I could not agree with this more! Bharjala - Please take Cerendipity's words to heart. I know it's easier said than done, and it certainly takes time. But your hair does not define your beauty. I know how difficult it can be for some of us to accept and embrace ourselves, especially when there is something about us that distinctly marks us as being "different." I'm a crazy non-conformist, so at this stage in my life I've pretty much made my peace with being an outcast in many ways. But it took years for me to reach this place, and even now I still have my days. As Cerendipity said, it will come. Be patient with yourself, and be kind to yourself as well.
Now, I personally think that both you and your hair are quite beautiful, and I know plenty of folks who would likely give their first born for your thick head of hair. But I certainly understand that doesn't mean much if you don't feel that way yourself. You have to do what's right for you. Please don't concern yourself with folks who make an issue of what other people do with their hair. You will drive yourself crazy trying to appease everyone.
I will say that I don't care for the way your friend and the stylists in your area have responded regarding your hair. It's okay for people to be curious or want to learn more about hair that's different from their own. But there's a right and wrong approach to everything, and their curiosity can be satisfied in a more respectful manner. Making jokes and trying to call you out in front of people in your workplace is highly inappropriate. I hope you don't have to endure that type of behavior again, but if it does happen just remember that you have every right to set boundaries with these people. Don't allow their ignorance or lack of tact make you feel badly about yourself. Do you ever get a chance to visit a more diverse metro area? I was just thinking that perhaps every once in a while allowing yourself to experience an environment where you don't constantly feel like you're "the only one" may help improve your outlook and lift your spirits.
I hope you are able to find a solution that makes you happy, regardless of whether it involves using chemicals or not. All the best to you on your journey.