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Dominican Poet Elizabeth Acevedo: ‘Growing Up I Was Told Curly Hair is the Hair of Prostitutes.’

Avatar • Dec 2, 2015
Latina Magazine

Latina Magazine

Last year Elizabeth Acevedo’s spoken word piece, Hair, went viral. In it the Dominican poet artfully breaks down the oppressiveness of a beauty standard that prizes fair skin and straight hair.

In a recent interview with Latina magazine, Acevedo expounded on what she was told about textured hair growing up.

So my mom is fairer-skinned, and her hair is a little straighter than mine. I grew up seeing that image. I grew up with the blonde Barbie, like so many of us do. That impacts you. I remember washing my hair and pulling it down when it was wet, hoping it would stay straight. I was trying to replicate what I was told was beautiful: a fair-skinned, straight-haired woman. I never saw women like me depicted as beautiful, particularly in the Dominican community, where, at age five or six, you’re straightening your hair and being told it’s a sign of elegance, sophistication and being well-kept. Curly hair, I was told, is the hair of prostitutes. It was considered less than in every shape, way and form. I grew up thinking my hair was never good enough for the spaces I wanted to occupy, but then I realized I don’t want to be in those spaces. If I can’t go to the boardroom, ballroom or wedding the way my hair is, then I don’t want to be there at all. It’s been a hard lesson to learn.

Acevedo went on to say that even though she understands the problem with finding straight hair superior, she has an internal struggle with believing that her curly hair is beautiful;

I remember performing “Hair,” which is about embracing my own coils, but I was still straightening it, though of course never on the days I was performing that piece. I was in that stage where I was like, “I don’t straighten my hair as much as I used to, and I don’t think I’m prettier with my hair straightened.” But yet, I was straightening it when I’d go to events or places I’d be photographed. And I thought: There’s a reason why. I did think I was prettier with my hair straight. So I had to own up to my whole words. Writing has forced me to be a person of integrity, because once I put that out into the world, I have to live by that.

Wow. Ladies, what are your thoughts?

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Jasmine Berry
Jasmine Berry
4 years ago

She is awesome!! Just saw her perform recently!

Justice S
Justice S
4 years ago

Write to your hearts content let your words heal you and one day you will truly love your curls and never straighten them again.

RF
RF
4 years ago

I love this!!!

Dede
Dede
4 years ago

Wow

Elle
Elle
4 years ago

“If I can’t go to the boardroom, ballroom or wedding the way my hair is, then I don’t want to be there at all” A statement all of us should routinely challenge ourselves on. I twisted myself into a pretzel for decades trying to FIT while watching free-spirited White friends and colleagues find success and happiness in being ‘different’ and flouting the status quo — something my hair, face and skin do naturally. I am naturally UNacceptable, UNpresentable, UNfit for mainstream society on every continent (don’t act like your country is different). Yet naturally avant-garde and naturally made to stand out,… Read more »

Janice Bradley
Janice Bradley
4 years ago

Appreciate her honesty and transparency.

Not Playin Witchu Piggy
Not Playin Witchu Piggy
4 years ago

I find identifying with her struggle challenging, because men of other races have have found her particular texture of hair attractive and “socially acceptable in general, whereas women with more coarse textured kinkier hair have been labeled as undesirable by white beauty standards historically.(i.e women with locs, braids, afros, etc.) I’m not dismissing her very valid truths in any way, I’m just saying it gets even realer and truthier than what she describes here. I guess its easier for me to understand, relate to, and appreciate stories that echo those sentiments; written by those who have been truly punished, discriminated… Read more »

Mia
Mia
4 years ago

You’re looking at it from a Black American perspective. Some Dominicans believe that curly hair is shameful because it is further from White. In America, curly textured hair is prized for Black women because it is considered closer to white. Her struggle is no less that ours just because she has hair that YOU think is acceptable. Where she is from, that type of hair is unacceptable and considered unattractive. Don’t discount her challenges because you don’t understand.

