To look extra fly for her cousin's wedding, Mariel Concepcion decided to put a little oomph in her hairdo. The gorgeous, 28-year-old associate editor of Dominican descent normally wears it naturally curly with tight ringlets, but she decided to kick it up a notch and put a hot curling iron to it to further define the look. "I thought, 'I look fabulous,'" she says, "but as soon as I walked in, the first thing one of my cousins told me was that he had a bottle of gel in his car to lend me if i needed it!"
Over the years, Mariel has had to get used to comments from her family like pajonua or monua (someone with rowdy or unmanageable hair). Meanwhile, her identical twin sister Maziel, a school teacher in New York who has exactly the same hair texture, wears her hair bone straight. The way they are perceived by society, family, friends and the opposite sex is dramatically different. "I've had plenty of men—mostly black and Latino—ask me why I don't make my hair straight like my sister's cause they think it looks better," says Mariel.
Is this phenomenon unique to just the Concepcion twins, or is the preference for straight hair prevalent in society as a whole? According to recent articles in the New York Observer and a segment on "Good Morning America," the texture of your hair can mean the difference in attracting a guy, landing a job or even appearing beautiful to children.
"Unfortunately, I think society does consider straight hair to look more professional or appropriate, but that has to change!" says Marian Barragan, a 32-year-old photo editor who is half-Cuban and half-Ecuadorian. "If my hair is curly or dreaded or whatever, I hope that my professional attitude speaks for itself." Marian refuses to straighten her thick and wavy hair, choosing instead to flaunt the texture she was born with.
"If having your hair straight makes you feel confident and sexy, you will give off that vibe and people will pick up on it," says Marian. "It's confidence men are paying attention to, not your hair texture!"
But 29-year-old publicist Gina Torres isn't willing to take any chances. Every week, she goes through an elaborate process to transform her tight curls into silken tresses. "I usually go to the salon—Dominican ones are the best because they really understand coarse hair—and get a wash and set. Then they put my hair in large curlers and sit me under the dryer for about 45 minutes," says Gina, who is Puerto Rican. "After I come out of the dryer, they blowdry with a large round brush. I upkeep it during the week by wrapping it with bobby pins."
And for Gina, the advantages of having her hair straightened are many: she gets more attention from guys, the maintenance is as easy as taking down the bobby pins and running out the door, and most of all, she says, "Wearing my hair straight gives me a more polished look, and in turn, that gives me confidence to do my job." When she does wear her hair in its natural state to industry events, nobody recognizes her.
Laura Alcantar, on the other hand, believes that one's hair texture is a glimpse into their personality. "People with curly hair tend to be bouncier, sweeter, outgoing, and personable," says the 29-year-old loan officer of Mexican descent. Alcantar usually wears her half-curly, half-wavy shoulder length hair in an updo for work. "Females who straighten their hair seem more serious. And it's funny because I tend to get more attention from guys when I wear it curly." Although she does admit that she's straightened her hair for a job interview.
While curly hair has its diehard fans, like Laura and Marian, the message from society is clear: straight hair is the preferred texture. So why does Mariel insist on embracing her curls? In addition to being easier for her to maintain and a better fit for her face shape, she sees her identity in her hair. "I think at one point it freed me from the constant twin comparison thing. My curls gave me my own personality." And after some thought she adds, "I also think a lot of Dominicans forget they have African in them, not just Spanish--for me, the curly hair is an important part of my culture and a symbol of our struggles." And that's something no flat iron could ever erase.