Learning to embrace my natural hair

Coming to appreciate my curls and ditch my straightener

Rohini is working to be confident in her natural hair.
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One of the most tumultuous relationships I’ve had in my life is the one I have with my hair. 
 
It might sound superficial, but my perception of my hair runs much deeper than a few bad hair days. When you grow up never seeing your type of hair represented in the media and very rarely amongst your peers, it’s difficult not to start resenting your hair for making you feel different.
 
I have what’s considered classic Indian hair: it’s very thick and most definitely not straight.
 
In elementary school, my mother used to pull my hair back into two tight braids every day to avoid the knots that would form while I was running around during recess. At the time, I never gave my hair much thought. Sure, some days I wished I could wear something other than braids and I didn’t have to deal with the frizz that would inevitably form around my temples, but it stayed out of my face and didn’t otherwise bother me.
 
Then came middle school. It was the sixth grade, and my peers had started styling their own hair. It looked exactly how I’d always wished mine would: thin, glossy, and straight. 
 
I ditched the braids and started trying to wear my hair down or casually throw it up in a ponytail during the day like I’d seen so many of my friends do with seemingly no effort.
 
But mine never looked quite right. I would go to the washroom during the day, look in the mirror, and realize my hair had become frizzy and the kinks I’d hoped to brush out had never completely disappeared. 
 
I would feel jealous when my classmates would come to school with their hair dripping wet from their morning shower, knowing that I was too afraid to let other people see my natural hair right after it dried. I would ask my friends what products and techniques they used, foolishly thinking if I just followed exactly what they did I too would have the pin-straight hair I so desired. After months of begging, I got a straightener for Christmas.
 
Finally, my hair looked the way I’d always wanted it to. It looked pretty—or at least what I considered to be pretty. 
 
Sure, styling with a flat iron meant sitting in front of the mirror for an hour every night, a cloud of smoke rising from my head as I fried every strand of my curls. But for straight hair, that was a price I was willing to pay.
 
There’s nothing wrong with straightening your hair. But for me, looking back, the heat damage wasn’t worth having hair that, honestly, I’m not sure I ever really liked. It was hair I only wanted because it fit what Western culture has imposed on me as the standard of beauty for my entire life. 
 
In high school, as schoolwork increased, I had less time to spend in front of the mirror making sure every strand of my hair was perfectly straight. I transitioned to putting light curls and waves into my hair with a straightener and started looking at ways to reduce the amount of time I spent doing my hair. 
 
I began experimenting with curly hair treatments. I was in awe when I first let my hair dry without a blow dryer or running a comb through it hundreds of times and curls formed. Real curls. 
 
I wish I could say I started wearing my hair naturally and never put a straightener on it again. Unfortunately, even after discovering my hair was curly, I was still too self-conscious to wear it that way.
 
I continued to vigorously heat style my hair into second-year, until the lack of time and energy I had after going to school, cooking for myself, and doing homework once again forced me to choose between sleep and styling my hair. I chose sleep, but that didn’t mean I felt good going to class with my natural hair—it was just a product of poor time management and exhaustion.
 
When I started to step out in my natural curls from time to time, not a single person told me they looked bad—people would actually compliment my hair. But for whatever reason, maybe because I’d been cementing the idea in my head that my thick, curly hair wasn’t pretty for almost a decade, the compliments didn’t change how I felt about it.
 
There was a turning point this spring, and it came with my return home in March. With nowhere to go and no one to see, I couldn’t justify styling my hair on a daily basis. After months of putting next to no heat on my hair, I saw my curls starting to become more prominent. 
 
During those months stuck at home, I, like many others, took to the habit of scrolling endlessly through TikTok. With the app’s specific—and sometimes frighteningly accurate—algorithm, curly-haired TikTok found me. 
 
I learned a lot from that community: there are specific shampoos and conditioners to use for curly hair; investing in a simple, micro-fiber towel could help rid the frizz I’d hated all these years; and certain leave-in conditioners were my friends. Armed with my new knowledge, I let my hair breathe for months on end and my curls saw the light of day. 
 
Although I am definitely moving in what I consider to be the right direction for myself and my hair, I can’t declare a complete victory yet. While I’ve managed to significantly cut back how often I heat style my hair, I’m aware it’s because of how comfortable I feel with my family, close friends, and housemates—the only people I’ve been seeing for the past eight months.
 
I remain apprehensive of the day when someone makes a rude comment about my natural hair that could set me back years in my hair journey. 
 
The real test of my confidence will be when in-person classes and activities resume, and I am faced with strangers every day. Hopefully, these past months I’ve spent appreciating my natural hair are enough to overcome the years of insecurity. 
 
If you’re like me and your hair type doesn’t adhere to white-centric beauty standards, there are hair routines and products out there for you. Granted, they’re less marketed and harder to find, but I’ve learned that, with the right resources, you can find them—or, in my case, let TikTok find them for you.  I’ve come to accept that my hair is the hair I have for life, so I might as well start appreciating it now.
 
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