Dana Brown
Dana Brown
4 years ago

Thank you. This is exactly how I felt when I read this.

Tymika
Tymika
4 years ago
Reply to  Dana Brown

Both of these responses let me know that neither of you have spent any time in Latin America with your eyes open. The fact that AMERICAN BLACK men festishize her hair or skin isn’t her problem. Culturally Afro-Latinas has JUST as many social implications(stares, being viewed as less sexy, jobs telling them to “fix” their hair) as it does for Americans. You’re both actually just incorrect. Since I’m guessing neither of you speak Spanish, you shouldn’t presume to understand what she has gone theouhh, since even if you heard it, you couldn’t comprehend to compare war stories. African descended people… Read more »

Dana Brown
Dana Brown
4 years ago
Reply to  Tymika

This isn’t about oppression Olympics, and thank you for assuming that Black Americans don’t know Spanish. I do, BTW. We’re saying that in the hierarchy of colorism instituted by White Supremacy, she is nowhere near the bottom–there are Afro-Latinas with kinkier hair and darker skin, and by not acknowledging their struggles, she’s contributing to the erasure of plight of darker skinned women. Sure, she faces difficulties. But I side eye anyone who tries to act like the differences between the struggles of different groups shouldn’t be acknowledged. Would you argue that White women with curly hair have it just as… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
4 years ago
Reply to  Dana Brown

How is she not acknowledging her struggles? When she says “fix my hair,” is she not referring to many women who feel they have to straighten their hair to feel beautiful? Eurocentric standards are placed upon us, and though some are “closer” than others”, does not mean they still meet those absurd standards. I agree with Tymika: this “my oppression is greater than yours” business is ridiculous.

Sarah
Sarah
4 years ago

Elizabeth identifies as Afro-Latina, don’t use shades of blackness to discount someone’s experience. Isn’t that what we accuse white people of doing? Dominicans are known for their hair straightening practices, and to defy that is a big deal. Yes, those with tighter coils and curls may see her curls as more acceptable to the mainstream US, but it’s still not desired hairstyle in her home culture. So yes, her struggle is like ours. From 3b to 4b, we shouldn’t be on this “divide to be conquered” bull.

Felina Femenina
Felina Femenina
4 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

Why is it always considered “divisive” when a black woman shares her experience and states that her experience is unique to her? Black men call black women “divisive” for saying our womanness influences our experience as black people in black communities and the world. White women call black women “divisive” for saying our blackness and womanness intertwine to create the experiences we have as women. Women of mixed heritage who are lighter skinned or have looser curl textures claim black women are being “divisive” when we state that we are treated differently by black people and the world at large for… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
4 years ago

I say that is divisive because the OP minimized Elizabeth’s perspective. “You’re lighter-skinned, your curls are looser, so why are you complaining?” Yet again, we’re playing this us vs. them game in our own community. In addition, many commentators are looking at her words through the wrong lens. Though similar to ours, Dominican culture has its own nuances to this issue that cannot be negated.

blogdiz
blogdiz
4 years ago

Interesting point

Cosita
Cosita
4 years ago

I grew up an average weight child while my cousin has always been overweight. She has a much looser curl hair while I have a tighter curl. I was a high achieving student while she stuggled academically. So in the end did anyone have an “advantage”? Both of us had our own valid inner struggles of being made to feel like we didn’t measure up. I had to constantly hear how she has the long good hair rather than kinky like mine. Her hair she wore curly and no chemicals or pressing like was done to mine. She had to… Read more »

Felina Femenina
Felina Femenina
4 years ago
Reply to  Cosita

I don’t know what you’re talking about. Your comment is like if I were to say that there must not be racism anymore because I grew up in a two-parent, middle class home, went to a good university, and am employed in a great career, while I see homeless white people of all ages. Or, like my declaring that there must be no sexism because I work in a male-dominated industry and am respected at my workplace, where I’m the only woman. All of that is true about me, so is there no racism or sexism? Just because you had… Read more »

lis
lis
4 years ago

Oh god…don’t we have enough on our plates…do we have to take on the Dominicans and their craziness too?

