In a country like the Philippines, it's not new that we’ve been thinking of the Western criteria for what beauty is and to be beautiful one needs to be fair-skinned and of course it has to be straight hair.
The Filipinos’ contempt towards curly hair can be linked to their feelings towards local indigenous peoples, born of colonial-era prejudices engraved within our culture. Even the shampoo ads in the Philippines are always portrayed to have straight hair, the people who are considered beautiful.
Consider why that individual is attractive. Is it because of their shining white teeth? Their thick, lustrous hair? Their white skin? The fact that their features are in line with Western beauty standards?
Beauty routines and health or grooming routines share a lot of similarities. People brush their teeth to avoid cavities, but many kinds of toothpaste also include whitening agents. Some just want to moisturize their skin but soaps do also have whitening ingredients. And more importantly, when people just want to wash their hair, it has the label of “for silky straight hair”.
How do we turn our back against what’s commercially available? We have no choice but to buy those products which is a clear example of conforming with beauty constructs.
My personal experience
I admit I was also a victim of discrimination several years ago. When I was a child I also got teased and bullied when I didn’t tie my hair up. My classmates would tell me that I look like a hag. Discrimination can happen in schools most of the time. It’s on kids who tease other kids because of their hair type.
“Comb your hair. Tidy it up.” A teacher also gave me a comb for me to look neat.
I got insecure and I was very conscious of how would my hair look like I went to school wearing a bun or ponytail and applied a lot of hair gel to manage my curls. I had that for several years. I think one of the contributions to discrimination is also the lack of media portrayals. Back then, even in the movies or TV shows that I watched, I rarely saw curly-haired heroines. Because most of my favorite characters had straight hair, as a kid I also began to think that straight equaled beauty and power.
Later when I was in Senior High School, my aunt offered to straighten my hair. My long hair was chopped and it had 8 hours of ironing. I saw the steam from the straightening iron to my hair. It’s called a hair rebond which has been a trend in the Philippines to equate beauty. After that, I had super straight hair which is liked by people I know the most saying that it looks good on me. Sadly, after one year, my hair went back to normal, I could see my loose curls hair again. And then the cycle went on repeat.
I get exhausted from enduring the heat from hair rebonding and the strong chemicals that they put to make the hair look straight. It was the turning point where I decided to break society’s idea of what is beauty, that straight is superior.
My hair care journey
I did my research and found the Curly Girl Method (CGM) by Lorraine Massey for natural hair types. I started my CGM journey but I find it difficult to find haircare brands. When standing on grocery aisles, I seldom see a product for curly hair types. For that instance alone, we can see that marketers do not give that special importance to the curly hair type and that because of the lack of wide choices that we can choose from, we end up using hair care products not suitable for us.
Oftentimes, if there is stock available it's for a limited time only and I struggle where to buy products that suit my hair’s needs. I lost hope to find specific brands. For a newbie like me, it was difficult to start finding the right products. While in lockdown I was delighted when I discovered a local support group online when the pandemic happened. The Curly Girls Philippines Facebook group provided me with a lot of motivation to be happy with the kind of hair I have. People, there are very encouraging and it was where my self-esteem was boosted.
I saw photos of the product recommendations, step-by-step demonstrations, and they have a comprehensive CGM how-to and helpful admins. People also helped me how to figure out my curl type which is actually helpful in applying products that are made specifically for the needs of curly and are often not available in the market. I am glad that there are stores online where you can buy a lot of products for natural hair, they also help in suggesting products that customers need. As they say, curly hair doesn’t come with a manual. I am happy to hear stories and a growing number of Filipinas are embracing their natural waves and curls.
Defying public opinion
Accepting natural hair means resisting Filipino society's image of curls as undesirable, a belief absorbed often as a result of years of bullying and discrimination. My story is just one of a million untold stories about how curly girls battle for acceptance and I want to speak up and inform ladies out there that nothing is wrong with our kind of hair we just need to embrace it
Let me borrow what Lorraine Massey said, “Curls are like having a garden on top of your head and sometimes we can have different kinds of roses all in the same garden. You may find that you may also have varying curl types. Observe them and allow them to be, do not try to change them because you cannot make a pear tree into an apple tree.”
May this be a call to the mass media in TV shows, advertisers and heads of marketing brands to raise awareness about representation and also sell products that are available and inclusive for all. Filipinas are empowering themselves and fighting against society's fixed standards of what a woman should look like by embracing their natural hair texture. No one should be discriminated against just because of what the hair looks like, everyone is beautiful.
I hope that there will come a time where we can take off our ponytails away and let our hair down without worrying what others may think of it.