Beauty, Beauty + Vogue

Your ethnic hair doesn’t need to be straight to be beautiful

And it sure as hell doesn't need to be based off of white, Eurocentric ideals.

Ever since I can remember, people around me have always said that I have “cabello bueno” – good hair. They’d pet my head and give it descriptions like “soft as silk” or “airy” and “elegant.” I’d sit, patiently waiting for them finish playing with it, all the while not understanding the meaning behind the phrase – which apparently meant a lot of different things.

All of my relatives who were blessed with hair with volume or spirally curls were often found in salons, getting their hair flat ironed. A lot of communities in Latin America have some sort of Afro-centric component to them. This means a significant amount of Afro-Latinos or mixed Latinos with different kinds of beautiful features. But alongside that aspect of Latinidad comes with a history of colonialism and Eurocentric beauty standards. It’s the reason why, despite the fact that there are so many Latinos with different looks, we’re all held to the same standard of trying to look as white as possible.

It's things that lead those family members into thinking that 'encouraging' more Eurocentric… Click To Tweet

In some Latin American cultures, it’s seen as a miracle to have straighter hair, lighter skin, and (yes!) lighter eyes. And although that standard is holding less and less power over people throughout many countries, some communities have ways of holding on to it. Sometimes it’s by having only Eurocentric Latinos and Latinas in leading roles for Spanish language movies and television shows. Sometimes it’s having all of the lighter skinned people as models for products and featured in commercials.

It’s things like this which lead those family members and friends into thinking that “encouraging” more Eurocentric features is okay. And though I didn’t understand this at the time, my hair sometimes got me places. And if it didn’t do that, it at least made older people look upon me with doting eyes. And sometimes it made them not so nice in a way that made me think they were offended for some reason.

Read Next:  When will our government start helping people pay for sex?

My mother would go to the salon to have her hair cut and straightened, and women at the salon would faun over how long and shiny my hair was. They would offer to braid it or comb it for me. Sometimes when my godparents would take me to a bodega for snacks, the person behind the counter would make comments about me and give me free gum or small lollipops.

They were always encouraged to straighten their hair. Click To Tweet

My neighborhood and many other immigrant neighborhoods in New York City have a tremendous amount of beauty supply stores. Many of them have a wide range of perm kits, bleachers, hair relaxers, and hair straighteners. There are specific types of hair creams to make straightening last longer and other chemicals that make hair lose its shine and make the ends all ragged. These places were like a second home for many of the young girls around me. These girls were always encouraged to straighten their hair and were constantly told that they looked better that way. But after years of straightening, bleaching, and relaxing, they’d have damaged hair that had lost its amazing volume.

Despite all that, I have hope for Latin American communities. There’s a natural hair movement within black communities outside of the United States, and there’s also one spreading in Afro-Latino communities. I was overjoyed when I learned that a beauty vlogger in the Dominican Republic opened a salon dedicated to natural hair. I envision that salon in my mind. Steam and burned hair smell wouldn’t come crawling out of the window like all of the small salons I walked by when I visited family in Dominican Republic.

Read Next:  My presence online brings visibility to mixed-race women

Over time, many more beauty supply stores will have products for people to wear their hair curly or wavy. Today, there’s more of an emphasis of it being healthy and shiny regardless of how it’s styled or if it’s in its natural form or not. I have hope for future Latinas who won’t let what other people think of their hair define their identity. Things are changing, and I hope that if I have a child one day, he or she won’t see any hair as better or worse, but just “different”.

I don’t want there to be phrases like 'cabello malo' for curly or kinky hair. Click To Tweet

For the record, I’m not entirely against people changing their hair when they want, but I don’t want there to be phrases like “cabello malo” for curly or kinky hair. I don’t want those girls to think that the only way they’ll look good or professional is if they only straighten their hair. I want them to know that it’s an option, but not an ideal or the only way to be seen as beautiful.

I want all Latin American communities to celebrate their diversity, regardless of the texture of their hair.

Angely Mercado

Angely Mercado

Angely is a native NYer, a sometimes writer, and a full time green tea lover. She thinks there should be more media representation for women of color and hopes her work can help make that happen. Her writing can be found in various online publications including The Billfold, DNAinfo, Vivala, and more. Reach out to her via Twitter to talk about writing, anime, platanos, and petting other people's cats.

We're ready to shake things up, for the better.