MARTHA
MARTHA
4 years ago
Reply to  lis

craziness? Someone expressing the same oppression that Dominicans, puerto-ricans, African Americans all experience is craziness? Grow up and smell the coffee.. it’s reality.

lis
lis
4 years ago
Reply to  MARTHA

Forget it.

kxlot79
kxlot79
4 years ago
Reply to  lis

???

eljjai
eljjai
4 years ago
Reply to  lis

how flippant of you, flippant but funny, I laughed. You sound like my grandmother, she classes problems and if she’s got no time for yours, she just got no time for yours.

lis
lis
4 years ago
Reply to  eljjai

Basically.

MARTHA
MARTHA
4 years ago

Elizabeth you are a truly powerful and inspiring Hispanic woman. Your words bring to light many issues that sadly occur amongst our own communities, not just by “the White man”. Thankfully, we have courageous people like you who aren’t afraid to be BOLD and different. Thank you for your powerful and inspiring statements! Telling us all it’s okay to be different and that beauty is subjective.

mel
mel
4 years ago

Looking at some of these comments…
Yes there are people with bigger problems and deeper issues..But as my sister would always say to me

Just because one person’s problems are worse than mine, it doesn’t mean that mine suddenly go away”.

Her story is valid and deserves to be shared. This blog has featured so many women with different experiences and life stories. From dark skinned to light skinned black women, from African to Afro Latinas.. its diverse.

sanjidude
sanjidude
4 years ago

I didn’t necessarily want straight hair when I was young, just long hair. Little did I know that relaxing it kept it from growing much past my shoulders for most of my life. Once I stopped killing it with chemicals and let it “roam free”, it FINALLY grew — and keeps growing — to where it is now — mid back after 4 years (with regular trims I do myself). I really never liked the way my hair looked straight but was guilty of being brainwashed like so many others. I’m very thankful that women of color have now embraced… Read more »

beacuz
beacuz
4 years ago

My opinion is it should not matter how one WANTS to style their hair. I do not think that straightening your hair equates with self hatred of some sort. Some people just like straight smooth hair and its OK. It’s just an option just like coloring your hair something that is not a natural hair color for your race doesn’t necessary mean anything just you felt like going blonde or wearing extensions or a weave- I think natural hair is pretty too, I am currently natural but sometimes I will flat iron just to switch it up. But I certainly… Read more »

Victor L Jaquez
Victor L Jaquez
4 years ago

You REALLY have some serious INFERIORITY COMPLEX ISSUES. Go seek HELP!

CHEAP [ ANTI-DOMINICAN ] PROPAGANDA, COMING FROM THE #AfroCentrics,
““Afro-Latina?”” WHAT A JOKE, THAT TERM DOESN’T EXIST IN A MULTICULTURAL COUNTRY. KEEP YOUR RACIST DIVISORY PROPAGANDA STATE SIDE. ““ONE-DROP-RULE”” CROWD, ANTI-EVERYTHING THAT ISN’T AFRO, STAY HOME!!

#MultiCulturalDR #MultiRacialDR #ProDiversityDR #MulattoDR

NOLA_Darling
NOLA_Darling
4 years ago

The fact that you used the #MulattoDR hashtag says a lot about how much people like you hate that “one drop” and work like hell to make sure that your children aren’t born looking like they have two drops.

