Pelo Suelto: An Ode to Latino hair

I like other Latinas have inherited very thick hair. It comes with its own challenges and advantages. The other side kick of thick hair is that I also have A LOT of hair. Not just on my head, but my arms, legs, my lady side burns, and yes even a mustache. Growing up I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair. I didn’t get my first real hair cut until I was 15.

But my battle with my hair started before that first haircut. It started years earlier in middle school.

When I was younger my sister and I were part of a Mexican folkloric dance group. For most performances we had to wear our hair up in ballerina buns. The ONLY way you could get all my hair into a bun was if it was wet and you combed it back so tight that the temples of my head started to hurt (and mind you I didn’t have to use a sock bun to hold it in place, we used just my hair, there was THAT much of it).

My favorite part of the ballerina bun ordeal though was letting the bun out. The relief I had as I let down my hair and ran my fingers through the stiff hair sprayed roots as I shook it out of its cage brought chills down my spine at how great it felt. Not only that, but my hair looked GREAT. It wasn’t frizzy, it was soft, wavy and kind of looked like I intentionally styled it that way. Sometimes I would keep my hair in the bun long after the performance had finished because I finally had an actual hair style (other than just loose) and I thought I looked kind of elegant. We were doing ballerina buns before they were cool.

So I was aware I had a lot of hair, but it didn’t stop with the hair on my head. At some point I decided it would be a good idea to shave my arms. And my side burns. And the mustache that was growing under my nose. I think I vaguely remember going so far as even snipping the hair from my nostrils. Looking back at pictures from middle school (there’s not many) the hair probably wasn’t that noticeable. I did have significantly more hair than my fair/thin haired peers (and even some boys who hadn’t hit puberty yet) but I was left alone to my own insecurities. The arm hair I had shaved came with the disguise that it was so I could be a faster swimmer (it wasn’t my hair that was making me slow) but thankfully it grew back fast enough and I never put a blade near my precious arm hair again.


But the sideburns came back with a vengeance. I’m glad there aren’t any pictures of me from 7th grade. I had gone from my thick long lady side burns to short manly side burns. The only thing I could do in the meanwhile that they growed back was to wear my hair down and cover my ears. I thanked my mom secretly for her no haircuts rule.

I never shaved the side of my face again. But my insecurity with my lady side burns didn’t stop. I let them grow out but looked at tweezing, hair dissolving creams, waxing, threading and finally baby oil to tuck them away over the years. Looking back it now I wish someone would have just told me to leave them alone that I looked fine. But I was kind of obsessed with the hairless pixie cut models and actresses and even classmates I saw everywhere. My extra hair isn’t just baby hair. If you think Jennifer Lopez slicking her hair back with baby oil, No that’s not me. Mine is more of the unruly kind of wild hair of ….well it’s better if I just show you.


Here is Jennifer Lopez all sleeked back and stunning

78th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
HOLLYWOOD – MARCH 05: Singers Marc Anthony and singer/actress Jennifer Lopez arrive to the 78th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre on March 5, 2006 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

And here’s what I look like all sleeked back


And not sleeked back


After I turned 15 I was finally able to cut my hair. I guess I was allowed to make my own decisions about my body at that point. So I chopped off 12 inches, donated it to locks and love and was excited to enter a new school year able to do all kinds of different hair styles. Of course I didn’t do anything with my hair because we didn’t own a hair dryer and most days my hair was just a frizzy mess. High school was a huge awkward continuation stage of middle school.

At some point after frustrated attempts to tame the frizz I also realized trying to get rid of extra hair was of no use. My hair grew back too fast. If I shave my legs in the morning, I’m probably going to have to shave them again at night if I’m going to be baring skin. The same is true of hair elsewhere. It’s why my hair grows back so fast after going short. If I was going to try to maintain a “hairless” or at least less hair beauty routine it was going to take a lot of time.

Time has been instrumental in getting over my insecurities. I don’t have time to labor over every little thing in making me look “appealing”.

So over the years I’ve grown to embrace my thick hair. It’s part of my identity. It’s part of Karina being Karina, not Karina being (insert some pedestal ideal of beauty). Getting over my insecurities about my extra hair allows me to focus my time instead on becoming a better person. More time reading, more time reflecting, more time helping.

And really thick hair is amazing. It’s thick and textured and complex like our identities and our cultures. Keep rocking.

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