Dominican Hair

Nedra Sandiford Dominican Hair Accompanying Photo (twitter,facebook)

We are constantly being confronted with images of how things are and how things should be. Worldwide, the prevailing image of beauty is no doubt becoming more inclusive. However, it continues to discreetly assert certain traits as more preferable, promoting pale skin and long, straight hair as the definition of beauty. Because of the dominance and prevalence of these images, some women go lengths just to achieve this look, even if it means disguising their roots.

In the AfroLatina community, this prevailing image of what beauty should be presents a paradox. Some AfroLatinas are proud of their smooth dark skin, curves, and lips; yet others are burdened by their perceived “pelo malo,” that is, the awfulness of the kinks and/or curls of their hair. Creativity and a bit of technology has provided various ways for women with curlier or kinkier hair to straighten it. One of the most popular ways amongst AfroLatinas involves an entire afternoon, telenovelas, smatterings of Spanish, and a lot of smoke. This process occurs in the hundreds of Dominican hair salons found throughout New York City*, and it is one that says a lot about what women are willing to go through to disguise their roots.

Image Courtesy of Getty Images, Margo Silver

Image Courtesy of Getty Images, Margo Silver

Most women stick with their usual Dominican hairstylist, but if openings are not available, the same services are easily found at the salon next door. The appointment begins with a routine shampoo and deep conditioning treatment, which is then followed by rollers placed in the client’s hair for an hour under the dryer. Once this is completed, the heart of the Dominican straightening process begins. The hair stylist will spend approximately 30-40 minutes performing a technique that simultaneously combines hair brushing and blow drying together, resulting in a silky-straight blow out.

The problem with this Dominican straightening process is the meaning behind it: having kinky or tightly curly hair is a problem and it must be corrected.  It is a process that shuns the African heritage of AfroLatina women. Often, AfroLatinas will get looks of disdain from stylists, or have other Spanish-speaking patrons speak about their “bad hair,” and even be offered a chemical relaxer. This intimate process of hair straightening is the overt shaming of tightly curly and kinky hair. No one individual is to blame for this sentiment and it is a tradition that has not only crossed borders to settle in NYC and other large metro areas, but has also been passed down from generation to generation. However as each year passes, more and more AfroLatinas are accepting their image, reaffirming their beauty and rejecting the notions that the more visible parts of their African heritage make them any less beautiful. They are redefining both what beauty is and what beauty should be, it includes Latina women of all heritage, even if mainstream society has not yet caught up to the idea.

By Nedra Sandiford, MA International Affairs Candidate


*The author can only speak on her experiences in New York City

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  1. Sarah M

     /  September 9, 2014

    The degree to which Western/American conceptions of beauty have been transcribed onto other cultures can be really shocking, particularly when they are applied to cultures where women do not match the ideals of ‘pale skin and long, straight hair’ that Nedra pointed out. My roommate freshman year was Filipina and that was the first time that I had heard about skin whitening creams and soaps. My own heritage is Egyptian. Egypt is a country filled with “women of curl.” We have beautiful, thick curly hair… that everyone spends hours straightening in salons! Every time I go back to visit I’m shocked to find that I can count on one hand the women who leave their hair curly (often even the ones wearing hijab are still straightening their hair – don’t ask me why). I don’t think it’s wrong to straighten your hair. Hey, having perfectly un-frizzy hair that you can brush is kind of great, I get it. But I also think it’s really important for women to be able to embrace their natural hair as beautiful and to see other women and icons doing the same. It’s important for self-value and to teach women that they don’t have to be slaves to an image, spending tons of time and money each week to maintain a conception of beauty that’s not their own.


  2. Korbin Miles

     /  September 9, 2014

    I am so passionate about this topic. This may sound like more of a rant but I want for all people of color with textured hair reading this post to understand “OUR HAIR IS NOT MEANT TO BE STRAIGHT…..EVER” It looks so unnatural. My apartment building sits above a salon and I get to see a room full of smoke every time I leave my apt. People are paying money to sit and have their scalps torched regardless of the weather in attempt to hide from who they really are. Its heartbreaking to see because not matter how you may want to perceive your beauty regime you are also sending a message that you (in you natural form) is not good enough. My sister went natural about 3 years ago and seeing her journey has been beautiful, there is a liberation that has occurred. It has not just been about accepting herself as who she is but it has also been a spiritual journey. She is confident and secure in who she is, she loves everything about herself and is sharing that with the world. Nothing makes me happier then seeing women of color embracing themselves in their purist form.
    -Love yourself-


