Concealing the curls: The societal norms behind natural hair is frying our brains

Neha Seenarine and Nicole McIsaac

Illustration by Connor Lawless

Hair is something that we often take for granted, or maybe something that some of us don’t pay much attention to.

However, for others, including us, it is a constant battle with flat irons and hair dryers as weapons to fight the everlasting war on natural hair.

Societal norms oppressed the natural hair that we were simply born with, making individuals around the world feel as if curly or wavy hair is something that is not OK. It is as if we are supposed to wake up with a fresh blow-out every morning to fit into the stereotypical definition of looking “normal.”

The pressure to have straight hair is something that doesn’t just affect our personal lives. Naturally curly or wavy hair is not often accepted in the workplace.

Black women receive less work opportunities solely based on their hair texture. Black women with natural hairstyles like tight curls, box braids or a natural afro were not recommended for job interviews compared with other types of candidates. Black women with straightened hair and white women with curly or straight hair got, according to a 2020 article published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal.

Women are encouraged to embrace their beauty and not change themselves. However, if we don’t alter our appearances, we can lose opportunities based solely on how we look. The irony here is that society tells us we are valued beyond looks, and the only thing that matters is who are on the inside. Work ethic, experience and ambition should be more significant factors in getting jobs than whether our hair has waves or curls or not.

Whether you have experience dealing with the struggles of natural hair or not, it is a topic that needs more attention.

These are our stories.


Illustration by Connor Lawless

Neha Seenarine:

The most damaging beauty standard I’ve faced is the need to have straight hair to feel pretty.

I wouldn’t be able to tell you how many hours I invested putting a flat iron against my scalp. After I’m done with the 45-minute process of using extreme sizzling heat, my spine-straight hair immediately boosts my confidence. But, what was wrong with the naturally wavy hair I already had?

There’s nothing wrong with the hair I was born with, and I admire the beauty of women with similar hair textures. However, I’m convinced an insecurity possessed me when I was 12 years old that I only look good with straight hair. I would see models in store displays with silky, straight hair, and the Western beauty standards made me feel ugly about my natural hair — well, to an extent.

I usually feel confident about my physical appearance, but I struggle to love my natural hair. Sometimes, I think it doesn’t compliment my face or the waves didn’t fit with an outfit. I have a difficult time styling my hair to wear to a five-hour shift. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my natural hair or I don’t want people to see me, I just assume my looks are enhanced with straight hair. It’s my version of an Instagram filter.

When I was growing up, most of my peers had straight hair, and I felt so out of place with my wavy hair. Their hairstyles would last all day, and I would come home from school looking like I got crushed in WWE Smackdown. I wanted to look like the girls around me and rock a ponytail without it frizzing up. In order to try to fit in, there were times I looked up YouTube tutorials on how to make my hair straight.

On the other hand, I found my peers curling their hair for different occasions. It almost felt like their natural hair wasn’t special enough for them either. However, I don’t think they were passionate enough about curly hair to get a perm. There’s nothing truly unique about straight hair, it was just the standard around me.

Although straight hair is allegedly the key to being beautiful, the flat iron is not doing me any favors. I heat mine to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and pass it through my hair once a week. To compare, that’s how hot an oven is to bake cookies. The heat can cause breakage and dullness to hair. The dryness can strip the natural moisture causing the hair’s cuticle layer to break, according to trichologist Elizabeth Cunnane Phillips.

I noticed my hair has more breakage when it’s straightened. I find hair strands all over my house floor. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to commit a robbery without leaving a trail. There are high chances of looking like Cynthia from “Rugrats” by age 30. I might be better off being bald rather than changing the way I look constantly.

Using a flat iron seems like an addiction I can’t overcome. I recently invested in a hair dryer brush, and I eagerly wait to use it after I wash my hair. I’m infatuated with the way I look with straight hair, and I don’t feel the same with any other hairstyle. I try to avoid putting heat on my hair but that can only last for so long. All of a sudden, if I have to go out to dinner, I relapse, and I’m back to passing the hot tool through my hair.

Dealing with my natural hair is an on-going battle. I hate the way I treated my hair for the last eight years. Although I prefer my hair to be straight, I know that my natural hair does not set me apart as a human being. There’s nothing wrong with my wavy hair, but maybe there is something wrong with society that constantly claims you should accept yourself.


Illustration by Connor Lawless

Nicole McIsaac:

From the minute I was born, I had tight pin curly hair — Shirley Temple hair, if you will. It was a distinguishable trait that everyone in my family always pointed out and admired.

It was never an issue for me when I was younger. Throughout my early childhood, I would let my curls hang loose while I threw myself around the monkey bars. I wore it proudly, even if I didn’t know it then.

As time went on and I began grade school, these same curls would soon become squashed by a hair iron. And by squashed, I mean fried and sizzled to a crisp.

Middle school concerts, family parties, recitals — you name it — that flat iron was my confidant, my best friend. It was out for every single “special” occasion, and, soon enough, I began to feel as if I couldn’t feel “presentable” if my hair was not done a certain way.

It was normal to me. Everyone else around me when I was growing up had pin-straight hair without lifting a finger or pressing a button. I just wanted to fit in with the rest of the girls I was constantly with.

Fast forward to high school, and this mindset did not change one bit. From setting my alarms early enough to wake up and do my hair to begging my mom to straighten the hair on the back of my head so that one strand wouldn’t show the true spiral curls that were hidden underneath, I continuously went out of my way to conceal my curls.

Even now as I write this article, guess what? My hair is blown-out straight thanks to my new profound love for the Revlon hair dryer brush.

It’s an ongoing battle that I still face as a junior in college with friends that beg me to leave it natural all the time.

Most people that I see on a day-to-day basis don’t even know about my hidden locks. They ask, “How did you get your curls to look so natural?” I often reply by telling them the secret ingredient: water.

Despite my humorous attitude toward the subject, the constant brush-off of the comments made me realize how much I take my natural hair for granted and how often I don’t appreciate the curls that I have.

It wasn’t until this year that I decided to leave my natural hair when I went out with my friends for dinner. A group of girls approached me in the bathroom, telling me how much they loved my natural hair. My smile stretched from ear to ear.

I felt confident, for the first time ever, with my curly hair for a night out. Since then, I have challenged myself to embrace my natural beauty more and more every day.

I am not where I want to be yet. I still have room to love my hair more. Trust me, I am determined to get there. It’s not easy when the same societal views for straight hair are plastered everywhere you look, whether it’s the repeated posts on social media where everyone has a fresh blow-out, the comments people make about being presentable or even just being immersed in a predominantly white institution where everyone around you has pin-straight hair.

Even as a professional in the world of journalism, I often feel that my hair has to be done a certain way if I am taking headshots or reporting in front of a camera. I rarely see reporters rocking their natural hair and I wish this was different.

It’s not an easy battle to overcome. However, it is doable.

Maybe you are reading this and find that this article actually resonates with how you feel. That’s OK. It goes to show that you aren’t alone and that this topic is not often talked about enough. It should be.