Cosita
Cosita
4 years ago

LOL A man comes on a site intended to uplift women and proceeds to bashing and belittling a woman for daring to speak her mind, talk about her self esteem issues created from her OWN personal experiences. That’s really classy. You haven’t walked in her shoes. You don’t know what’s been said to her yet you uglily dismiss her opinions as “propaganda”.
#machismo #peniscentrists #malesuperioritycomplex

Carlos Augusto Diaz
Carlos Augusto Diaz
4 years ago

I grow up in the DR and never had issues with my hair or skin. I only learned about those differences when I came to the USA where somehow is so important. My father was black, my mother is white Sephardi, I married a childhood friend who is Chinese, who cares. I guess the home education this so called poet received was so poor that she had not been able to surpass, and had not accepted her as she is, the same way as the blond girl that spend 10 years telling everybody that she was black. (Or just her… Read more »

NOLA_Darling
NOLA_Darling
4 years ago

1) You’re not a woman. 2) Your mother isn’t a black/brown/tan Dominican.

Most appearance insecurities are passed down from mothers to daughters and sons. Ask any anorexic why she thinks she’s fat, and she will likely say something about her mother or another female figure who played an important role in her life when she was growing up.

Cosita
Cosita
4 years ago

Boys tend to be judged more by athleticism and girls more for the way they look. I’m not talking about any particular nationality just in general. I have never been put down, ridiculed or pressured to excell in sports the way many fathers tend with their sons. So I won’t relate to a man who wrote about his self esteem issues because he was the uncoordinated kid who sucked on the field as much as likely another man would. That is not to say every woman is going to have the same experience as this same issues this woman but… Read more »

Manuel1041
Manuel1041
4 years ago

Wow this girl has some serious identity issues. Poor soul.

lis
lis
4 years ago

What did I say about Dominicans and their craziness.

Angie
Angie
4 years ago
Reply to  lis

What about us? Like the African American culture, we are still evolving. I’m seriously hating this trend of Black women vs Dominican women. It completely defeats the purpose of embracing natural hair and understanding our roots. Hate runs deep.….don’t get caught up.

#africandiaspora

Cosita
Cosita
4 years ago

obviously you don’t get what I’m saying because I shared negative experiences not positive ones. It sounds to me like you want to say skin and hair are the only sources of discrimination. just because people may have what may be seen as advantages in one aspect. they may have other apparent or non apparent issues that society looks down on. My example was weight. I have never been overweight however I have talked to people who are or were and they tell me how harshly they are judged, made to feel inferior and treated differently because of it. My… Read more »

Felina Femenina
Felina Femenina
4 years ago
Reply to  Cosita

At first, I thought you had trouble staying on topic. Now I realize you’re deliberately deflecting, with the usual tactics, such as projection (claiming I implied lighter skin guarantees “a life of sunshine and butterflies” or some such silly strawman argument, presuming to know how I look), and personal anecdotes. I stand by the facts and statistics I posted, which demonstrate that there is bias in favor of lighter skin and looser hair textures, both within and outside of black communities.

Cosita
Cosita
4 years ago

Yes I guess a much better strategy is apply the age old “statistics say” phrase and use it to present information as trusted facts without ever bothering to cite an actual source. Great technique. Speaking of your statistics of just alone by being light gets black people facing charges off easier.. I have sat through to observe felony criminal cases for the last 15 years in state and federal courts. DUIs to capital murder death penalty. I have a very good sense of what are the major factors are for who gets stiffer penalties when it comes to black people.… Read more »

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[…] Hair/ Race: http://bglh-marketplace.com/2015/12/dominican-poet-elizabeth-acevedo-growing-up-i-was-told-curly-ha… […]

Elodie Careme
Elodie Careme
4 years ago

It is very sad how we always have to classify and hierarchize things. In other countries, she would be defined as the “aesthetic norm” with her loose curl pattern and her mulatto features. In DR, she suffers the very same treatment, dark skinned/coily haired women suffer in other countries. And I believer her testimony, it must not have been an easy life. What is even more saddening, is the negative feedback she receives here on BGLH. I always thought this website was about to be on the same boat: curly hair, coily hair, light and dark skin. We share the… Read more »

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