I didn’t like my curly hair.
It was in fourth grade when rebonding became a thing.
Aside from me, I had two classmates who had curly and wavy hair, and then one day, we were surprised to see their straight hair (on separate days) during the morning flag ceremony.
I was the third person in our section who had her hair rebonded.
I was ten years old.
The Rebond Era
Every year until 2019, I spent a day in the salon to have my curly hair rebonded for four to five hours.
When it was my first time, however, the process lasted around eight or nine hours—I don’t recall exactly.
My hair, growing up, started out as thick and straight.
When second grade hit, it became curly, frizzy, and rough to the touch—just like a steel wool sponge.
Before the actual rebonding, the hair specialist first uses shampoo and conditioner on your hair, followed by blow-drying it. Imagine my thick steel wool hair getting blow-dried! Even before rebonding, I always kept my hair tied up in a ponytail, but some fibers of the steel wool hair keep sticking up. I wanted to avoid the risks of being teased because of it.
My Curly Hair as a Lion’s Mane
Back to the blow-drying episode: I couldn’t see my face anymore in the mirror. My face and nose felt warm and itchy, because my hair was all over.
“Lalaki ba ‘yan? (Is that a man?)” I heard from one of the specialists.
Having low self-esteem, being painfully shy and withdrawn, and sporting wild curly hair that resembled a lion’s bushy mane—plus a chubby body to boot—I became aware of my appearance (and how much I didn’t look like most of my friends who had nice manageable hair and slimmer frames).
Two people worked on my hair, ironing and applying various products to help make it straight. My ears and scalp can still remember the heat and sting when the hot iron accidentally brushed them.
Once done, I felt thankful to the hair specialists whose arms and hands probably grew numb and tired; I was sorry too. Maybe it was like a punishment to them that I was their client.
I liked my straightened hair.
I liked myself when I had straight hair; it made me feel a little beautiful.
When I pitched this idea one afternoon before my deadline, I said to my editor and friend, “I rebonded my hair for years.”
She said, “Why did you rebond your hair? Did you hate it before?”
Her inquiry got me thinking.
It was for a practical reason. Fifth grade math isn’t exactly forgiving; I didn’t want to worry about academics alongside having to smoothen my curly hair every now and then. Having straight hair didn’t require high maintenance.
When there’s a practical reason, there’s one that’s emotional and mental.
My hair wasn’t ugly—nobody said it was.
The things I saw on TV, movies, and magazines conditioned my self-perception.
Whitening soaps, dieting, rebonding… The messages that the media we had growing up were always about changing how we naturally looked.
While I believe that there’s nothing inherently wrong in that and it’s our choice to do what we want with our hair and body, this may become a problem when we’ve made them the metrics where we measure ourselves up against.
I honestly thought that I would be prettier or likeable if I had straight hair and that I would be more confident if I were thinner. I shouldn’t base my value on things that fluctuate like weight and things that fade like outward beauty.
Why was it so hard to accept what was mine and to see myself in a positive light?
When someone said she loved my my curly hair
“Arli, I love your hair!”
This was in 2019.
My boss at work told me that line several times whenever she had the chance to see my curly hair starting to grow and my rebonded hair hanging plainly on my shoulders.
It’s amazing how one genuine remark could undo years of negative self-perception.
Because someone revealed that it had its own loveliness, that it was beautiful in the eyes of somebody else, I began to believe it too—that my natural hair was beautiful.
I stopped straightening my hair altogether in 2019—after 16 years.
This decision helped me to accept how it naturally is. I felt free when I finally cut off the last remaining rebonded hair, but of course, before I did that, I said thank you. In retrospect, I can’t believe how unkind I was when it comes to my appearance. Since cutting off my hair, I’ve had moments when I looked in the mirror and sincerely said, “I love my hair.”
And I really do.
I still have other issues to sort out like body image (that’s for another story), but I’ve started to accept, love, and appreciate what I had fully and unreservedly.
This post wasn’t about just hair, looks, and ‘beauty.’ We’re quick to give compliments to others, but when somebody finally tells us we’re lovely, we put up a shield, shake our heads, and shy away.
We feel dissatisaction towards ourselves constantly. I looked at myself negatively, and I gave sad pitiful remarks to the girl in the mirror whose face I couldn’t see because of all her hair.
I’ve let this narrative course through my life for so long; I needed a fresh start.
This is only the first step.
Accepting my hair as it is is the front door that leads to finally accepting and loving myself, thick curly frizzy hair and all.