Embracing your natural hair is very controversial today, especially for young women of color such as myselfThe only times I would wear my hair down was when it was straightened. When it was natural (wavy-curly) I would wear it in a bun, thus ruining my curls.
It's not that I did not love my hair for its natural texture. It's just that it was too much to handle. I was worried that people would think I looked crazy with big frizzy hair or that I did not brush it.
I was worried that I would look odd short curly hair while it was down. I felt embarrassed.
Don't get me wrong, I loved my hair. Everyone also complimented my hair. An odd compliment I ever received was: "You have white girl hair" because of how soft and smooth my texture was. But, I did not take as an insult or a compliment.
I began straightening my hair because everyone seemed to enjoy how soft it was when it was styled that way. It made me feel good about myself, I can't lie I enjoyed my hair straightened for a while because I got to wear it down more often.
One day, one of my classmates asked me: "I'm surprised your hair doesn't have any heat damaged" because I "straighten[ed] it too much." I stayed quiet because she was right.
I thought about what she said for a while, but I knew my hair was strong.
Ha. Not for a long.
A little less than a year later--
it was my junior year of high school and I decided to get layers for my 17th birthday. Something I’ve always wanted, so one of my good friends gave me the haircut. I absolutely loved it!
She curled the bottom with the straightener to give it that, extra volume and I totally just fall in love with my new hair style. For about 4-5 weeks my hair was ALWAYS straightened and curled at the very bottom.
Until one day I took a break; I washed it and let it be free and “curly", but it felt more like free and dead.
My hair was completely fried. The only curly parts were the roots. Can you imagine just only one inch of your entire hair curled? ONE.
I was devastated, embarrassed, and desperate. I didn’t think my hair would take such a drastic change, especially since I was always told growing up that I had “white people hair” and that my hair was “good and soft” for a person of my color.
And this is where the journey begins...
I remember calling my best friend and telling her about the situation, of course, she said "I told you so", but she recommended me some products such as Shea Moisture, and Youtubers who went through the same thing. She even went through the same thing a couple years before as well.
She inspired me to let my hair be free, to love it and to do deep treatments every so often to help the hair recover. I appreciated all the wonderful advice she gave me because it made the journey a little bit better in some aspects.
I started to do some research on my own and found some amazing things. I bought some products, yes Shea Moisture was one of them and started my journey to helping my hair recover.
The same day I saw my hair after I washed it, my mom brought me the Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment Masque. I will never forget I got some scissors that day and started snipping chunks of my dead/fried hair (boy, there was a lot) and then put a whole ton of treatment on.
My hair had never been that short, but it didn’t phase me because I always enjoyed short hair over long hair. However, seeing my hair in such a depressing state made me feel that way too.
It was a hard year. My hair had its days, and it was tempting not to straighten it because it looked so ugly when it was natural. So I dealt with it and said to myself that "this is the price I have to pay for betraying my curls."
The first few months were definitely the hardest because it was completely straight. Not even kidding. There was absolutely no curl in sight.
Up until the 5-7th month that is where I start to see some results. They weren't the best, but my hair began to curl in different areas. It was still too short to put it up, so I had to put in some bobby pins in the front to wear it down.
I also did not take many pictures during this journey because I wanted to forget about the horrific times (kidding, but also not kidding).
I straightened it a couple times within these last couple of years because I had Prom and other important festivities, but I made sure to use light heat as opposed to the high heat I was previously using.
4 months later--
Senior year came, my hair was growing again. Only this time for my 18th birthday, I told my friend to chop ALL of the unwanted dead ends and that it didn't matter how short it’ll be. "Just do it! (Pun intended)" I told her.
Within minutes I felt a sense of relief! She got rid of a lot of dead ends and fixed my length since I messed it up when I desperately cut it myself.
10 months later--
My hair grew again, only this time I went to my mother’s friend to cut it again. This time I went two months earlier than my normal annual cut time. I had a few dead ends again, so she cut all of them off.
