I didn’t know I had curly hair until I was 16.
I know that sounds strange so I will explain. I was born August 10,1986 to 2 Dominican parents. My father is a tan coarse haired man and my mother, a fair and fine wavy haired woman. So, it is safe to say my hair landed somewhere smack in the middle. I busted out of my mothers’ womb with a thick puffy head of jet-black frizzy hair.
My mother was raised in a poverty stricken family in Santiago, RD. She traveled to the US at the age of 18 under the pressure of her family, in order to work and provide for her brothers and sisters. My mother was a strong and independent woman determined to overcome her past, and therefore, other concerns fell by the wayside. Being a more intellectual woman, she somewhat neglected her appearance in order to fully dedicate herself to her profession. So when I came around with this tangled hairball, understandably, she had no clue what to do. So, she did what most women do; she took me to a salon.
My first trip to a salon
Here begins my hair story. At the age of approximately 8, my hair was relaxed under the recommendation of a Dominican hair stylist. I cannot recall the moment, but I am certain they expressed great disdain for my puffy head of hair. I’m sure they overcharged my mother because I have a lot of hair, I’m sure I cried, and I’m sure they explained that this will make my hair more “manageable.” I’ve heard it all before. So from this moment on I had monthly relaxers and biweekly salon visits. Oh how I dreaded the salon visits. The smell of burnt hair and singed scalp became the norm. The 4 hours wasted in that salon and the money down the drain infuriates me to this day.
I’m sure they overcharged my mother because I have a lot of hair, I’m sure I cried, and I’m sure they explained that this will make my hair more "manageable.
I remember thinking at the age of 8 that I wished I could be white. They could swim and sweat and sleep and didn’t have to preserve their hair. I was so jealous that I couldn’t have long flowing hair that wasn’t determined by climate changes. I was so sad I could never fit in. I was constantly teased about my big hair and I would have done anything just to be like everyone else.
But at the age of 16, I had reached my limit. I had decided to cease relaxing my hair. I announced it to my family and came to terms with the fact that I would now have “ugly hair.” How sad. I didn’t know what I would look like but I had an idea. I remember that moment when I looked in the mirror and told myself that there would be SOMEBODY in the world that would accept my crazy hair and I. Perhaps it would take a very long time, but eventually I would meet him. Hopefully.
To my surprise, I was wrong. After a few weeks, I began to notice waves at the roots of my hair. I thought, “huh ….not as bad as I imagined. I can work with this.” After months, I was growing in full-blown curls! I immediately ran to my mother and screamed, “Why didn’t you tell me I had curly hair?” and she answered, “I thought you knew! It is your hair after all.” What a revelation! My natural hair was thick and beautiful and soft and curly. Yet, no one knew how to handle it or nurture it. Not even me.
I immediately ran to my mother and screamed, "Why didn’t you tell me I had curly hair?" and she answered, "I thought you knew! It is your hair after all.
The next chapter of my hair story is all about learning what to do with it. College was a time of experimenting… with hair of course. I chopped off all of the relaxed hair and began practicing. Some days it would work and other days it was a disaster. It was very difficult during that time to find products for curls because it seemed every product was for straightening or eliminating frizz. The only aisle that applied to me was the ethnic aisle but even there nothing seemed to fit. My own family and friends who had grown used to my slick straight hair would constantly ask when I was going to straighten it, and under pressure may times I did. I still was not 100% willing to leave it natural. For years, I flip flopped back and forth between relaxers, texturizers and a wide array of products.
2010 was the year of Medical School. I went to my parents’ homeland (Dominican Republic) to study for the first 2 years. Being in this hot and humid climate, I had no other choice but to leave my hair natural. Salon straightened hair would cost a fortune and last as much as 20 minutes in the humidity of Santo Domingo. I was able to formulate my hair routine and it worked. The air-drying greatly benefited my hair and eliminated the need for hair dryers. My hair was as healthy and beautiful as ever. One day, a professor pulled me aside and told me that my hair was unprofessional and that If I was going to visit hospitals for my rotations that I had to straighten my hair. You would think that my professionalism would be determined by my intellect and not superficialities, but this was the culture and if I was going to progress I had to follow the rules. I went home that night devastated. I had fought my hair my entire life and just when I was learning how to nurture it, I am launched back into the past. Feeling ostracized and hideous, I applied keratin to my hair. Well, after about 1 month, my beautiful long hair began to fall out. Don’t worry; I transferred out of that school.
One day, a professor pulled me aside and told me that my hair was unprofessional and that If I was going to visit hospitals for my rotations that I had to straighten my hair.
Afterwards, I made the very drastic decision to shave my head. As daunting as this task was, it was also one of the most liberating and empowering moves I have ever made. It was a clean slate. It was a second chance. I vowed to nurture and love my hair and myself from that moment on. I promised to never let anyone influence my decisions. I promised to be my own beautiful.
Today, I wake up every day with a thick beautiful head of curly brown hair. Thanks to many curly dedicated products, I have learned what works for me. Almost daily women and men stop me on the street proclaiming how beautiful my hair is. Women constantly ask if my hair is real. People have described my hair as a blossoming flower, a bushel of grapes and even a curly crown sitting atop my head. To think, years ago I had resigned myself to what would be my “ugly hair” and here I am, giving advice on how to style my glorious mane.
We don’t need to conform to what society deems beautiful. We need to love ourselves for what we are: natural, beautiful and sometimes … curly. I am ashamed that I ever wanted to be a different color, different person or have different hair. Why would I want to be you, when I have the privilege of being me?