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What One Year Of Embracing My Naturally Curly Asian Hair Has Taught Me

By September 26, 2018 6 Comments

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.

What One Year Of Embracing My Naturally Curly Asian Hair Has Taught Me

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!

What One Year Of Embracing My Naturally Curly Asian Hair Has Taught Me

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)!

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Lina says:

    Dear Rosie,

    First of all, I would like to express my appreciation for you sharing your curly hair journey. You and me started at the same time with the curly hair journey, in September 2017.
    I would say we both have pretty similar hair. I am of Middle Eastern descent and didn´t know anything about how to treat my wavy and extremely frizzy hair up until last year. My mother
    would always tell me to brush my frizzy hair as it didn´t look neat and pretty enough. Well, I know now that brushing your frizzy hair while it is dry is exactly NOT what you are supposed to do.
    I educated myself through the Internet (Youtube, blogs, curly hair websites etc.), and I am still learning.
    One factor for nice looking curly hair, besides finding the right products for your hair type (thickness, porosity, etc.), is also the right haircut. I love your haircut so much! It gives your hair so much volume! It
    looks just lovely, so beautiful! I respectfully disagree with your mother that curly hair ages a woman. On the contrary, in my very humble opinion, curly hair is playful, cute, wild, innocent, etc…..everything that
    stands for youthfulness. Anyhow, many thanks for your work and your beautiful, elegant website with high quality content!

    Before I forget, please share how your hair was cut! What exactly did your hair dresser do with your hair, how did she/he cut it? Once I get an answer from you, I will run to the next salon 🙂

    Best wishes from Charlottesville!

    Lina

    • Rosie says:

      Dearest Lina,
      I’m so glad we both started at the same time! It’s funny how people assume that brushing curly hair would get rid of the frizz when in fact it just creates more frizz! Without the internet, I, and hundreds other, would be at a loss for how to care for curly hair. I respectfully disagree with my mother too that curly hair ages a woman, there’s so much playfulness and spirit to it and like you said, everything it stands for is youthful anyway! A lot of people ask about my hair cut and I literally just did a story on this on my Instagram. Long story short, I always get layers and right now my layers are long. My layers always frame my face so essentially they sit right above my collarbone or shorter. I’ll have to record a video on this since a lot of people request to learn more about my haircut, so stay tuned! <3

  • Cindy says:

    Hi Rosie,

    Apologies up front for the very long post. Your description of criticism from your family has rung so true to my own. I’m Chinese and have had curly hair since I was a baby. When I was young, my hair was seen as something that went wonky at birth but should be grown out of with age (like shedding of baby hair). When that didn’t happen, my relatives started giving me nicknames like “Lion Mane”, in reference to a character from a popular show with unruly hair that was crass, low class, and stupid. Since no one in my family knew what to do with curly hair, my mother used to brush my hair harshly in an attempt to straighten them, often yanking out chunks of hair with each brushing. When my mother got tired of braiding my hair (her go to method to keep my curls hidden), she would take me to the barber shop and have them give me a crew cut. Imagine being a girl growing up with short crew cut hair since 5. I was ridiculed relentlessly by my classmates.

    Things got worse when we moved to the US when I was 8. Because we were new to the land, my mother didn’t know (or willing to spend the money) to take me to a proper salon to cut my hair. So my hair was allowed to grow and my curls took prime stage again. The bullying at school from other Chinese kids turned racial, accusing me of being the product of an affair between my mom and someone of African decent (an insult in that particular Chinese circle as African decent was deemed as low class). What was once before a mocking of appearance is now layered with another level of shaming, one that was obviously untrue but stuck all because my mom would brush my hair frizzy instead of letting the curls form. Chinese people I knew, including adults, would openly mock me on the streets. They may not have said the same rude comments to my parents but they sure said plenty in front of me. The bullying went from yelling out slurs to throwing things and beating me because I was different. All because of hair.

    Things took an ironic turn when I reached my teens. The boys who bullied me started to pursue me because the curls set me apart, gave me an exotic look that other Chinese girls didn’t have. With that “exoticism” came sexualized stereotypes. Girls started getting their hair permed like mine to look sexy. People who knew me my whole life started accusing me of having permed hair, instead of complimenting me on having natural hair that they now covet. Girls would gang up to chant “slut” when I walk by and direct their boyfriends to run up and punch me, never mind that I didn’t date until I was 19. I was turned away from the Chinese community and had to became friends with all other ethnicity. So in a way, I should thank my hair for forcing me outside my otherwise range of people and learning about other cultures and gaining acceptance. You see in any other ethnicity, my hair was just hair. No one ever questioned why it was curly, nor did they judge me for its shape. Some may assume it was permed, but when they found out it’s natural they look at it with awe and appreciation, not disdain. My husband thinks it’s awesome that I have curly hair and it’s one of the things that attracted him to me at first, he saw me from the back and wanted to run his hand over my hair. He was a bit surprised to see a Chinese face attached to the hair but thought it suited my features and thought it gave me personality. So long story short, now I love my hair because that is something uniquely me. It took me until my adult years to finally come out of the shadow from my childhood bullying and see that were the actions of people who envy my uniqueness. Anyway, sorry for the long post. I thought I’d share my experience as another curly head who grew up in a culture of people hating curls.

    • Rosie says:

      Hi Cindy, no need to apologize for the long comment. It’s so heartfelt and I’m honored you shared your story with me. It sounds like you’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum, from people who disapproved of curls and found it to not be physically/sexually attractive at all, to people who thought the complete opposite. Having to experience such extremes is confusing and challenging, but I love that you fell in love with someone who also loves that trait about you. I’m so happy our paths have crossed and I’m sharing your comment on my social to remind people that there’s work to be done in the community, and that there’s hope! We just need to be better about uniting and lifting each other up. <3 THANK YOU THANK YOU again for sharing your story with me, it means a lot!

  • Yasmeen says:

    Hi Rosei!!

    I just found your video on YouTube and your tTeenVogue post after searching about asian women / nonbinary folks with curly hair! I think I have curly hair, as 2 days ago (April 16) was the irst time in my life that I actually saw my wavy/curly hair for the first time! MY family didn’t use a hair straightener on me when i was younger, but I only had access to sulfate shapoos and such, because my hair was short and seemed straight (I’ve grown my hair longer now) and I had no idea that the shampoos and conditioners I had dry out my hair, produce matted hair, and while I would use an extremely fine toothed comb to straighten it, it would HURT so so so much.

    I’m glad I saw your video and I’d love to see more fo your videos on your current routine, because I plan to care correctly for my NATURAL wavy/curly hair!

    Best wishes,
    Yasmeen

    • Rosie says:

      Hi Yasmeen I’m so glad you came across my post!!! It’s crazy what happens when we let our hair be and then we find out it’s probably a different texture than we originally thought it was! I actually plan to post another tutorial video next week so you can see what my updated routine is like. You can check out my blog archives here for my other curly hair posts: https://rosiechuong.com/tag/curly-hair/

      Also, I’m pretty active on Instagram/Facebook so if you’re on there, I do post about hair stuff at least 2-3x a week. I’m so glad the universe connected us together and let me know if you need help figuring anything out. I’m happy to have a one-on-one conversation with you if it helps you on your hair journey!!! <3

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