Going natural: A Dominicana who loves her curls
In May of 2010, Carolina Contreras did the unthinkable. OK, maybe that sounds a bit dramatic - let's just say she made an unusual decision for a young Dominican woman. She decided, after more than a decade of relaxers, hot curlers, and hours under the dryer to put an end to the dependence on chemicals and go natural.
The decision was not an easy one. Carolina had tried on five separate occasions to patiently let her natural hair grow in.
"It's difficult for Dominican women to embrace their natural hair because we are taught to hate it. From a very young age we see it as a problem and as back luck," she laments.
Carolina charted her journey back to her natural hair in a blog. She uploaded pictures of her haircuts, showing off the way the new hair was growing in and discussed her frustration with how unfeminine she sometimes felt when she chopped the last vestiges of her relaxed hair and adopted a short, boyish cut.
Dominican women are well known for their attention to hair care; straightening one's hair into submission is a cultural norm and wearing hair curly or kinky just has not found its place in popular culture.
The void of information about natural hair available to Spanish speakers prompted Carolina to begin a new online project - Missrizos.com - a website dedicated to promoting and celebrating natural hair.
"There was a lack of 'going natural' resources for Dominicans and Latinas from around the world. Starting Missrizos.com and making it public serves also as a tool that I use for my own process of discovering all of the amazing things my hair can do and understanding that I am beautiful just the way I am," says Carolina.
Her site is a Spanish language go-to for any woman thinking of bringing her curls back. The goal is to get woman to set aside Eurocentric beauty standards and embrace their natural radiance.
"We spend thousands of dollars each year trying to be something we are not and that is very damaging to our self-image and self-esteem," states Carolina.
The transition may be difficult from relaxers to natural hair, but Carolina says the key is finding the right routine and products. The first step is to visit Lo Básico, where Carolina has translated and summarized the different categories of hair textures (from wavy to kinky) as they appear on Naturallycurly.com.
This comes in handy when deciding which products and styles are appropriate for specific hair types. The site also has created its own lexicon: the "Risoaniversario" (or "Afroaniversario, depending on your 'do), which is the day one commemorates their decision to go natural; Co-Wash means you only wash your hair using conditioner, no shampoo allowed; "La Piña" is a pre-bedtime ritual where curls are pulled into a loose pony tail on top of one's head (the antithesis of the Dominican "tube").
Other terms in Missrizos.com dictionary:
Lavar y Pa la Calle = Wash and go
No-Poo = Washing the hair with no shampoo
AG = Afro Grande or "big afro"
AP = Afro Pequeño or "small afro"
And my favorite: 3abc/4ª/4b/4c- = the different classifications of hair!
Missrizos profiles other women who sport natural styles, offering tips and style advice as well as recipes for homemade conditioning treatments. Carolina has even hosted workshops where she discusses and explores the issues of self-image and self-esteem with young women around the island.
Having lived a large part of her life in the United States, Carolina says that after relocating back to the Dominican Republic three years ago, she finds that slowly people are beginning to warm up to her style.
"In the DR things are getting much better, but people look at you like you have four heads," Carolina says.
All four of those heads will be covered in soft and natural curls, of course.
* Amy Reyes is the Assistant Editor of Miami.com, the Miami Herald's online guide to Miami nightlife, entertainment, events and restaurants. A Michigan native, she lived two years in the Dominican Republic where she found love and her second home. She lives in Miami with her husband and two children.