When people meet me for the first time, the one thing they usually notice is my hair. "Your curls are so pretty," they say.
The truth is, I think they're pretty too. I'm proud of my hair. I have big, healthy, voluminous curls that I absolutely adore — but they didn't always look this way.
I was born with naturally curly hair. My dad is African-American and my mom is Filipino, so my hair popped out with the silky texture of my mother's side and the volume of my father's side. My parents always praised me for my hair — they absolutely loved it. As a child, strangers constantly commented on how beautiful it was, following up by asking what ethnicity I was.
But I wasn't a fan of my natural curls. I grew up around people of many different cultures and backgrounds, but the majority of my friends were white girls with bone-straight hair. Because of this, I saw my hair as different, rather than beautiful — just like the rest of the world did. I thought often about how badly I wanted straight hair instead of the texture I was born with.
When I was 12 years old, I decided I was done wearing my hair curly. Girls in my middle school were always talking about how simple it was using a flat iron to straighten their hair. I asked my parents to buy one for me and then my obsession began. This was before YouTube tutorials so I taught myself how to use the flat iron by literally reading the packaging. I was that determined to learn. From that day forward, I straightened my hair every single day.
For me, the process was easy. When my hair was at its longest — almost down to my butt — it would only take 30 minutes to straighten, which is about half the time I've heard it takes other curly girls to do their hair. Because I found it so easy, I felt like I couldn't leave the house unless my hair was straight. It didn't matter if I was hanging out with my friends or making a grocery store trip, I didn't feel as pretty if it wasn't straight. On hot summer days, I'd go swimming and my hair would naturally curl. Then I'd hop in the shower immediately after and wait for my hair to dry just so I could straighten it. I would even straighten my hair to go to the gym — which is objectively ridiculous. My parents allowed me the freedom to do whatever I wanted with my hair, even though they didn't agree with it.
"You're going to regret straightening it this much," they would say. "By the time you finally realize how lucky you are to have curly hair, it won't be the same."
"Yeah, right," I'd respond.
The thing is, my parents were right. While I was busy focusing on making my hair "perfect," I failed to realize what I was actually doing to my beautiful curls. Straightening your hair every single day will result in some serious damage and that's exactly what happened to me.
As a kid, my curls were bouncy, moisturized, and naturally voluminous. But after all the straightening, my once-springy coils turned loose and wavy. My ends were extremely brittle, and my hair looked dry and lackluster. On days when I was too lazy to straighten my hair, I hated how it looked. This only made me want to pick up my straightener even more.
When I graduated college, I decided that, after all this time, I wanted to occasionally wear my hair curly again. I was working in the real world and simply didn't have time to bust out the straightener every chance I got. I slowly began wearing my natural hair, once or twice a week to start. Because I didn't have much time to think about anything other than my job, I stopped feeling like I needed to wear my hair straight every day.
Then one day, I was browsing Instagram and came across the curly girl SunKissAlba. That was the day that changed my life. She was so proud of her curly hair and so willing to show it off. I became fascinated with the curly hair community. There were so many curly girls in the world just like me who loved and embraced their texture.
Why was it, I thought, that I found their hair so beautiful, but was never content with my own? I wanted to learn more about my hair. What type of curls did I have? What type of products would work for me? How could I love my hair the way these beautiful women did theirs?
I vowed to completely transition my curls back to their natural state. I no longer wanted to have damaged, unhealthy "straight" hair. I wanted lovely, luscious natural hair instead. I knew that if I could make my curls healthy again, I would now know to appreciate them. After 10 years, I traded in my obsession with my flat iron for an obsession for curly hair care. This was a life-changing moment and the start of my curly hair journey.
And I'm not alone. Over the past few years, women of all ages, races, and hair types have proudly started wearing their hair natural. Celebrities like Alicia Keys and Solange Knowles, who consistently go natural, became inspirations. Women on every social media platform were more open than ever to showing off their gorgeous natural hair. This wave influenced me more than anything to change my idea of what's beautiful. Throughout my childhood, straight hair was the ideal beauty standard. It was normal; it was safe. Now, trends are changing in the direction of natural hair and I was so damn empowered to finally embrace my curls.
When I started the transition, I was watching YouTube videos every single day of women with curly hair. Women who had damaged their hair even worse than I had and got their curls back in due time. I researched every curly hair care tip in the book and made sure to practice them on a consistent basis. Most importantly, I tucked my straightener far, far away and pretended it didn't exist.
The first couple of months were rough. Just about every time I washed my hair and saw how damaged it was, I wanted so badly to pick up my straightener — but I didn't. I stuck it out because I knew what my goal was and I knew what I had to do to get there. There were many days when I'd wear my hair in a bun because I was so ashamed of how dead my curls were.
Eventually, I began seeing progress. My curl formation started popping again, I could feel moisture being restored, and slowly but surely, my curls were coming back.
It took two years of proper hair care, as little straightening as possible, and true TLC to get my hair back to the state it's in today. I remember those transitioning days when I'd notice slight progress and thinking to myself that one day this would all be worth it. Looking back now, it really was.
My curls are now healthier, bouncier, more voluminous, and more alive than ever before. Each time I look back at my straightener days, I can't help but shake my head at the way I used to think, and then smile at how far I've come. I no longer feel the need to straighten my hair, and the truth is, I never do it anymore. I'm in love with my curls and I'm obsessed with finding new ways to take care of them. I realize now that natural hair is beautiful and that many of my straight-haired friends wish they had naturally curly hair.
Best of all, I have never felt more like myself in my entire life. I truly believe this change in my mind-set had a lot to do with stepping into adulthood and understanding that beauty is what you make it. I've decided to make my beauty natural.
I can say with the utmost confidence that my decision to rock my natural hair again was the best decision I've ever made. If you're a curly girl who's struggling with your transitioning process, discouraged about your curls, or just thinking about going natural, just know you're not alone. I was once you, and there is an entire community out there of people just like us. Remember that patience and dedication are key. But most importantly, remember that your curls are beautiful and that will never change.