As far as I can tell, Indonesian people have very different beauty standards than people in the western hemisphere.
What was and is still considered beautiful is long black shiny hair, pale white skin like marble and a thin small waist.
Things changed when I got my first period. My mother didn’t sit me down and explain to me what menstruation was. It was actually my aunt, a nurse who found out I had my first period when I had a sleepover at her house with my cousin. She took me aside and said now I am a big girl. She even told me I shouldn’t ride my bicycle as much to avoid getting dark-skinned from the sun.
Soon after, my whole family moved out of town. A new school and a new environment for me. City kids didn’t climb trees or swim in the lake.
I learned from early on that girls are ‘supposed’ to have long straight black hair like those in magazines and TV. Therefore, I started to despise my curls. I hated how unruly my hair was. My hair was a total pain. No one in my family had curly wavy hair apart from my father. My mother’s hair was super straight; my aunts all have straight hair. Being the ‘odd’ one out made me want to have straight hair even more.
My first year of Junior High I managed to grow my hair. It resembled a bob cut but as it got longer my mother decided it was hard to manage again and it’s better to cut it short, I went à la Demi Moore from the Ghost era, except that I was overweight and miserable.
Fast forward to High School, I moved to Jakarta. I grew my hair longer and finally decided to get my hair chemically straightened out.
I almost went bald!
The chemical burnt my scalp and my hair fell out in handfuls at a time.
A doctor said my scalp is super sensitive and from that moment on I should never get my hair dyed, permed, straighten or anything that involves any chemicals.
It was a huge disappointment because I was obsessed with straight hair!
A few years later, I found my ‘treasure’, a flat iron! Hallelujah for flat irons, thus my long love affair with them began. I was working in my first job by that time so I began ironing my hair every single day. My flat-iron became a must device.
Although I rebelled against the other ‘typical beauty standards’ such as white skin, I love, love, love being tanned. Also, the small waist thing? I would have rather become a fit healthy woman than skinny and unhealthy. In an Indonesian society that thinks women are not supposed to have muscles, I strongly rebelled against it.
Then one day, I just woke up and decided to let my curls breathe…
It was the day of my mother’s doctor visit and I was too lazy to iron my hair so I let my hair air dry and my curls were there, and for the first time ever I thought “Hey, it’s actually not bad at all! I like how it looks.”
I snapped this picture in the hospital bathroom and my friends went crazy!
Then my friends who all have straight hair said they would love to have curly hair. They said to get my kind of curls they would have to struggle with a hot curling iron and things. While all I have to do is just air dry mine.
Yet I was a little unsure, after years and years of faking a straight hair, going ‘original’ with my curls felt strange at first.
I learned to accentuate my curls with foam, etc. I starting going to job interviews with curly hair. I had finally accepted and embracing my curls to be a part of me that I am proud of.
It took me roughly 34+ years to get to this point, but I sure am glad I’ve reached this point.