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My Curly Hair Journey: South Asian Woman Rendition

The beauty of a South Asian woman is defined by the essence of her hair. 

Growing up, we were told about our traditions and culture. Part of it was the significance of having long, luscious, healthy, dark hair. The hair was symbolic to a South Asian woman and must be kept in good condition. However, short-haired, curly, frizzy hair was not the ideal.  

Every morning, I remembered watching my mother wake up 2 hours earlier than she needed to, just to straighten her hair so she could look "clean" and "maintained" before going to work. This was my awakening for wanting straight hair.

I was 13 years old when I straightened my hair for the first time. My hair wasn't any different from my mom's. To describe it, my hair was dry, frizzy, knotted, and all I ever wanted was for it to be flat and stay put. Showers were dreadful because the end result was me with poofy hair looking like a lion. I had begged my mom if I could just "look more put together" for once for my grade 8 graduation picture and had expressed my utter hate for my big, frizzy, and knotted hair. 

In contrast, the girls around me in middle school were of Caucasian descent and had distinct Eurocentric features. Their hair was seamlessly blonde, easy to handle, sleek, and pin-straight, to say, for the most part. Being a part of the Desi girl community, many of us would do absolutely anything to divert from our brownness. Having frizzy curls meant being ugly, which was reciprocated as being a "F.O.B," in other words, "fresh off the boat." 

It is estimated that the majority of South Asian women have textured, curly or wavy hair. However, it isn't talked about a lot because we've probably never seen our curls, especially with the ongoing traditional hair routine that we South Asian girls went through. It consisted of combing the hair until it's poofy, vigorously rub bottles worth of coconut oil, and having it neatly kept in braids. At least this was my routine growing up, which I had no say over my hair when I was younger. I remember the dread, every time my mother combed my hair with her fingers to get rid of all the knots, it felt as if she was yanking out my hair one by one. 

Part of this issue was the lack of knowledge, and it was no help that the media portrayed it as normal for us brown girls to only have dark, pin-straight hair. This put a blind eye on the curly hair community. As Desi girls, we were never taught how to take care of our curls, like some of the other cultures. 

I was so insecure about my frizzy hair and the baby hairs that would pop out as the day went by, and when middle school came along, I had finally discovered the hair straightener. This one-time graduation experience turned into a weekly ritual. I felt that having straight, sleek hair looked more put together and proper than my frizzy hair. Then this weekly practice turned into a daily habit and had continued on for about 3 years. Yes, you heard that right! I was frying my hair alive EVERY SINGLE DAY up until my sophomore year of high school! No day has passed that I never smelled my own hair burn alive until my ends turned crisp. 

When I was 16, I wanted to do the "big chop" and decided to finally do it, even though my mom disapproved of it, because how dare I disobey the beauty standards. Looking back, it was the best decision I have ever made for my hair, and I have no regrets about it. It was at that moment when my hairdresser saw that I had curly hair. Instead of giving me, a Priyanka Chopra inspired Bollywood style esque blowout at the end, she put in curly hair-friendly products like curl cream and hair gel. When I left the hair salon, I remember sitting in the car and could not stop staring at my hair. From top to bottom, my hair was curly. My ends weren't straight either! This was when I realized that my hair was never frizzy, to begin with, but it was always curly! But it wasn't as curly as it could've been, and that's when I realized the damage I've done.

It was at this point onwards that I decided to go on my curly hair journey. Nonstop, I would watch video after video of other girls going on their curly hair journey. It averaged about 5-15+ years for some girls to get their curls back. But I was dedicated to saying goodbye to the straightener and hello to my curls. 

This was definitely a process for me because I knew the beginning would be the worst for my hair. The start of my curly hair journey was rough because my hair was neither straight nor curly; it was the pain of frizz. But I promised myself that I would get my curls back, and for that, it wasn't going to come easy. I had to restrict myself from using heat on my hair and had set major goals like "no heat for 3 months" and rewarded myself if I kept up with my goals. 

Currently, I'm on the fourth year of my curly hair journey, and I still have a long way to go. As years have gone by, my curls have been slowly coming back to life, and I have noticed how tight and kinky my curls have started to get. I've spent many years finding what works for me and truly feel confident by my hair. It was definitely worth the hassle as I wouldn't be the person I am without my curls. It is a part of me and who I've become today because my bubbly personality shines through the bounce of my curls. Through this whole process, I learned that I am obligated to: 

Feel empowered.

Feel liberated.

And most importantly, feel beautiful. 

Suruthi is a second year student at McMaster University pursuing a major in Commerce. As a true Sagittarius, you can find her in her element, exploring the great outdoors! And if you ever cross paths with her, she'll most likely be holding a cup of coffee and catch her humming whatever song is stuck in her head.
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