Cultural Beliefs Can Cause Damage to Beautiful, Bouncy Curls

Myriam Bonilla Seeks to Revive Her Natural Hair After Years of Damage

By: Michael A. Viveros

Bonilla spends $120 a month on hair products to maintain a healthy head. Credit: Myriam Bonilla

Myriam Bonilla had her hair straightened for 5 hours every other week for 12 years, until she finally chose to embrace her natural self. 

“All her life my mother straightened her hair, so she raised me the same,” said Bonilla. “She’d been taught that curls were messy and unprofessional.” Many Hispanic women were expected to straighten their hair to fit western standards.” 

“Pelo Malo” has historically been a phrase used in the Latino community to condemn curly and kinky hair, as written in an article from Refinery29. They are taught to “fix” their undesirable hair. 

For Bonilla, she never felt that she had been forced to straighten her hair. However, she never opposed her mother’s hair preference because most of her classmates had straight hair. She grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, so she believed beauty required straight hair. 

Bonilla doesn’t believe her mother disliked her natural hair. Instead, she believes her mother instilled the plan to straighten her hair in hopes she wouldn’t get discriminated against in school or job interviews. 

Her mother’s concerns weren’t unreasonable. In fact, as stated by The New York Times, it took until this year for a law to pass in New York City that prevented jobs to use one’s hair as a reason not to hire someone. For years, manu qualified job applicants were denied jobs due to their hair.

In high school, Bonilla became exposed to more diversity. There were women of color, many more girls that looked like her. Their hair caught her attention the most. 

Although there were still girls who would straighten their hair as she did, she noticed that more girls would wear their hair natural. Despite her immediate interest in the natural look, it took Bonilla until senior year to finally make the transition. 

“As a senior, I became friends with so many girls who rocked their natural hair and I knew I needed to join the natural wave,” said Bonilla. “I didn’t care if I stood out anymore, I wanted to love my hair the way it’s meant to be.” 

The transitions back to curly hair did not come easily. After 12 years of straightening her hair, she noticed how dry and damaged it became. She needed to cut her hair short and start all over. 

The process to revive healthy curls required a long process for Bonilla. It took her about a year to see a resemblance of her healthy natural hair. 

Bonilla is Colombian, from her father’s side, and Venezuelan, from her mother’s side. Credit: Myriam Bonilla

The daily grind to get her curls back paid off for her because after all of it, she felt her confidence had doubled. She no longer felt to have hidden her true self, which made her feel powerful.

After her curls returned, she did come across some of the negatives that come with embracing her locks. Admittedly, she felt at times that people wouldn’t take her as serious as they would when she had straight hair. 

It frustrated her that people could think that what she had on her head represented how she would work and behave. 

The conflict that Bonilla encountered over her hair did not involve strangers, but instead her own family. Members in her family would often tell her that they preferred how she looked with straight hair. Despite the criticism, she did not let it discourage her. 

“I feel like I would get complimented more before because it is easier to stereotype people with curly hair,” Bonilla said. “I couldn’t care less at the end of the day, my hair makes me who I am.”


Categories: Opinion

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