I once told my grandma I had never seen her curls. She replied “and you never will.

This sentiment was pretty typical of my family. It was basically a rite of passage to begin straightening your hair. I had been preparing for initiation since I was little. When I visited my cousins houses, they would take out the curling irons and transform my messy ringlets into smooth, straight strands. I rejected it when I was little. To my cousin’s dismay I would wash out the straight right after we were done. Later, when I got older and more aware of my appearance, I decided straightening it was the way to go. At 11 years old, I was ready to take the plunge.

I remember walking into the salon for my first Japanese hair straightening treatment. I walked in with a ponytail of frizzy ringlets and out with long, shiny straight hair. I dreamt that night that I would wake up with a huge frizzy fro, but in reality I woke up with the same straight hair. I continued straightening from that time on. Through all of middle and high school, I was a straight haired girl.

None of my friends remembered what I looked like with curly hair. Neither did I.

I came into college with the same straight hair. By then, I was well versed in every kind of hair treatment. I had undergone relaxers, Brazilians, Japanese, keratin…you name it, I had had it. My summer of freshman year, I worked as an au pair in Jerusalem, Israel. What I noticed most about the people in the country was all of these women with beautiful curly locks. They wore their hair so confidently. They looked beautiful, unique. I wanted to see if my hair could do that.

After that summer, I didn’t straighten my hair again. I transitioned for a year and a half. Usually, I was that girl whose hair baffled everyone-half curly half straight in all the wrong places. When I started my junior year in college, I went to the salon in Atlanta and had all of the straight hair cut off.

I am now free of straight hair. I spent hours on natural hair blogs figuring out how to take the best care of my mane. When I took more care of and valued my hair more, I began to value other parts of me as well. I realized that just as my hair needed special care, so did the rest of my body. I got more into exercise, eating healthy, and I think my body (and my hair”> thank me for it.

I love my curly hair now. It represents all of me. It’s unique, it’s beautiful, it gets noticed, and sometimes, whether I want it to or not, it has a mind of its own.

This post was written by Lindsey Rebecca Cohen, photographer and filmmaker based in Atlanta, GA, for NaturallyCurly. Visit her blog here.