It takes a lot to make me blush. I have medium, caramel-colored skin, and the only time any redness comes through is if I’ve done an intense workout or am through-the-roof embarrassed. When I heard someone sitting behind me in ninth grade math class whisper, “her hair is so gross and fried,” I knew I was about to turn beet red. My stomach started to turn; my mind started to race. I knew my response wasn’t because the comment was straight-up offensive, or that someone was going out of their way to speak badly of me. It was because I was extremely, perhaps irrationally, self-conscious about my hair’s texture.
I am Filipino and have long, thick, medium-coarse waves, and I hated it for years. As a teenager, I asked my parents to wake me up an hour earlier than my older sister for school so I could run my flat iron down each section of my hair, over and over again. I needed to ensure that my natural waves wouldn’t somehow start to emerge as the day went on — which they often did, in uncontrollably frizzy fashion — because I knew how ugly I’d feel if they did. I was frustrated that some of my friends didn’t have to work as hard as I did to have the sleek texture I wanted, but at least I knew I could fake it with my straightener and a bottle of Biosilk Hair Serum ($28).
The women in my family had hair like mine, and I’d carefully watch how they cared for theirs: buying products advertised on Filipino television or at our local market, scheduling an hour and a half during the day to heat style their hair, and paying for chemical straightening services every four months. My mother never let me touch the chemicals, despite what she did to her own hair. She always reminded me when I complained about my friends, “You’re not like them, and that’s OK.”
Now, I can see how much the women in my family were impacted by the long-standing notion in Filipino culture that only long, shiny, smooth hair was beautiful. For me, as someone who was raised both Filipino and American, I was self-conscious about where I stood on the spectrum of beauty ideals. I didn’t seem to check either box of what society deemed “beautiful,” and if I’m being honest with myself, I ended up hating aspects of what made me who I am.
These days, I have a stronger sense of what I view as being good-looking. Time helped with that. In college, I surrounded myself with people who were comfortable in their own skin, and that energy eventually rubbed off on me. And when I landed a job in beauty, I started seeing stories about women embracing their textures. Truthfully, sometimes I do still feel the need to straighten my hair when I want to “look presentable” (whatever that means), but I’m inspired by people growing more vocal about loving their natural hair. It’s really encouraged me to learn more about and celebrate my own.
I always tell my best friend how much of an impact other people’s hair journeys have had on me, and when I mentioned that I was considering writing this post, she responded with, “It sounds like you’re embarking on your own.” I couldn’t agree more.
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