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I Stopped Straightening My Curls — Here’s What Happened

From the time I was in 6th grade, I woke up every morning at 5:30 a.m. to straighten my hair before school. I had an old hand-me-down Hot Tools straightening iron from the '90s (thanks, mom), and when I used it, I would clamp it down on my hair — sans product — and listen to the sizzling as it flattened my frizzy curls into something I deemed a more manageable.

Over the years, through high school, college, and beyond, my practice became more refined (a ceramic iron, high-end products and the realization that I also had to straighten the back of my head definitely helped), but the routine remained the same. I would wash my hair at night, let it dry naturally while I slept, then crawl out of bed at the crack of dawn to make sure it was sleek, shiny and pin-straight before anyone actually saw me. I once dated a guy for eight months who had no idea that my hair was naturally curly, and at the time that felt like a serious win. For over a decade, I wore my straight hair like a suit of armor. It made me feel prettier, more "professional," and just all-around better about myself.

I’m hardly the only one who’s felt this sort of stigma against my natural curls. As Cosmopolitan points out, curly-haired women in popular culture are often seen as quirky sidekicks at best, or “deranged” at worst, while their straightened counterparts are viewed “well-groomed and serious.” And that just scratches the surface of such biases, which become more intense when we're talking about women of color with kinky, tightly curled or coiled hair. Their beautiful textures are even more scrutinized, degraded, and demeaned by mainstream culture. In February, the Perception institute released a study that found “a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias towards women of color based on their hair.” So clearly, as a society, we have quite far to go when it comes to addressing these arbitrary, damaging biases.

Time and time again, we see curly-haired women wearing sleek blowouts on magazine covers, but there’s always some sort of commentary when one of them dare goes au naturale on a red carpet. As amazing as the idea of “beach waves" sounds (which, by the way, is what I would technically characterize my hair as), even the name itself implies that the style is better left at the beach and that it’s not meant for everyday life.

When I got a job working as a fashion assistant in New York after my college graduation, straight hair seemed like the only way to go. The few times I showed up rocking my natural curls I felt "sloppy" and "unkempt," and it seemed like everyone in the office was judging me for not spending more time "perfecting” my appearance (seriously, though: HOW do people blow dry and straighten their hair in between a 7 a.m. spin class and a 9 a.m. meeting? Sorcery?!). This “put together” version of me was #winning at life — I was on the “right” career path, had the “right” wardrobe and lived in the “right” neighborhood in the “right” city — but deep down I was really unhappy.

But then, earlier this year, I landed a freelance gig and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel. I was really, really lucky to be to be put in a position to say "F it" and give up the city, the career path and the accompanying "look" that I had come to resent. I packed my entire life, including my trusty straightening iron, into a 50-pound suitcase and boarded a flight to Malaysia without a return ticket. During my first month away, I visited three countries, ate as much street food as I could get my hands on, walked in a Hindu “Thai Pussaum” festival, accidentally shared my bedroom with a monkey and multiple geckos, and spent a weekend living on a commune in India.

The one thing I didn’t do? Straighten my hair.

For the first time in my entire adult life, I didn’t care about how “messy" I thought my hair looked. I had better things to do than spend an hour every morning trying to tame my curls…especially because they didn’t stand a chance against the Southeast Asian humidity. The sleek look I’d always favored slowly gave way to a more natural one, and I had never felt better in my own skin (or in this case, hair).

Since every ounce is precious when you’re living out of a suitcase, after three weeks of living the curly-haired life, my straightening iron went straight into the garbage. There was part of me that immediately wanted to jump into the dumpster after it, just in case I changed my mind, but ultimately, it was freeing as hell.

That was eight months ago, and I haven’t touched a straightening iron since. In addition to the obvious benefits of eliminating daily heat damage (yes, my hair is healthier than ever, even though I can’t remember the last time I got it cut), trashing my straightener has given me the opportunity to become more comfortable with my curls. That’s not to say there haven’t been moments of frizz-induced panic — like when I interviewed for a job or go to a black tie wedding — but I'm slowly getting more used to being my natural, beautiful self.

Now, instead of waking up two hours before I have to be anywhere, I give myself 15 minutes and a few spritzes of Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray and call it a day. Plus, I'm using all of my bonus free time to learn Spanish.
Pelo rizado, #FTW.


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