Why did my curly hair go straight
I haven't let heat on my curls in a year & this is what they look like now
A year. That was the goal I set myself when I left the salon in December 2018 - just minutes after I had four inches of my hip-length hair cut away.
After straightening my curls practically every week for most of my life - which is pretty much the norm in the Latinx community - I decided it was finally time to accept my curls and love them. For me, that meant committing to a heat-free routine for at least 365 days.
I wanted the curls I had as a kid - cracked, sleek, and silky. Instead, from years of exposure to heat (including the agony I inflicted on them during my time as a pageant), my hair was an odd mix of waves, limp curls, and randomly slick sections. After several friends told me I should finally have the broken ends of my hair cut off, I sat in the salon chair of curl expert Mona Baltazar. She cut my medium length hair into a chin length bob. Lo and behold: my curls looked much better!
But that was just the beginning of my journey to revitalizing the curls. After all of the split ends were trimmed away, I took care of treating the heat damage. “Many believe they need to find a product that will make their hair curly,” says Baltazar. "But if you are in a transitional phase, it also takes time to restore your natural curl structure," says the expert. But Baltazar gave me the most important tip when she sent me home: “You have to be patient”. And how right she was!
When I got home after the haircut, I immediately tossed my flat iron and curling iron in a bag to donate the equipment. I kept my hair dryer and diffuser for the time being because I didn't want to let my hair air dry in the December cold. Then I got myself the products I needed to take care of my hair, in other words: deep cleansing shampoos, hair treatments and other products that should help and nourish my hair.
I had heard that it would be a lot of work to finally love my curls, but I didn't realize that I would put so much more effort into maintaining them than in my previous routine. I used to quickly use some creams to add definition to my curls or have my hair straightened in the salon so I wouldn't have to style it for a few days. But without straightening irons and Co. I had to keep my hair now correct Wash thoroughly and treat with conditioner. I had to extend the exposure time for the products so that they really had an effect and after washing I rub in some mousse or gel. If I screwed up and applied too much gel, I had to start over and wash my hair again.
To be honest, there were a lot of moments during those first few weeks when I hated my curls. They weren't what I imagined. Because they were so short, I often felt like I looked like a wet poodle, and sometimes I regretted cutting it all off.
One of the toughest moments for me was when I had to go to my first wedding party with these curls on. Inviting me to such a party has always been synonymous with going to a salon - mainly because of the widespread belief in the Latinx community that curly and natural textures are "unprofessional" or "less elegant". When I was driving up north New York for the celebration, I was having a hard time getting the thought out of my head that my curls weren't right for the formal event. The day before the wedding, I even bought a mini curler in a store near the hotel and wanted to use it to style them in a way that would meet people's expectations.
Back in my hotel room, I finally fought this urge. That's when I realized that this challenge was about so much more than just my curls. It was about shaking off strict cultural norms and standing up for something that was important to me. Of course, my mother, who grew up in a Dominican household, also thought that she was only doing what was best for me by having my hair straightened every Sunday. But today I know that the best for me is something completely different.
That's when I realized that this challenge was about so much more than just my curls. It was about shaking off strict cultural norms and standing up for something I wanted to do for myself.
When I entered the wedding location with my curly hair, I was admittedly a little nervous. But before long, I was getting so many compliments from women who admired that I was the only person in the room wearing natural curls. And so in the course of the evening I became more and more self-confident and even celebrated my individuality.
In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't give in to the pressure to heat my hair because that would have meant I took a big step backwards. "Every time you put chemical straighteners in your hair or straighten it, you are manipulating its natural texture, which logically damages your hair," says Baltazar.
Over time, I noticed how the natural curl structure of my hair was developing. The strands in the front, which once simply hung limply, were twisted into perfect spirals after six months. Overall, my hair had more shine and body. It had grown up to my shoulders and there was much less loose hair accumulating in my shower drain after washing.
My hair changed, and so did my styling routine. While it used to be important to me to define the curls, now all I care about is getting rid of the frizz and giving my curls enough moisture. In addition, I completely lost the desire to style my hair with the hairdryer, a straightening iron or other hair-damaging devices. Even when I have to blow dry it, I used the cold air setting to reduce the damage. Since the eighth month of this experiment, I've been washing my hair just before bed and then laying my head on a silk pillowcase, and when I wake up in the morning I have air-dried curls.
10 days after my first curly cut
When the 365 days were over, I couldn't believe I had made it this far without straightening my hair. At the time, I had planned to get my hair straightened again in a salon when I was through the year. But when the time came, I didn't feel like it anymore. I love my curls and I've learned to see them as part of my identity.
After 365 days my hair is healthier - and so am I. Free of the cultural and social norms that once felt oppressed, I now wear my curls to business meetings, in front of the camera, and on special occasions. I'm also more dedicated to work, just recently got a promotion and teamed up with fellow Latinx colleagues who, like me, have always had problems with their natural curls. When I finally found the strength in myself to be more confident and step out of my comfort zone, it made waves in every aspect of my life.
365 days after my first curly cut
Patience was crucial with every step, and now my locks are more defined than I could ever have imagined. In the past year, I've had my hair cut twice, perfected my hair routine and learned new grooming techniques.
Sure, there are days when my curls just don't want the way I want them to, but most of the time I love them. It is a continuous learning process that encompasses everything that comes with this new chapter in selfcare. My hair grows and changes, and so do I.
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