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  • Writer's pictureEliana Rose B.

Embracing who I am

I was born in Monteria, a city close to the Caribbean coast of Colombia where a mix of black, indigenous and white people have lived for more than 200 years. Racism has existed in the country since the times that the Spanish colonized the land and brought enslaved Africans to do the work that the natives were forced to do previously.

I grew up noticing that people around me tried to hide some of their physical features so they could look “whiter,” hoping to be more appreciated and valued by others. Where I am from, people feel this helps them look like they are from a higher social-economic class. For these same people trying to seem “whiter”, they also desire to adhere to beauty standards based on the black and indigenous races in the Colombian region as well. For example, women are expected to have a voluptuous and curvy body like black women have, have high cheekbones like indigenous women and lighter skin like an anglo would. Having a thin nose and bright eyes like white people are also considered attractive. When we talk about hair types, there has always existed a big rejection of curly hair. It has been considered ugly and unsightly for centuries, not only in Colombia but in the world. For that reason, I grew up feeling very uncomfortable with my naturally unruly and curly hair.

“Oh no! The girl has curly hair!,” my mom’s aunts screamed.

I was a toddler when they said this in front of me. That same day, they convinced my mom to take me to the beauty salon and shave my head. According to those aunts, doing that would help my hair to grow straighter, but to their surprise, it grew way curlier than it was before. Growing up, I heard family members saying that I had “bad hair.” I was teased by other kids and received rude comments from adults in the streets. These situations made me profoundly hate my hair and complain a lot about it.

One day, when I turned 12 years old, one of my great-aunts gave me a gift. She took me to a beauty salon for straightening my hair with chemicals. I loved the results, but a dark journey began; I repeated the process every three to five months. The chemicals were so strong that they burned my scalp and the skin of my forehead. I also needed to use a flat iron straightener for making the hair look good. Apart from that, these styling procedures were expensive meaning I spent almost all my money on my hair. I repeated this cycle for 14 years.

When I met my husband, I mentioned to him that I had curly hair. He was very surprised because he thought I had naturally straight hair, but he started to convince me to let it grow as it is. In those days, my sister who has wavy hair had joined a group of women who promoted having natural hair. She started to talk to me about it and I thought that was so cool! I felt supported for my husband (boyfriend at that time) and I decided to give my curly hair a chance.

The transition was the hardest part of this process. Having half of my hair straight from the middle to the ends, and having the other half curly from the roots to the middle made me feel very uncomfortable. For many months I just put it on a tight ponytail, which was very boring for me, as I was used to wearing my hair down and in different styles.

Finally, the time for getting the big chop arrived. The idea of having short hair was scary, but I did it anyway. When I got home and looked at myself in the mirror, I had a big revelation; it was like looking at the little girl with curly hair that I once was for the first time in many years, I recognized her, I hugged her, and I cried.

Wearing my natural hair now means more than something that is cool and in, it means more than being part of a movement, more than a style that makes me look pretty. Having natural hair means embracing my roots and heritage, it means freedom for letting it be the way it is. It means loving every part of me even if some people do not like it. Having curly hair means being me.

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