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Throwing away the flat iron and embracing my natural curls

By Alejandra Jimenez

I haven't straightened my hair in three months. To some, this notion may seem trivial. They might say, "you have curly hair, so why would you straighten it?", but the uncovered truth of applying heat to your hair rarely has to do with the hair itself.

Growing up in Fort Lauderdale and attending a private, Christian high school, the environment was very homogeneous. Tall, white, skinny girls with straight hair roamed the halls endlessly. Unaware of their place in the hierarchy of beauty standards, I strolled alongside these girls with a heavy heart.

There were obvious differences between me and them; the first is my name - Alejandra - which contains nine letters, four syllables, and is explicitly ethnic. For most of my life, I have desperately wished for a simpler name, but knew it was out of my control.

Following this was my appearance, a factor I could control. My darker skin was unchangeable, but my hair could be manipulated. As a result, I bought a straightening iron, woke up at six every morning, and left my house without my curls.

However, this decision was not entirely cognisant. The urge to assimilate into the "normal" was sly and sneaky. The stereotypically 'pretty girls' all looked the same, so why wouldn't I try to look like them? It seemed effortless and like a no-brainer.

Looking back, I remember feeling dirty and disheveled with my natural hair in high school. Basking in the Florida humidity, my hair would transform into frizz and be curly by the end of the school day. I loathed this part of the afternoon as the curls seeped through. I would rush home, shower, and wait until my hair was dry enough to spend an hour forcing it into submission once again. The act of straightening it made me feel neat, polished, and feminine.

Femininity played a leading role in the struggle with my natural hair. I felt altogether less womanly when my hair was not straight. I feared my desirability was nonexistent if I allowed my hair to take its natural form. I was embarrassed when sweat made my hair smell burnt. I despised the hair bumps that appeared several hours after straightening them. I hated the oiliness that arose from applying too much heat to my hair, so I wore headbands every few days.

In an attempt to lessen my discomfort, I washed my hair almost every day, hoping that it would appear fresh, new. The concept of my hair being painless and easy was important to me, as I did not want to appear outside of my created narrative.

Last semester, I shifted my mindset entirely. At the time, I was going through personal matters that took priority, so my reintroduction into curly hair came as a sort of surprise. I began contemplating my self-image by starting to wear androgynous clothes. Quickly, I realized I had never felt more womanly than when I was not wearing stereotypically feminine clothes. So, I ventured into wearing my hair naturally. After getting a "curly hair haircut," I felt the strength in its volume and form.

I felt free from the bonds of applying heat to my hair. There was no more scheduling when to shower and timing how long it would take to dry. There was no more burning my fingers or shoulders on the iron. Instead, I found my confidence.

One of my friends said to me, "This is the most 'you' I've ever seen." I think about this statement almost every day - not because other people need to validate your beauty -but because it was utterly true. I finally thought I looked beautiful.

With the proper treatment and care, my curls have not only been thriving, but most of all, they're free. They are not free merely from the heat, but from the internal desire to be whiter.


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