Growing up as a Dominican girl, the prevailing obsession was to have long, straight hair. If that didn’t come naturally, we'd march into the nearest Dominican hair salon every two weeks to be subjected to hours of hellfire, chemicals and tugging at our hair until we walked out with a shiny mane and a tingling scalp. Me, I hated the ritual of sitting in that hot seat with those nosy stylists, but I still went through with it because even this low-maintenance girl wanted to look pretty, too.
While I never had to have my hair relaxed, the summertime blowouts were the absolute worst for me. Not only was sitting under a hair dryer for an hour in humid NYC weather comparable to torture, but the older I became, the more I started realizing that perhaps this was all a giant waste of money and time. It would take no more than an hour of straight hair glory before my rebellious curls would start crying to break free. I'd see my hair slowly start to spiral into their natural form despite my having paid my hairstylist $25 to whip my strands into shape.
It wasn't until I went off to college that I even started paying attention to my natural hair. None of the women in my family rocked their own natural hair and if one of us wanted a curly do, we'd blow dry our hair straight and then go at it with a curling iron, gel, and a can of hairspray! Once I was on my own, I was finally able to break away from tradition and try things without the fear of being judged. With no car at my disposal, a busy workload and little money to spend, my hair care was simplified to a quick wash in the dorm showers, some leave-in conditioner and letting my hair air dry on my way to class. It was so easy and liberating. Why on Earth had I not tried this before?
I still relented to a blowout whenever I visited home, but despite Mom's irrational fear that my hair would fall out if I kept leaving it wet, I continued on my curly hair journey when I was out of her reach. As I grew older, I became more comfortable with my natural look and the more others commented on my beautiful curls, the more I wanted to take care of them and show them off. I went in for my last blowout in 2010 sometime before I made the decision to have my hair cut and styled while curly. It was a big leap for me — I had never been the least bit adventurous when it came to style and was terrified of getting an awful cut that would leave me looking like a Latina Shirley Temple. There was so much anxiety wrapped around my finding the perfect stylist that I almost backed out of the whole thing. It’d be easier to stick to tried and true, right? Months passed before I was finally able to go for it, reminding myself that as much as I loved my curls, it is just hair. It’s OK to experiment because it will always grow back.
All these years later and I’ve never gone back to my Dominican hairdresser. I can’t say I miss her either. When I walk into Bumble & bumble to see my stylist, there’s not an ounce of worry when she starts snipping away. My hair looks fuller, has way more personality and is so much healthier than it was before. Split ends seem to have been a thing of the past. So while my hair might never be whipped into pin-straight shape or ever reach the small of my back again (unless I pull on a tight corkscrew curl to show my friends), there’s nothing like walking down the street with a bouncy head of curls or looking into the mirror and seeing that this is so much more me than straight hair could ever be.
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(Photos: Dorkys Ramos)