This Is What It’s Like Growing Up With Curly Hair In Singapore

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It’s taken almost 26 years for me to be able to say that I love my hair, and all of the crazy things I have to do to get it to look the way I want it to. And boy, was it a struggle to get to this point.

Looking back, I wish someone had warned me about how painful it would be to grow up with curly hair in Singapore. 

As a kid, you don’t notice differences between you and other people unless someone points it out. For me, I learnt that I was different when I realised I was from a minority race, then shortly after, that my hair type was… uncommon.

Sure, I had curly hair, but I didn’t get what the big deal was. I didn’t understand why my schoolmates would pull hard on my ponytail without my permission to see how my hair would bounce back. I didn’t understand why one girl asked if I was wearing a wig. Had they not seen people with curly hair before? Why did they think my hair was so different from theirs? And why did the people around me make fun of my hair?

The Journey To Embracing My Curls 

Every curly-haired girl has her story, but the more I speak to other girls with curly hair, the more I find that we’ve all been through the same experiences: there’s roughly the “let’s see how straight I can get it” phase; the “OK, fine, I don’t care anymore” phase, and hopefully, the “all right, I need to figure out this curly hair thing” phase. 

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Mine started with a growing jealousy of girls who had beautiful, shiny, silky straight hair. As soon as I understood what conditioner was meant for, I would use tons of it, barely washing it off because I loved how smooth and soft it made my hair feel. But silicone-based conditioners aren’t meant to be left in, and it didn’t take long for my hair to become shriveled and crinkly. The only solution was to chop it all off.  

So I rocked a bob for a year or two.

My hair that was once long and wavy, was now short and extremely curly. All my hair really needed was a deep cleanse to remove the silicone build-up and some deep hydration, and with proper care, it would’ve bounced right back. But you know what the hairdresser told me to do instead? Slick it down with gel so the curls wouldn’t ‘stick out’, so it would ‘tame’ the look of my hair. So I did. 

But the teasing never stopped.  

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Then came the total give-in: I rebonded my hair. For five whole years, I would return to the salon once every eight months and sit in a chair for six hours as the hairdressers transformed my curls into straight strands. The effects were amazing. I would get compliments about how lovely my hair looked. I grew it long because I loved how it looked. I’m still wildly impressed at how they successfully got it so straight every time. My parents had to cash out a lot for these yearly rebonding appointments, and though they’ll say it’s nothing, I knew it put a big dent in their wallets. Overall, it was just a temporary cover for a permanent issue: I still hadn’t accepted that my hair is and will always be hella curly.  

Throughout my straight-haired years, people reacted differently: I got tough love from my relatives who said that I was wasting my gift of curly hair, but on the other hand, I continued to be teased by the kids around the block—they said I was a Chinese girl wannabe because I wanted straight hair. At its core, these people were pointing out something I hadn’t originally thought of: I wasn’t completely comfortable with who I was, and forced a different ideal of beauty upon myself.

As strange as it sounds, I feel like I had to go through everything I did to get to this point of acceptance. I literally just woke up one day with enough conviction to decide that rebonding my hair was a mistake. I had no curly-haired mentors—none of my family members or friends back then had hair nearly as curly as mine, and most of them wore their curly hair straight too.

Taking Care of Curly Hair

The biggest hurdle toward embracing curly hair is, in my opinion, your income. For one, products made for real, natural curls and coils are hard to come by in Singapore, so it does take a little bit of spending power to be comfortable with shipping tubs of product in from overseas. Then there’s the overwhelming task of figuring out which products to try. My advice: don’t immediately go for the expensive cult products with their crazy seven-step regimen.

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If you’re trying the Curly Girl Method, find out your hair texture first. Then, understand key concepts, like why you need to co-wash, and how gel can help to define (not straighten!) curls. After that, look for dupes that are easily available locally, so your hair can transition easily. Also, find a curly-haired blogger with a similar texture to yours, and try out what they love, and do what they do. For me, that’s Alyson (aka real life+curly girl). She also battles high levels of humidity during summer, so she completely understands the tough fight against frizz. 

Everything about the Curly Girl Method is hands-on and DIY, but the one thing I still leave to the professionals is my haircut. Curlies, when you finally find a hairdresser who truly loves you hair texture as much as you do, hold on to them for life. For me, Tomoko was the first hairdresser to not suggest rebonding or ask me silly questions like, “Do you use conditioner?”. Where have you been all my life, girl?!

 

Over the past two years, my hair has only gotten curlier as I’m starting to really understand what it needs: I only need to wash it twice a week, and it looks fresh and bouncy even on Day Three after a wash. I plan workouts on wash days, invested in a silk pillowcase to reduce frizz when I sleep, and use microfibre towel to dry my hair. I still complain about how much effort it takes to keep it up (ask my sister!), but really, I love the outcome. 

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My hair just makes me glow now. It’s big, has a mind of its own, won’t curl properly at the back (darn it!), but I love it all the same. People have either good things to say about it (no flex) or have a barrage of questions about how I get it to look that way. Sure, it’s taken me a long time to get here, but I have the rest of my life ahead of me with this crown of curls, and I’m intending to conquer it, one lock at a time.   

Below, more girls share what it’s like growing up with curly hair in Singapore.

Text: Siti Meera

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