The recent months have forced us to work on ourselves in countless ways. Women accustomed to receiving help from personal care champions such as manicurists, hairdressers, waxers, and other professionals have been winging it at home. The period of pause has been unexpectedly long, leaving women to fend for themselves while at home.
I grew up playing with Barbie, and correlated beauty with the lustrous-silky, golden-haired, milky-skinned and pencil-thin figured doll. She lived in a stunning house, fell in love with Ken, and had a perfect life. Children are impressionable. It isn’t completely unthinkable that this vision would give me a false sense of beauty. The concept was everywhere. What it meant to be a beautiful woman was based on millions of images being sold via mainstream television and media during the 1970s.
My daughter and I both have curly hair. The difference has been that she owns her natural locks. She prefers a wet look over a blow-dry any time, whereas I love good styling. I never truly saw myself as beautiful while wearing curls. In fact, I can remember feeling overwhelmed by feelings of being unpretty, simply because I looked different than the majority around me. I loved the way the curls looked on other women; in my opinion, they exuded confidence and sex appeal but not on me.
Looking back, there may have been a variety of factors that affected my self-beliefs. Around the time I was 18 years old, I lost my wonderful Dominican hairdresser to another town. When in that jam, I would have tried about anything just to get that hair blown out straight.
Not knowing any better, a visit to an American salon scarred me for a long time. The hairdresser found me in her chair after my wash. She was very complimentary up to the moment she began drying. My hair is thin and curly. It also dries quickly. Therefore, you need to know how to manage the texture otherwise you’ll end up continuously spraying with water for moisture. The comment at the end of the awful salon experience made me sink deeper into my hair insecurities. She suggested that I go home and try to fix it better with my own products.
Needless to say, it was the first and last time that I ventured out to unknown salons, as I knew there was a lack of understanding of my curly hair.
In my late twenties, I received a referral for a salon in midtown New York. As you can imagine, I was hesitant to put myself out there, again for ridicule. It was during the time Ouidad Salons were thought of as groundbreaking for delivering products to “tame” curls. This time around, the stylist worked in an American salon but was South American. She had a gorgeous head of hair and it convinced me that I was in the right place, after she gave me a lesson on curls, on how I could wear them beautifully if I wanted to one day. Making me feel comfortable instead of an outcast made a world of difference.
Time passed but I continued my weekly appointments to the salon — that is, until the shutdowns hit the city in March. The panic was real after the second week, as I refused to wear my natural curls.
Well, going another week would have created other problems for self-image. I decided to take the plunge with the help of my teenage daughter. She is my hero. She genuinely loves who she is. She expresses her own personality and style, embracing who she is without copying social media; to the contrary, she finds her beauty ideals are on the opposite end of the spectrum of her generation. Beauty to her is about loving who you are naturally.
My daughter recently recalled how I bought her Barbies as a kid and how she would change their hair, try to curl it or cut their bangs. It bothered her that all barbies looked the same — no diversity. It would drive me crazy! But looking back, I realize she was just expressing herself. She never liked looking like the rest of the crowd. She thought that was average… and she wanted to be unique.
The elimination of salons during shutdown forced an explosion of products and articles about the curls I was born with and the curls I passed on to my daughter. She ordered the Rizos Curls products that she had heard about through friends and social media. When I tell you this experience was life-changing — believe me, it shifted how I look at my hair.
Learning to manage the natural hair taught me to appreciate the beauty of my soft curls like never before. The experience was necessary to embrace my hair in any state. I am more confident and self-accepting today with an understanding of what makes a woman beautiful. Hair texture does not define attractiveness, as we are brainwashed to think through advertising.
We each hold unique experiences, ethnicities, and cultures, ways of thinking, feelings and physical attributes. Beauty does not lie in one external characteristic. Instead, it lives in our collective differences.