In Revolt Against Venezuela’s “Bad Hair” Stereotype, People Are Embracing The Afro.
Victoria Mejias gave up her fanatical quest of smooth tresses two years ago – a common passion in Venezuela, where hair and race identity are inextricably linked.
She accepted her naturally curly hair and a bold, shoulder-length Afro style after a nearly two-decade struggle with harsh chemical straighteners, and she says she feels “wonderful.”
When her mother began relaxing her hair when she was 12, “I felt obligated to display myself in a certain way, since straight hair gives you status,” Mejias, now 28, recalled at a salon in central Caracas where she was receiving a moisturizing treatment.
Mejias said she had long been ashamed of her “pelo malo” (poor hair), as natural Black hair is known in Venezuela, a symptom of deep-seated prejudice, according to others.
After then, she changed her mind.
“I was sick of going to salons (for straightening treatments) and not being able to let my hair get wet” (as it would frizz).
She told AFP, “It felt like a type of enslavement.”
Changing to an Afro hairstyle was like “reuniting with myself.” It was the most intelligent choice I could have made.”
Because of the blending of indigenous peoples, Spanish conquistadors who came in the 15th century, and the African slaves they brought from the colonies, Venezuela has an ethnically varied population.
Over the decades, the country has also seen an influx of Europeans fleeing the horrors of WWII and people from other Latin American countries fleeing dictatorships and armed conflict.
More than half of the population now considers themselves mixed-race or “mestizo.” Nonetheless, it is widely acknowledged that the darker your skin, the more likely you are to be impoverished and prejudiced in Venezuela.
Despite a legislation prohibiting racial discrimination passed in 2011, the country maintains a tense relationship with its cultural identity.
Racism is sometimes overt, but most of the time it is hidden.
According to researcher Zulima Paredes, who has written about the aesthetics of Afro hair in Venezuela, “everything that comes from being Black we think of as negative or… as unique, that is, not the norm.”
The country has won the Miss Universe title seven times, demonstrating its dominance in the world of beauty pageants.
All of the winners were fair-skinned and had their hair straight or straightened, demonstrating the country’s persistent pursuit of a “western European” standard of beauty.
When Isabella Rodriguez, a dark-haired, olive-skinned beauty with chemically straightened locks, was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2018, she was mocked online for her humble upbringing and mixed-race ancestry.
Hair discrimination is also a problem. Brief News from Washington Newsday.