Emily Diaz is a senior in high school, living in New York City. She has a passion for writing and in this essay, she explores her Latinx identity and how she came to love her natural hair. Thanks for your submission, Emily!
I used to have a twisted perception of what beauty was. I thought that if I had straight hair I would feel beautiful. I thought that if I burned my roots down enough times with a flat iron I would somehow burn down the roots of my past, but that was not the case. Identity has always been something I’ve struggled with. I knew I was Dominican and had naturally curly frizzy hair, but I did not grow up with people that flaunted their natural Caribbean curls. Many of my relatives straightened their hair, so growing up, all I did was try to fit that mold. I saw girls on TV coming out of the shower with slick, blonde locks. Then, as I got older, I began to see the idolization of straightened hair in real life scenarios that ranged from encounters on the street to subtle commentaries from classmates at school. I never grew up understanding the cultural value of my curls, and therefore, it pains me to say I never grew up appreciating what I was blessed with. I recall at merely nine years old coming back from the park and realizing that one of my straightened strands of hair had frizzed up because of the rain. I then remember coming into my room and thoughtlessly cutting that piece off with no hesitation. I was so unaccepting of my natural beauty that even the slightest sign of it had to be cut off. When I applied to my school, Cristo Rey, I finally understood what I had been doing to a part of myself. I had been slowly deteriorating my Hispanic roots to fit in with what I thought were correct societal norms. It was only until I actually saw young women embracing their frizzy hair that I realized how I had been hiding something I should have held dear. At first, I even felt jealous of the confidence these other girls flaunted as they walked down the class halls, exuberantly tossing their heaps of healthy, curly hair. I was jealous because I realized I was foolish to have damaged my hair and my sense of pride for my Dominican heritage. I was finally through with destroying my hair, and at the end of sophomore year, I decided I would do something truly terrifying and unimaginable in the eyes of my former nine-year-old self. I would come into school without my security blanket and instead with my own set of natural curls. Looking back, being afraid of such a thing was ridiculous because it was not anything people at my school had not seen, but at the same time, it was something I never imagined myself doing. It is safe to say that it was the best personal choice I had ever made. Nothing felt more freeing and exhilarating than realizing how to be more authentically me. The gradual experience of learning how to embrace my natural hair was a challenge sixteen years in the making, but it was worth every double take in the mirror and google search about how to maintain natural curls because it was a journey that allowed me to redefine beauty in my own standards and reclaim my identity as a proud Latin women.