Anyone who tells you, “hair is just hair,” probably hasn’t experienced what it’s like to be discriminated against for the hair that naturally grows from their scalp. Curly-haired girls have though, especially those with tight, coarse, and coily textures. While I recognize that the struggle I’ve faced with my soft curls that loosely flow down my back is nothing compared to my homegirls with 4A-4C textures, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take me years to finally fully embrace my curls and stop giving into the toxic beauty standards society places on us — WOC especially!
My curl journey was complex, mainly because I never actually hated my hair. But I did pay WAY too much attention to what others had to say about it, in large part due to the extreme vanity that exists within Latin culture. To be beautiful is to be valuable, to be successful, to be lovable — is to be enough. Women don’t just feel this pressure in the Latinx community — but worldwide. Most of my life I enjoyed the versatility that came with having curls, which meant wearing it natural some days and in a sleek Dominican blow out on others. I started my love journey with my curly hair in college when they were very few good curly products on the market. I dug my curls and I started learning more about my African and Taino ancestry through books (like Black behind the Ears: Dominican Racial Identity From Museums to Beauty Shops by Ginetta E.B. Candelario) and taking black and Latino studies classes. But I wasn’t really educated when it came to caring for my curls and was completely clueless when it came to the damage heat-styling causes.
After landing a job as a beauty and style reporter, I felt pressure to always look primp and polished and at the time most of the editors I was running into at industry events were wearing their hair sleek straight, regardless of their natural textures. Blow-dry salons were huge back then and the few times I’d showed up with my naturals rizos, peeps would straight up and shamelessly ask me, “Did you just come from the gym?” or “You didn’t have time to do your hair?” The pressure was on and at the time I didn’t have the tools, the language, or even fully the confidence to be like, “Sis, this is me. So deal!”
After months of getting sleek straight blowouts at the Dominican salon, I eventually severely damaged my hair. So much so, that my hair was awkwardly straight/wavy from root to ends. Blown out it looked like a hair commercial but air dried it looked like my hair went through an intense keratin treatment. Because I don’t enjoy not looking and feeling my best, my journey to getting my natural curls back was long — way too long actually. Even after several cuts and trims, I was still refusing to put the blow dryer down. I wasn’t straightening weekly but I was still getting blowouts at least once a month and my already weak and fragile hair would regress every single time.
Last year, I finally decided to put my foot down and fully dive into this natural hair journey. I got two curl cuts and also went months without straightening my hair or letting a single heat-styling tool touch it. December will make a year since I last wore my hair straight and boy have I noticed a major difference! My curls haven’t been this healthy in years. I almost forgot that they could curl like this. This journey has become more than just nourishing my curls back to life though. It was also about accepting that my curly hair wasn’t just to be worn at the gym or during the summer. It was recognizing that this hair is beautiful hair that can be worn year-long whether it be to a gala, a first date, or a wedding. I’m actually part of two weddings next spring where I intend on rocking the curls and for the past year, I’ve made a point to go on every single first date wearing my curls. There is no such thing as “pelo malo,” a.k.a bad hair. All hair is good!
I don’t think people understand how invasive it feels to be told to alter a natural part of your body to fit society’s standards of what is considered beautiful. The fact that young brown and black women until this day are still getting kicked out of school, fired from their jobs, simply for choosing to wear the hair that god gave them is infuriating and violating on so many levels. This is why I no longer stay silent when someone — a man especially — asks me when I plan on wearing my hair straight. Why is that even a question?
Before you roll your eyes, think about it. Would you ask someone with naturally straight hair, so when are you going to get a curly perm or curl your whole head with tight ringlets using a thin curly iron? No one would ever ask that question because of this idea that straight hair is “normal,” “beautiful,” and “the standard.” When we tell curly-haired women to straighten their hair, we are basically telling them that their hair isn’t enough. Their beauty isn’t enough and they aren’t enough unless they alter it to look more like what society has conditioned us to believe is beautiful.
I’ve never been the silent, passive type but I have been silenced and I have even silenced myself in the past (in my 20s mostly) when it came to these types of conversations, especially when I was having them with men. I’ve let things slide, I’ve uncomfortably laughed comments off or changed the subject, convincing myself that it wasn’t a big deal when a man told me what lipstick color I should or shouldn’t wear or told me they liked my curls but preferred when I wore my hair straight. I’ve looked down in embarrassment whenever a dude I was dating told me I was a loud Latina — I go in on them now though — and I’ve anxiously held my tongue when I learned a dude ( I was seeing) friends were absolutely not on the same page as me politically, out of fear of coming off like an overly passionate and aggressive liberal. I’ve argued but not immediately dumped whoever dared to make a criticism about my body — including my hair — despite the fact that their ass should have been dumped right on the spot.
As a result, at 33, I’m not here for it. I’m not the one and I’m not sugar coating why it’s problematic to say or subscribe to certain ways of thinking. I’m not apologizing for looking how I look or believing what I believe and I’m most definitely not apologizing for being a confident, expressive, opinionated, and badass Latina with strong stances and convictions. I’ve done a lot of growing — lord knows — and a lot of work on myself (thank god for therapy) and I’m proud to be at a place where I love myself along with every inch of my body — cellulite, scars, and wild hair and all. If you’re a woman living in a world where unrealistic beauty standards and limited gender roles (brought to you by the patriarch) are constantly being pushed on you whether it be from social media, the images we still see on the big screen, and the cover of magazines (though we’ve made significant progress — thank you Lizzo!), you know that self-love is no damn joke. It’s a life-time worth of work that never ends. To be at a place where I now feel beautiful in my most natural state pretty much every day — even on a “frizzy hair day” — but also know my worth, my value, and the magic I have to offer this world is priceless. It’s brave. It’s where I always want to be.
Will I ever wear my hair straight again? Probably. When? I don’t know. But when I do, it will be for me and only for me. Not for a man, not for a Dominican relative (who thinks I look cuter when I wear my hair straight), a job, a gig, a panel, a gala, a first date, a wedding or for society — but for me. Got that?