  3. Melissa B

     /  September 22, 2014

    This post really spoke to me as an AfroLatina. I am Dominican and I think my first chemical relaxer was at the age of 8. I grew up believing that I had “bad hair” and as a result wishing that I had “good hair”. As if such things actually exist. I really do not remember the moment that I decided that I was done paying close to $100 every two months to “relax” my hair or when I stopped buying into the perception of beauty I was taught, but it was the best decision I have ever made. It hasn’t been easy especially since some people in my immediate family have made discouraging comments about my natural hair, but I simply tell them that I do not define beauty by their standards. I think my natural hair and all natural hair is beautiful and as much time as it takes for me to manage it sometimes, I am loving every part of my hair journey. I have friends who have stopped relaxing their hair, but they continue to get it blow dried every week because they can’t imagine their hair not being straight. I don’t believe in pushing my hair opinions or beliefs on anyone, but when they ask how I manage my hair without straightening or heat I am happy to tell them. I look forward to the day when people I don’t even know stop feeling at liberty to make comments on my hair as if it is any of their concern though. A girl can dream. Thank you for this post!


  4. tiffany kipps

     /  October 7, 2014

    For 15 years I have undergone the dreadful task of putting a realizer in my hair, or spending 3-4 hours in a Domican hair salon trying to straining out my “new growth”. I can say this process always had me on edge for 2 reasons: it was very painful and I aways had a fear that my hair was going to fall out.  For most of my life I believe that going through this process would make me look prettier.  At the age of seven I received my frist perm, because I wanted the long, soft, straight, luxyrious hair. In the black community, stright hair is seen as something is professional or classy, while kinky hair is associated with wildness and rebellion. I can recall in high school teachers telling young boys to cut their hair it because untamed hair made them look like criminals. This kind of stigma fuels the issues surrounding afro hair, Rhonda lee being a great example. Having these kinds of stigmas are one of the reasons why Dominican hair salons exsited today, the other reason being that predominantly white salons don’t employ hair stylist that know how to work with afro hair.  


    I can appreciate the Dominican Hair salon for two reasons. Thought Dominican hair salons get a bad rep for straighting afro texture hair, these salon still employ beauticians that have extensive knowledge of styling all types of hair. Second, the method for straighting hair is a better alternative to enduring the painful process of a perm.

    I think the problem people have with the Dominican hair salon,  is not with the actual salon, but with the stereotypes surrounding afro hair (good hair, bad hair, sleek hair, and wild hair). Until we move beyond these stereotypes, some people will always have an issues with afro hair.


  5. Liz T

     /  October 8, 2014

    It’s always surprising to me how some people don’t realize what hair and hair styling means for self identity and the cultural ideas of what it means to be beautiful. So when it is ingrained in young girls’ minds that in order to look beautiful your hair must look straight, or be a different color, or tamed, it really is saying, how you are born is not okay and needs to be adjusted.

    With that said, it’s great to see more and more women women go natural these days. And eventually I hope to see the day that the mainstream catches up and stops telling ladies what to do with their hair.


  6. Orlando

     /  October 8, 2014

    Before I did research on this topic, I did not realize how big this subject was. Growing up in a Dominican household I would always hear how much hair was important to your physical attributes. I guess being a male, I did not really know how deep it actually went. Growing up as a male in a Dominican household I was always taught to keep a nice clean cut. I even learned how to cut and manage my own hair. Not until I was a teenager and decided to actually grow my hair out I realized the stigma behind straightening hair. My hair when its grown out is very curly/wavy but if I did not have my hair braided my aunts (who all have salons) would love to straighten my hair and hated it when it was out naturally curly.

    I never really put the two together, I guess I never really thought about it until these recent years of what they were doing and why they were doing it. My girlfriend now who is also Dominican does not go more than two weeks without going to the salon and straightening her hair, After my research I asked her why does she only get her hair straightened and not in any other style or curled, and before she could even answer,, her sister who is only 8 years said, “because she is the prettiest that way”… That statement from her showed me how this brainwashing of what “pretty” is, is still being passed on from generation to generation and how powerful of a message this straight hair is sending. I asked her sister who has a head full of big beautiful “typical” Dominican curls does she think she’s pretty because her hair isn’t straight and she replied saying, “yeah im pretty, but I am beautiful with straight hair”.

    Its just amazing and a bit degrading at the same time how this concept still lives on after so many decades.

    (By the way, I told her she was beautiful with her big beautiful natural curls)



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