When I was a kid, I hated my curls. In the Philippines, people with curly hair are usually teased and bullied, which is why most girls aim for long, straight, shampoo-commercial hair. I wanted that, too. I brushed my hair 100 times a night thinking that if I brushed it enough, it would become straight and beautiful. I would go to school with my hair always up in a bun or ponytail to hide the frizzy mess. I hardly let my hair down.
I grew up not having any curly-haired Filipina celebrities to look up to. The only time I’d see someone with curly hair was when she played the laughing stock, the comedian, or the ugly duckling waiting for her magical makeover into the straight-haired pretty girl. Being curly was always the “before” and never the “after.”
When I was 15, I begged my mother to take me to a hair straightening parlor so that I could finally have my “after.” They gave me a shoulder-length cut and applied chemicals to my mane. I emerged with unnaturally straight hair. I’ll never forget when I went to school with my newly straightened hair. The entire classroom erupted into laughter. I earned nicknames such as walis (broom), unat (straightened out), and Cleopatra. I was mortified.
I had my hair straightened on and off throughout high school. Come college, it evolved into the doubly expensive and equally damaging process of rebonding. It looked great, but only on the first two months. By the third month, the curly roots would lift like a weird crown, while the rebonded part dangled below. The more I rebonded my hair, the more damaged it got.
After college, I was discovered by a modeling agency. I remember attending so many VTRs and auditions, but couldn’t land any projects. I would blend in with the sea of long, straight-haired models, many of whom were slimmer, prettier, and more confident.
By 2005, I got so tired of rebonding and trying to fit in, so I decided, “I’m going to grow out my natural curls.” I looked at curly-haired Hollywood celebs and wondered how they did it. Back then, I had yet to enter a local beauty salon where they didn’t cringe at the sight of my hair and immediately suggested straightening. Nobody knew what to do with my curls—and neither did I! But I was determined to make it work.
Months into growing out my natural curls, I became the Asstistant Fashion and Beauty Editor of OK! Magazine under Summit Media. The editors of Cosmopolitan and Preview heard about my hair dilemma and introduced me to celebrity hairstylists Jude Hipolito and Rose Velasco.
It was so refreshing to meet a hairstylist who didn’t wince at the sight of my hair. They were the first people who told me, “Work with what you have. Embrace your curls.” Those words empowered me.
They chopped off the bottom rebonded part of my hair, gave me my very first curl-friendly cut and color, and taught me how to properly style my curls. I looked at the mirror and said, “Those are my natural curls? Wow!” Who would have thought that all I needed to do was stop brushing it and learn the different methods of styling curls? I wish someone taught me these techniques when I was a kid.
After a long hiatus, I returned to modeling—this time with all my curly glory. I finally landed my first big TV commercial—and then another, and another, and another. With rebonded hair, casters would just glaze over me in audition lineups. But when I started flaunting my curls, I became memorable. Directors and casters started asking for me.
Soon I became one of the most active curly-haired talents in the local modeling industry, and as I juggled that with my career in lifestyle journalism, I earned the moniker, “curl ambassador.”
I realized that the thing I used to loathe, the thing I was bullied for as a child is actually what makes me stand out from the crowd. My curls are beautiful and I love them!
In a society dominated by straight-haired celebrities and hair-straightening products, I’m happy to see more Filipinas embracing their natural curls. This section of my blog is dedicated to the articles and projects that help me spread #CurlPower. Scroll down for more!