WHAT I LEARNED IN YEAR ONE OF MY CURLY HAIR JOURNEY
After 10 years of living with curly hair, I finally decided to break typical Asian beauty stereotypes, live beyond the straight hair standard, and embrace my natural texture. I initially had no support and no clue how to care for it. Slowly, as my knowledge grew, so did my love for my hair, and as a result it also looked healthier and more beautiful than ever before.
My curly hair journey isn’t just about looking good on the outside. It’s also, and probably more importantly, about feeling good on the inside. The thing is, hair is an extension of our physical appearance. Our outer appearance, and our attitude towards it, is often dictated by two things: how we internalize and therefore exemplify our feelings about it, and how society determines what it should look like based on beauty standards.
Along my journey, there was a mixture of hard and heartwarming things I learned during my first year.
CURLY HAIR PRODUCTS ARE GLOBALLY INACCESSIBLE
After joining a wavy/curly hair support group, I noticed a lot of members asking for product recommendations specific to their location. At first I thought this was because people were too lazy or didn’t know how to do a proper Google search, but this wasn’t the case at all. As it turned out, shipping sometimes cost more than the products or certain areas or countries weren’t selling the products because it’s perceived to be a no buyers market.
On top of having to deal with the pressure to wear our hair a certain way, even if people wanted to embrace their naturally curly hair, they had no means to do so either because product wouldn’t ship to their area or because it was insanely expensive to even try.
You might argue that curly hair products, specifically stylers, can be made at home. Some people swear by creating their own DIY flaxseed gel or aloe vera gel to style their hair. However, even these staple kitchen ingredients are sometimes not available in certain countries!
This led me to have a deeper understanding of why it’s so hard for people of my culture and my race to break this particular beauty standard. Products made for curly hair care aren’t easily available in Asia and surrounding countries and it’s likely that caring for curly hair is cost prohibitive.
I keep this in mind when I think about what I’m doing to advocate for people living with curly hair. I ask myself if what I’m doing currently is enough to make an impact. So far, I do know that blogger, freelance writer and curly hair influencer Honest Liz maintains an online shop selling international products provided directly by brands and authorized resellers to buyers in India. This is a step towards the right direction if we really want to see more global appreciation of curly hair.
THERE’S A LACK OF EDUCATION TO CARE FOR CURLY HAIR
This goes hand in hand with my point earlier about inaccessibility to product. As far as I can ever remember, I can’t recollect ever seeing articles that cover how to care for curly hair in printed publications (I used to read Seventeen, Teen Vogue, CosmoGirl and Teen People when I was a child). As an adult, I’m seeing more coverage on curly hair, but mostly from niche platforms like NaturallyCurly.com and Byrdie.com.
We’re mostly taught to care for straight hair or heat styled hair and there’s a wealth of information for the two. It’s no wonder that people are struggling to appreciate their natural textures when our current resources exclude this population.
In fact, the lack of education is a large reason as to why it took so long for me to care for my hair. Not only did my mom and my family not know what to do with it, but I didn’t know where to go for help that I could trust. This lack of education is exactly why I chose to pledge for Curl, the magazine for curly haired women, and its kickstarter campaign. I’m thrilled to continually see more platforms pop up that specialize in providing a community for people living with curly hair, like The Curl World, and hope to see more!
CURLY HAIR IS SEEN AS EXOTIC ON ASIAN WOMEN
Asian women are already seen as exotic, sexual creatures and that stereotype has been embedded for many generations, even centuries beyond my life. Before I started caring for my curls, I used to have very messy, wavy hair and my hair is usually the number one thing that men point out to me in public outings. Now that my hair is curlier, it always feels like people are analyzing this fine line of an existing stereotype about my exoticism, but also trying to digest the abnormality of my hair.
Sometimes it seems as if it’s hard for other people to take me seriously because people assume that I’m doing this to stand out in a superficial way that puts me above the rest. In reality, I’m partaking in my journey because curly hair is a natural part of who I am, I’m not trying to, and don’t want to, hide this aspect of me. I’m really hoping that someday, this physical trait doesn’t seem weird or off-putting to other people.
WEARING HAIR CURLY IS A DOUBLE STANDARD
I’ve mentioned my mom a few times here and there during my journey and rightly so because she hasn’t necessarily been my biggest advocate about it. While I do love her despite that, I believe it’s important for relatives, especially parents, to realize the pressure and double standards they put on their children when it comes to curly hair.
I’m coming to the conclusion that the reason why my mom thinks that curly hair looks older on me is because a lot of older asian women get curly perms. Even my mom has gotten two curly perms in her lifetime and she’s itching for another one! Curly hair is perceived to be many negative things including unruly and unattractive, and perhaps, aging to others, whereas straight hair is thought to be refined, beautiful and youthful.
My mom NEVER compliments my hair, and yet when she sees curly hair on other women, she tells them that it looks beautiful. I’ve also noticed many others who will say things such as, “Wow I love your hair, it’s so beautiful!” Then the next minute, that same person will say something like, “Oh I would never want curly hair, it’s too much work. I don’t know how you deal.”
There’s this double standard lying around about wearing our hair curly. People, like my mom, appreciate curly hair on others, but would never want that for their own child or for themselves.
WE’RE NOT ALONE IN THIS STRUGGLE TO APPRECIATE OUR CURLS
A few months after I began my curly hair journey, I started connecting with more and more people who were in the same boat as me. I was very lucky and honored to have my story featured on Teen Vogue earlier this year sharing why I wish to see more Asian women embrace their curly hair. I met a girl named Yuri who created a zine interviewing Asians living with curly hair. I’ve even interviewed and met up with others who shared the same struggle.
Because of all these connections, I came to the revelation that while our curls are a unique part of what individualizes us, our curls also unify us. Curly hair transcends age, gender, race, and many other differences. It unites people once we understand curly hair is a story that’s echoed across many generations. There’s more work to be done if we want to provide greater access to people across the globe whether by product or education or appreciation.
What are some of the things that you’ve learned about curly hair in your culture? Share your insight and experiences in the comments or on any of my other social platforms (YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)!