Ever since I was a child, I would always see most people around me aspire to have sleek straight hair. Living in Singapore, where the majority population is Chinese or East Asian, fine, shiny, straight hair is the most common hairstyle. Every trip to the salon ended with the hairstylists asking if I wanted to rebond my hair. One time, one hairstylist even said my hair, if cut too short, would make me look like a “lion” because of how ‘frizzy’ it is.
What I didn’t know at the time was that every one of those trips to the salon was done wrong. The hair stylists cut my hair the way they cut straight hair. They would comb it through with a fine comb to the point that every single hair strand parted making it look ridiculously frizzy. At the end of the wash, cut, and treatment, they would blowdry my hair to make it straight and they would always say “ah, very nice one now!”
You see, by then, I learnt that to get compliments on hair, or make the professionals happy, I had to have straight hair. I learnt that my natural curly hair was an inconvenience, or looked at as messy and unappealing. That it needed to be tamed.
It also didn’t help that a lot of the at-home hair treatments we did weren’t suited for curly hair. They were great for hair health in general, but not helpful for emphasising those curls. A huge reason for this was that my parents and people around us were generally uneducated on curly hair care. They were victims and eventually perpetrators of the same dominant bias against curly hair. In the case of my family, they weren’t even aware that they had this inherent bias in them, it was ingrained into their upbringing. They continued the cycle of applying coconut oil to hair and tying it into super tight braids. I never felt comfortable letting my hair down because it was always called messy and we had to tie it up.
It wasn’t until I went to university in Canada, where I started to see more people around me with curly hair. The majority in my circle became people of different textured hairs, different types of curls, and different thicknesses of hair. I started to watch more videos and talk to people about their hair care. What I found out changed everything for me.
I found out that the bias against curly hair didn’t start and stop in Asia, it was everywhere. My story was shared by every curly-haired person I met. The beauty standards in most places of the world still push for straight hair, be it blond or black.
I started watching videos of different hair care specialists like Brad Mondo and Manes by Mell to gain more knowledge about hair types and what needs to be done to take care of them. I found out that curly hair tends to be much drier, naturally, than straight hair, and that it requires a lot of hydration. The coconut oil regiment growing up definitely helped that! Applying coconut oil to your hair is a phenomenal way to hydrate and protect your hair.
I also found out that very tight hair styles are damaging because they can break your hair follicles. So all the good that the oil regiment did was ultimately not so fruitful. I learnt that a lot of drug store shampoos are heavily drying and strip your hair of all its moisture, and that a lot of them are designed to suit straight hair. I found brands like Shea Moisture and Cantu that are made for curly and textured hair and have religiously used their products on my hair ever since.
TikTok over the last few years has been an enormous learning platform for me as well. I saw regular people share their struggles with curly hair and what they do now to take care of it. I discovered that leave-in treatments after a wash are critical for curly hair. Layering leave-in treatments is essential to protect curly hair from daily wear and tear, and to hold those curls. I found out how to scrunch! To not sleep with my hair loose too often to avoid friction and breakage. And to apply hair masks before a wash to hydrate and repair!
My discoveries on hair care still continues. There is still so much more left to learn, and so much for our society as a whole to embrace. The hair I used to hate because of how it made me feel in comparison to everyone around me and everything I saw online, is now hair that I show off with pride. Now, my friends compliment my curls instead. My hair, in its natural glory, endured a long journey of finding love and care. Anything that is nurtured and grown with love will flourish, more so than anything that is shamed into being.