As a young woman who self identifies as black Borinquen, much of my assessment of physical beauty and self-love has always involved hair in one way or another.
The natural hair movement is not a new one, but it has gained momentum over the last few years for curly-haired women making a sociopolitical and self-affirming statement.
The expectation to straighten natural curly hair because it looks 'prettier' or 'more manageable' stems from colonialism, when lighter skin counterparts were favored due to their Eurocentric features. This included silkier and straighter hair. This dogma is asserted to this day by the media and family members, specifically those of African and Latin descent.
We spoke with Paula Ramirez, an Afro-Borinquen literary artist, poet, and educator from The Bronx about her experience with the Pelo Bueno phenomenon, as she interprets it in this video. Here is what she said.
As a young woman who self identifies as black Borinquen, much of my assessment of physical beauty and self-love has always involved hair in one way or another. I constantly challenged ideals that would make me feel stigmatized or not valued due to having natural hair. I would cringe when my grandmother would thank God for not giving me kinky curls that she had no time or patience to manage.
During holidays my mother would insist that I get my hair done because I had 'pelo bueno' and she didn't want me to 'neglect' it, [and I would] end up looking like my darker skinned family members and friends. I would hear them say things like, 'Oye nena gracias a dios que usted tiene lo que se llamen good hair,' 'Baby girl don’t cry! Mami, you have good hair. I promise the dryer won't burn,' or, 'Mira ese tipo con el cabello fino. Que lindo! Good hair, wow!'
I grew up projecting a lot of these insecurities onto myself--it stemmed mostly from my community of family and friends.
As I grew older I started to make more of a conscious effort to truly love all of the physical attributes which identify with my culture. Early on in my adolescence, I decided that I would not learn how to straighten my hair like my friends and my cousins. If my mom wanted me to have straight hair, she would have to pay for it. It then became many battles about being lazy and sloppy and not going to the hair salon on Sunday mornings with her. When I did accompany her, she would tell our hair stylist and anyone who would listen how crazy I was for wanting to wear my curls every day.
In my early adulthood, I researched practical ways of caring for my curls. Coconut oils, shea butters, curl cremes, and satin bonnets are my vices. I would go to the beauty supply and blow my measly checks on hair care products. Literally tending to my hair and braiding it allowed me to form a bond with myself that superseded feelings of wanting to look any way but my own. To this day, I try to practice self-care as much as possible.
As an advocate for curly hair I am also clear that part of the beauty of being a black woman is to have the option of versatility when it comes to my texture--curls, afros, twists, locs, braids, cornrows, knots, sew ins, extensions, wigs, weaves, perms, tubis, and blow outs are all part of my Black Girl Magic.
I encourage my young students every day to wear their hair as a symbol of pride and love. I need people to understand that loving yourself takes many forms. You don't have to be #teamnatural or #teamsalon in order to feel fabulous or look magical. We did that once we decided to wake up that morning.