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I like Curly Hair

Por Elizabeth Liotta
February 2024
How many times have we been criticized for having curly hair? Thanks to the stereotypes of
Eurocentric beauty, curly hair has been the victim of scorn for many years. To many people of color we are taught that we must “tame” our unruly hair, that we must smooth it out to make it more beautiful, ignoring that its nature is precious as it is. 
It often happens that girls learn to use high temperatures to beautify their hair, instead of developing routines that help you reach its full potential. I was one of those girls, and today I want to share the opinions of four girls in college who went through experiences similar to mine, about how society taught us to value white western culture, to believe that the maximum expression of hair beauty is straight hair. Let's celebrate our curls and Let's challenge these narrow ideals of beauty!

Hair, especially for women, is tied to great sentimental value. As we want to look feminine, we feel like we have to do whatever it takes to have our hair done at all times. But what does it mean to have “nice” hair? For many, this means wear it ironed for the party we are having this weekend, or get a perm to smooth it out and make sure it doesn't get "spongy" when we go to the beach on vacation. I certainly did both many times. Out of ignorance, my family decided that the best option to not to deal with my hair was to have it permanently straightened.I was even convinced that this was my only option. By not living with girls who had hair as curly as me, I had no social source that taught me how to take care of my curls. I felt like a different girl, the one who “has bad hair.”

Marika Brungs had a similar experience: “The schools I was in were predominantly white. My mom was very insistent that I wear my hair natural, but because of that I experienced a great othering and exclusion for having curlier hair than white girls. People assume we should instinctively know how to care for our curls, but no one really teaches you how to do it. For a long time I have felt that my hair is less than that of others, and I am still working on it so I don't feel like that. Plus, with curly hair there is always a problem. If it's not that it never reaches the length you want, it's because you don't like its definition. Upon entering university, I found comfort in wigs and braids due to the large commitment of time and money that caring for the hair required natural hair". 

Other girls, however, were blessed to have a family member who taught them how to take care of their hair and also to value it. Like Soledad Aguilar-Colón, who shares: “Unlike many other girls, my mom taught me how to create a healthy routine for my curls. My hair is type 3C, and it has become a self-care ritual for me since I have learned a lot thanks to videos on line. I learn about its density and porosity, and experiment with the many types of styles I can do. I have always believed that my hair is beautiful, strong and capable. It's a blessing that it's so versatile and can adapt to any change.” 

I now realize that my hair was perfect before the permanent straightening. If it was not for the bullying and the constant microaggressions I faced, perhaps it would have been easier to accept my curls, since they always made me feel inferior. My friend Isabel Chin Garita also had experiences similar: “I grew up in a town that wasn't very diverse where there weren't too many Latina women or people with curly hair like mine. For me it was a process deciding that my hair is perfect as it is, because there is this general belief that curly hair is 'dirty and unpleasant' and that is why I never let it loose. People even told me that I should wash it every day to keep it looking better. That's why I always carried it in a ponytail, and besides, no one in my social circle ever taught me how to take care of my hair.” 

Marika Brungs shared: “The microaggressions towards my hair texture were painful experiences. A long time ago, an aunt on my father's side told me that I should shave my head, go bald and make a wig with the hair I cut, and for her, that was a compliment. My grandmother also loved to touch my hair whenever she pleased. The fetishization of curly hair is not okay. When this happens it makes me feel like a zoo animal. The hardest part of being a girl with  curly hair is feeling like your hair never looks good. Feeling like it  will never look 'fixed' in the eyes of society, which causes us the pressure to always throw our hair back, perfectly straight with gel or straightening it to fit in. It has also happened to me that during the few days that I have decided to smooth it out, my friends always comment on how beautiful I look at that moment, but that only makes me think, 'If they think I'm so pretty now, what did they think I looked like with curly hair?'"

Despite having gone through difficult times in our childhood, one of the most beautiful parts of having curly hair is accepting every part of our being and identity, a thought similar to that of another of my friends, like Nayeli Sequeira: “My experience with curly hair was difficult at first, since I grew up in Managua, Nicaragua, where the media idolized blonde and smooth hair. Adjusting to my own hair required a significant effort to decolonize my identity, accept myself as I am and embrace my natural hair. I take pride in my curly hair, inherited from my grandmother, who gave me valuable advice and helped me take care of it.

Once arrived in the United States, I started taking better care of it and wearing it loose more often. To me that felt like freeing myself from society's colonizing ideology that forces us to restrict our curls instead of leaving them free. In fact, I've straightened my hair only a few times. I avoid it because it damages the definition of my curls and I feel like I'm pretending to be someone I'm not. If I want to wear it straight one day, It's because I feel comfortable that way, not because society dictates it. When I was a child, I was so frustrated with my hair that I even pulled it out because of her stubborn knots. I often wondered about Why I was born with this hair. Accepting myself and my hair has been a journey of personal growth that has helped me honor my culture and my ancestors.” 

I really identify with her message, since I recently decided to start my own hair transition. My goal is to free myself from the effects of straightening, rediscover my natural hair, and embrace with pride my Afro-Latin roots. The lesson I want to share is that life with curly hair is not easy, but it is incredibly versatile and enriching. These experiences highlight the presence of racial microaggressions, and that it is essential to be aware of them to not repeat them. Long live the curls, the inclusion and the diversity of beauty!

On the cover of this month's magazine for La Voz:
“This image represents the liberation, not only of curly hair, but also of an identity that is no longer tied to Eurocentric beauty standards. This message goes against the wrong teachings of past generations, which stated that curly hair needed to be dominated, tied or smoothed. The goal is to break the erroneous belief that curly hair is less beautiful or less valuable than straight hair. -Elizabeth Liotta 

Jonathan Martínez García, photographer, wrote: "In this photograph you can see a student from Bard College, of Nicaraguan origin, who is delighting in the beauty of her hair at the sight of the beauty of the landscape around her. Also, it is showing an image of personal care and self-love towards the beauty of curly hair. Self-care and self-love of curly hair in our Latino community have been overshadowed by the factors of the period of colonialism, as they are forged by white supremacy that ends with stereotypes that categorize “that straight hair is more beautiful or better than curly hair.” However, this belief often psychologically affects many Latinas before, during, and after puberty in the way that creates a bond of many self-doubts because they are influenced with the ideology that curly hair is not considered beautiful and does not qualify with the expectations of beauty, like many media in the world of fashion and other infrastructures promote them." 


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