How My Hair Ties into My Identity
“Voltaire, hair. I would personally like to learn about Voltaire.” -The Princess Diaries
My hair and I have been through a lot together.
Starting off with springy curls often styled in “Michelle Tanner hair” (a single braid down my back), I eventually endured years of straightening, a botched hair cut, and of course, the crunchy curls.
Do you know how long it took me to realize that brushing my hair made me look like a damn lion? My father compared me to a witch or a homeless child at least three times before I figured it out. (Disclaimer: he still tells me that I look homeless and that I should brush my hair).
After spending ten years regrowing my hair from my jaw to my rib cage, I was ready to embrace my natural texture. Which was apparently a hit with my friends, coworkers, and retail customers.
“Is that your natural hair?”
“How do you make your hair like that?”
Or, my favorite, courtesy of my nephew, “Titi Lexi, you look like a mermaid!”
But as they say, you always want what you don’t have, right? Straighter strands. Blonde bombshell.
So I bleached the absolute shit out of my hair.
I was also in a codependent relationship with my curling wand, and paid minimal attention to the products I was using, and to the damage that I was causing.
It wasn’t until I saw myself in a group photo that I realized that my blonde, stringy waves more closely resembled tumbleweed than they did Khloe Kardashian’s stunning balayage.
Prior to that, I’d heard of the “curly girl method”. Coined by Lorraine Massey in her book “Curly Girl: The Handbook”, the curly girl method is meant to bring out your best curls by avoiding heat styling, sulfates, and silicones.
It’s more than a hair care approach, it’s basically a lifestyle.
Okay, it’s not that serious, but it does help!
Sure, I only used sulfate free shampoo and silicone free conditioner, but what good did that do when I was still keeping up with my icy blonde highlights? Or using my magic wand to burn my frayed ends into submission?
Not a damn, thing, I’ll tell you that.
Now, I’m very selective with the products that I use and the way I apply them. I can’t live without my satin pillowcase, and I firmly believe that dry shampoo and deep conditioners are two of the greatest inventions known to man. I haven’t used a hair brush in god knows how long, and I just recently straightened my hair for the first time in about a year.
And guess what. I hated it. I didn’t feel like myself at all, and I found myself feeling annoyed every time someone told me to wear my hair straight more often. Those remarks, intended as compliments, reminded me of why I didn’t like my curls in the first place.
Growing up, I was teased for my hair, because middle schoolers are evil little shits. I felt ugly that I didn’t have the sleek strands that my sisters and my friends had. Hell, I was called ugly. I was made to feel like my hair was undesirable, a flaw to be corrected, concerns that resurfaced at the seemingly harmless suggestion to straighten my hair more often.
Why isn’t my natural hair good enough? Why do I have to put in that extra time and effort? Am I unkempt? Do I look unprofessional?
After four days, it was a relief to wash and scrunch curl cream (this time without the crunch) into my hair so that I could get back to my natural mess.
“I will not give in to Western society’s ideals of beauty!” I joked with my boyfriend.
In reality, there’s truth to that. My hair isn’t really that curly. It’s more wavy than anything. But even with my looser texture, I was picked on. I have to scour the shampoo aisle to find something suitable for my hair type on the shelves stocked with products promising smooth results. Still, I’ve never faced the same discrimination that people, especially people of color, with tighter curls and coils have.
The black Catholic school student sent home for her braided hair extensions.
The high school wrestler made to cut his locs or forfeit the match.
This type of discrimination is so prominent that New York just passed a law against it, protecting textures and styles that are prominent in black culture as racial characteristics.
I’m not being superficial when I say that having curly hair is more than just about looks, it’s a part of your identity. It’s a way for me to express myself, to display my Puerto Rican ethnicity, a tiny act of defiance against a culture that tried to make me, and others like me, feel less than.
Absolutely destroying my natural texture made me realize how much I appreciate it. I immediately began to feel better about myself when I decided to take care of my curls the best that I can, and now it’s something that I’m so proud of.
And, I still love hearing,
“Is that your natural hair?”