For me, having curly hair is a personal statement of rebellion.
The history of peoples from the Caribbean, Latin, Central, and South America is pretty extensive and this gives anyone from there a unique personal experience.
We vary from white European Latinxs to indigenous Latinxs to Afro-Latinxs but there is a factor that stays constant: the dominance of European influence within each of our cultures. That includes the patriarchal authority in the family structure, the beauty standards, and the respectability politics within our community.
Much of what the average Latinx individual considers attractive is based on European influence—a light and fair complexion, small and narrow nose, slim physique and straight hair. I grew up in a family in which straight hair was more common, but my hair texture was not similar to theirs. Unfortunately, this was before natural hair became a trend so no one really knew (or explained) how to maintain it.
What led me to embrace my natural hair journey was rebellion and the desire for beautiful, healthy hair. I’ll explain.
There has been a stigma placed on what’s acceptable in the workplace. For example, not having what is called "wild hair," and making it appear "professional" (whatever that means). In high school I remember a teacher telling the class that if we had hair that is curly, we should put it in a bun to make sure it’s tame.
At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. Thinking of that statement irks my soul now. Then, I went to college. I majored in Broadcast Journalism and learned that image is just as important as skills are (if not more). Before the 2000s, reporters had strict rules on how their hair was to be presented and that made me cringe. There are loads of articles recounting experiences of people who have been criticized for wearing their naturally textured curly hair to the workplace, and as I read these stories, a red mist of irritation fell upon me. I didn’t undergo the natural hair journey just yet, but this was a building block.
After I graduated and went off to my first big internship, I realized I was the only one with curly hair in the office.
I felt uneasy but the experience did encourage me to be comfortable in standing out--rebelling, if you will. One night, I ran across one of the biggest curly hair gurus on YouTube; from then on, it was game over and my journey to natural, beautiful curls began.
Take a look at a Mexican novela--or famous celebrities--and you’ll see how tamed hair and perfect makeup dominate the industry. That, in turn, translates to our community and now stick straight or Kim Kardashian-esque 'curls' are in.
I do not believe that a hairstyle makes someone more conscious about the psychological and sociological perspectives that are mainstream; regardless if someone straightens their curls or leaves them as is, it’s just a hairstyle. For me, however, my curly hair is a personal statement. It’s also my way of combating a beauty standard that was imposed by white imperialists. It’s my way of embracing my roots.