I’ve worn my hair naturally curly for so long now, that sometimes I actually go years without straightening it at all. But, it’s been a long and time-consuming process to get here. As an Afro-Boricua, I grew up thinking that my hair needed to be blown out if I wanted to look professional, or in order to attend any special event. Most of the women in my family got their hair chemically relaxed regularly. My mom, who was actually a trained cosmetologist, refused to put chemicals in my hair though. To be honest, I didn’t even know what that meant or why she would even consider it most of my life.
In fact, I didn’t even realize that my hair was curly until I was a sophomore in high school. When I was very little my mother regularly put my hair in braids and buns, which kept it on the wavy side, and by the time I was about 10 or 11, she was blowing it out every week. I’m sure it made it more manageable for her, but it meant that I wasn’t at all familiar with my natural hair texture.
When high school hit, I realized that a lot of the girls were wearing their hair curly and eventually learned that many of my white classmates were getting their hair permed to achieve the wet, curly look. It was the early 2000s in New Jersey, and it was a thing and I wanted to get in on the trend. That’s when I learned to gel, mousse and scrunch my hair into glossy, stiff curls — it’s still not my natural texture, but closer.
By the time I was in college though, I was back to straightening my hair with a blow dryer and flat iron weekly, with just a few curly days thrown in every once in a while. I thought I would look messy or not be taken as seriously if I wore my hair to school or work curly, so I stuck to a routine of straightening every week.
Shortly after I graduated though, I learned about the Curly Girl Method from a much older Jewish co-worker who was helping her granddaughter figure it out, and I decided to give it a try. I ended up chopping my hair, which had been past the middle of my back, all the way to my chin, and basically starting over. I didn’t mind the short hair and my curls started to respond to my new sulfate-free, silicone-free and paraben-free routine. From the very beginning of my natural hair journey, I turned to Black-owned haircare companies.
At the time, most of the natural haircare products on the market were created for and by biracial and multi-racial women. I turned to brands like Mixed Chicks and Miss Jessie’s to find something that worked for my coarse, but curly not kinky hair, and they did the job. Within a year, my curls were thriving and more manageable than ever before. I was committed and rarely felt the urge to straighten my hair.
Then, I got my first full-time job in an office, and I went back to the straightener. Caring for my curly hair every morning before work was time-consuming and I got lazy. I still wore my hair curly on occasion, and tried to give it a break from the heat on the weekends, but I for the next couple of years, I wore it straight more often than not. That was, until I became a mom.
Suddenly, I had a newborn and was too exhausted to spend an hour blowing out and flat-ironing my hair, so I once again decided to embrace the curls. By that point though, the natural hair trend was in full effect and the haircare options had vastly expanded. There still weren’t many Latinx-owned brands out there, but lots of Black-owned brands like Shea Moisture, Kinky Curly and Eden Bodyworks were available at stores like Target and Walmart. They were expensive, but they worked and they became my go-tos. The curl butters and leave-in conditioners kept my curls soft and moisturized and I mastered the wash-and-go, using products from those lines as one-and-dones, which was perfect for a new mom.
Now, I’m a mom with two gorgeous curly-headed Afro-Latinx kiddos, and the market is flooded with products for us to choose from. So much so that sometimes it’s hard for me to choose when I’m shopping the haircare aisle. Not only that, but these days, there are even multiple Afro-Latinx- and Latinx-owned haircare brands lining the shelves. Companies like Rizos Curls and Botánika Beauty are now the pricey ones, but based on my experience learning about natural haircare and committing to it, they’re totally worth it. And not only that, but the more we buy them, the more readily available they’ll be in stores, and the higher the demand, the more affordable they’ll become.
Considering I’m now buying for four naturally curly heads (my biracial husband is in on the game now too), I’m so thankful that Black and Latinx entrepreneurs have taken our needs into their own hands, and met a need for women of color that has for so long been ignored. Now, we can proudly embrace our natural hair because it’s possible for us to nourish it and care for it with products that were created with our textures and curl patterns in mind. Now, my little girl will always know that she was born with a beautiful head full of curly hair and she’s even learning how to take care of her natural hair herself from a very early age. She won’t ever have to think of her hair as pelo malo or struggle with the shame and stigma related to that, and for that I thank my fellow naturalistas and the incredible Black and Latinx haircare brands that are putting in the work to empower all of us in our natural hair glory.