By: Michele Amira Pinczuk, IATG Contributor January 18, 2016
When I went to Israel to visit my cousins on Taglit Birthright, a 10-day free trip to Israel for Jewish young adults, I got hip to more than just my favorite food (hummus) and hookah. I also embraced my curly hair as part of my roots. I often admired the confident Israeli women rocking curly hair as a form of cultural unity, which looked just like mine. It is a culture that not only embraces curly, kinky and frizzy free-spirited hair, but saw curly hair as “in style.”
I spent a lot of my life finding beauty in ethnic features and loving my unique hair.
All the Disney princesses women are often trained to admire from a young age had straight flowing hair, while the only Disney hero with hair somewhat like mine was the free-spirit Esmeralda. I loved looking like “Esmeralda” in my early years.
I embraced the look of Esmeralda and decided from a young age it was even better to be a free-spirited curly hair gypsy who defined her own destiny than a straight haired Princess being saved from a miserable fate.
However, by middle school it wasn’t just Disney princesses who were defining standards of what was trendy and beautiful. My peers often tried to give me makeovers and straighten my hair using chemical straighteners, including even painful relaxers which burnt my scalp.
Despite being told my hair wasn’t pretty and unkempt, I loved my "Jewfro" that defied hair products. I loved the individuality it afforded me.
Sadly, I was bullied for my hair by both peers and my best friends, which was a drain on my self-esteem. I came to realize that standards of beauty are based on current trends, not on a sense of your true self. My “leefa” (Hebrew for kinky, curly hair), which is also a part of my selfhood, was often attacked as not conforming to some standardized idea of beauty. I used to spend hours belaboring the question, “If my hair in NOT acceptable, than I must NOT acceptable.”
Then, in sixth grade, I went to see The Princess Diaries with my mother. Finally, I found another curly haired heroine besides Esmeralda, who bore an uncanny resemblance to me—complete with a description of the main character as possessing “Frida Kahlo, Gracho Marks” eyebrows mixed with braces and “Jewish” hair. I watched as Mia, my curly haired hero, and her beauty squad attacked her hair with an arsenal of tools and hair products. She appeared from the makeover montage as a girl acceptable to be a princess--free of glasses, braces, with shiny, straight locks, and a face full of make-up. Her Grandmother, the Queen, saw her with approval and said, “Better, much better.” I had to ask myself, “What made Mia need to straighten her hair in order to be up to “princess standards” and who defines these standards? Why must Mia loose her selfhood as geek chic to become a Princess?”
Flash forward to my Birthright Israel trip. It was so exciting to see my cousins. The puffy curls looked stunning on confident 20-something Israelis. At last, I had arrived! Often being mistaken as an Israeli, I found a new appreciation for my hair in my newly discovered secular Zionism amongst the kinship of my tribe members.
Today, I'm defining my own standards of beauty. I keep my hair curly while also manageable, thanks to all the wonderful curly hair products on the market made available today, such as Kinky Curly and MoroccanOil Curl Cream.
In the words of the "Jewfro" sporting songstress from the 1960s flower power era, Carole King, "You make me feel like a natural woman."
How do you embrace your unique physical features? What's one thing you wear or accessorize with that makes you feel beautyFULL? Next time you're in selfie-mode, highlight your smile, amazing eyes, awesome hair, or fabulous feet to inspire others to love on themselves too!
Michele Amira Pinczuk is a vegan dancer with a love of Carole’s Daughter hair products, hoop earrings, hip-hop, and New York pizza! She is a hip hop journalist who loves writing about the newest in natural curly hair products, hipster fashion and hip-hop mixtapes. Her writing has appeared on Fran Dresher’s We The Future Cancer Schmancer blog, The New York Times and JVibe Magazine. When she’s not writing about what’s hot in hip hop, she’s talking about it on her hip-hop radio show, The Mecca, at University of Maryland where she is a Creative Writing major.
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