It was short again, but the only difference is that it curled even more than the last time my friend cut it.
My hair was now a little over 90% curly again and I had never been happier.
My senior year of high school and freshmen year of college were really just amazing years for my hair because I gave up on straightening my hair (not entirely). I no longer straighten my hair if it isn't done by a professional. Now, I go even 4-5 months without any heat. Depending on occasions, I would say I straighten my hair a total of 6 times max per year. Compared to a few years ago this number is way less.
Before I use to look back at my curls (before the damage), and I realized that I never even did it [straightened my hair] because I didn’t like my hair or to feed into the stigma that society holds on the hair types of women of color. I just did it because I loved how soft my hair was when it was straight.
Now, years later I look back again and say that was the case: if I loved my hair like I said I did, I would've stopped putting all that unnecessary heat on it just to hear the words "your hair is amazing!", "You have white girl hair", "Your hair is so soft and silky, it's like a pillow" and "I wish I had your hair". I enjoyed hearing that because it was reinforcing and it made me feel good about myself that so many girls admired my hair.
But did I really love my hair or did I just love how it looked like when it was straightened?
I remember I cried when I saw all the damage I did to my natural hair. How I lost my beautiful curls. It's shape. It’s texture. It’s moisture. It’s authenticity. And itself. It truly felt like I lost a part of myself, and I was worried my hair was never going to recover.
I am lucky to have curly hair. And I am proud to be an Afro-Latina who can embrace her hair as she pleases. At this time, I would love to thank my best friend for inspiring me to go through this journey because she was the first person who I told when I was going through this crisis. She shares a similar experience as me, so she knew all the right things to do, and was definitely a help during my journey. She rocks her big hair more than I can, but that is what makes her unique made. I mean look at her curls!!!! She looks like Diana Ross in the 70/80's. They just look so full of life and she embraces it as it is and looks fierce while she is at it. You go girl!!!
Furthermore, this journey was far more than just my hair recovery, but some self-discovery as well. I learned how to love my natural hair more every day. How to do some deep treatments here and there to make sure the curls are always strong and beautiful. I also leave it down more often and do big puffy ponytails with the little side curls or just leave it all out. YOLO right?
If I could go back my 17-year-old self, I would say: "Please love your hair and yourself and embrace your own natural beauty."
I am grateful I went through this journey because it was a mindful experience. It drew me closer to my hair and gave me a sense of appreciation for why I was blessed with the hair that I have today. Young women of color go through what I went through, and it is difficult for us. Maybe our experiences are a little different and I can only speak for myself, but we are blessed to have curls. Any type of curls is beautiful. All hair types are beautiful as well, but the hair you were born with looks even more beautiful on you. Embrace your natural hair and screw what society has to say!
Here is a picture from two weeks ago (and a post-15 months in total after the heat damage):
This is my natural hair with a little scoop of the Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie (if only it stayed like this all night... but it just had to get bigger an hour later).
As I wrap this up, I wanted to say one last thing and that is to all of the women who struggle to love their natural hair: You don't need to damage your hair to fit society's standards. You just need to embrace who you are. I know it is not easy, believe me, it wasn't easy for me either, but you have support around you. You have other women who have dealt with this issue very similar to mine, who have risen up and taken action to not feel belittled, degraded and even worthless for having naturally curly hair so that they can overcome society's norms on women of color. We are here to empower one another and to stick together so that we can embrace our natural roots, that were passed on by our descendants, and so that we can pass on to our future generations. And lastly, no matter how thick or thin, curly or wavy, puffy or tamed your hair is, your only responsibility to yourself is loving, appreciating and embracing your hair (and of course yourself) and making sure you are comfortable with it.
Screw what society thinks. Wear your hair the way you want! You don't wanna brush it? Cool. Do you want to let it all out? Go for it. Comb it, style it, cut it, dye it, and do whatever else YOU want to it. It is YOUR hair. Not society's hair.