought the tools and skills that she learned throughout her personal journey to her salon 5 Salon & Spa, where curly girls sit in her chair every day, whether it be for a cut, color, or major transformation. For her, it’s all about helping women to love and embrace their natural beauty.

“I am thankful to be of service to so many women and that vehicle happens to be education. For me, it’s important to teach women of all ages to love and care for themselves through their hair. This fills me with great joy because it’s more psychological than anything else. Once you’re educated on your hair and how to care for it, everything changes from the inside out,” she says. “There is something to be said about feeling beautiful and confident in your skin. Wearing your natural hair does just that! It’s so important because our kids and their kids will learn from this.”


Julissa Prado

This business-savvy Mexicana known for her own gorgeous head of curls launched Rizos Curls, an all-natural curly hair product line, in 2017. Prado’s goal was to create products that would work for all curl types — wavy, curly, and coily types. She was inspired by the diverse hair textures in her Afro-Mexican family.

“It’s funny because I grew up in LA. I was born and raised here and everywhere I grew up it was predominately black and brown people — mostly Mexicans. The majority of the people I grew up around had textured hair so it’s so strange to me how a lot of people have this stereotype that all Mexican women have straight hair. But it’s not true, many of them could be straightening it,” she says. “In my family, on my dad’s side, all of my tias have at least 3C/4A textures. Their hair is even curlier than mine.”

Prado recognized the self-hate that existed in her family and in her community around curly hair, as well as the denial of Afro-Latinx roots and she wanted to create a line that would help women to love and embrace not just their textures but to be proud of who they are.

“Giving the political climate, when we launched in 2017, so many Latinos were fed up with feeling attacked and having our culture being ridiculed. It had us ready to just be unapologetically proud and unapologetically ourselves and that started with our hair — with our image.”

She’s also part of La Jefa Crew, alongside Brittany Chavez of Shop Latinx and Patty Delago of Hija De Tu Madre, where they cultivate and organize workshops, talks, and events to help empower women of color who want to go into entrepreneurship.


Ada Rojas

Afro-Dominicana and curly hair influencer Ada Roja has been empowering the Latina community since she first started blogging about beauty and caring for her curls. She’s used her platform to educate women about their natural textures, as well as embracing them to love their hair.  In 2017, she partnered with fellow curly hair influencer Rocio Mora and created Rizos on the Road, a tour and movement where they would visit numerous cities across the city and throw events to help encourage curly-haired Latinas to embrace their inner naturalistas. After years of advocating for Afro-Latinas and the natural hair community, Rojas launched Botanika Beauty, a natural curly hair product line designed with curly haired Latinas in mind.

For me, it was about creating a line that was very intentional about the fact that it was inspired by our culture and our heritage because we’re so proud of where we come from and it ties into everything we do,” she says. “I just always felt like that was missing from the market and I just wanted to bring all my expertise and experience and create a product line that my audience — my community — could not only emotionally connect to but also a product line that works.”

Her products which are made from ingredients Roja grew up seeing in her local botanica like sage, oregano, and mango butter, also serve as a way for women to connect back to the beauty rituals of the past, as well as, celebrating their Afro-Latino ancestors.

“The natural hair movement is so significant in the Latina community because it is finally allowing us to break the barriers of societal norms and honor our roots. Not only are we learning to accept and embrace our curls, but so is society. Also, our curls allow us to celebrate our natural beauty,” she says. “I strongly feel that there’s a connection between Latinas embracing their curls and their African roots. You cannot appreciate your curls without acknowledging our history and honoring the ones who’ve come before us. Knowing my history and connecting with my roots has made my natural hair journey even more significant.”


Aisha Ceballos-Crump

After 15 years of working in the hair and skincare industry developing products and formulas, Ceballos-Crump took a leap of faith and decided to launch her own all-natural curly hair brand, Honey Baby Naturals, inspired by her three kid’s natural curls. The product line which consists of her secret ingredient honey, works on a variety of different textures from waves, to curly ringlets, and tight coils.

“I was inspired to create my own curly hair line when I noticed that many of the curly hair lines out there only catered to one specific hair type. I am Puerto Rican and my husband is black, so my kids have a variety of hair textures, from type 2 all the way up to type 4. I wanted to create a family-focused line that included everyone — all genders, skin types, and hair types,” she says. “It was a way for me to create a line for other multicultural families looking for a way to buy one set of products that could work for everyone. I love how my line can be catered to anyone I meet because there truly is a product for everyone.”

Participating in the movement as a Puerto Rican woman and creating products that served the Latina community was especially important to her.

“It has always been important to me because after the boom of the natural hair movement, I quickly began to notice how Latinas were not often represented as much in the space. I wanted to make sure that my products and branding supported natural Latinas and the extremely diverse hair and skin textures that make up the Latina community,” she adds. “I feel that the natural hair movement is significant for the Latina community because it is the true embodiment of loving and celebrating one’s culture, heritage, and beauty. Latina women come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and have a variety of hair types whether that be straight, wavy, curly, or kinky. Wearing your hair out naturally really does help to inspire other Latina women to embrace all that they were created to be.”


Sherly Tavarez

We’ve certainly made a lot of progress when it comes to challenging the Eurocentric beauty standards that have been pushed on us for centuries but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t work to be done. Terms like “pelo malo” are unfortunately still used in our community, especially by folks of older generations which is why Dominican stylist and fashion influencer Sherly Tavarez was inspired to create a T-shirt line that would empower Latinas with textured hair who grew up hearing that their hair wasn’t good enough.

Tavarez’s own natural hair journey served as inspiration. The words “pelo malo” plagued her growing up.

I always had a love/hate relationship with my hair. I didn’t know what my natural hair actually looked like since my mom started relaxing it when I was 6-years-old and it wasn’t until I was 23 that I stopped relaxing it and at 26 I stopped applying heat and let it be,” Tavarez says. “Pelo malo was always a term used for girls who didn’t have naturally pin-straight hair. I grew up going to the Dominican salon every single Saturday. We would spend an entire day there, my mother and I. I’m so glad those days are over. My self-esteem was shot because I felt that to be ready for any special event, I had to go to the salon first. I once told myself, ‘I will never know what it’s like to have good hair. Will I?”

What started off as one T-shirt grew into a business called Hause of Curls, filled with fashion apparel and accessories that encourage Latinas to love and embrace their natural curls, as well as their Afro-Latina roots. This October she celebrate the company’s one year anniversary.

“The biggest thing I get is ‘I love wearing your shirts because it starts a conversation.’ So people will wear it, literally send me pictures like ‘I wore this on Thanksgiving just to tell my family that this is my hair’ or ‘I wear this shirt out and I get asked what does it mean and then I go into it.’ These stories make me cry every other day,” Tavarez says.”It literally started a conversation that even for me at one time was taboo. So the fact that the shirt actually started a conversation within the community and with families, I can’t even put that into words.”

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curly hair natural hair natural hair movement
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