Three South Asian women on ditching straight hair and embracing their natural curls

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In South Asian culture, hair holds a lot of currency. It’s the ultimate signifier of beauty. The hair of South Asian women is even sought after around the world for wigs and extensions: It’s long, it’s strong, it’s glossy black. Oh, and it’s very, very straight. Except when it’s not at all. We talked to three models of South Asian heritage about how they learned to appreciate, even love, their rich, sometimes raucous waves and curls. 

Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello catsuit. Area earrings. To create a similar makeup look: Artist Color Shadow in Lime Green, Nile Green, and Bottle Green, Aqua Resist Color Pencil Eyeliner in Graphite, and Rouge Artist Lipstick in Vivid Naked by Make Up For Ever.

Peter Ash Lee / © ArtPartner

“Growing up I was surrounded by girls who looked a lot different than me — they all had straight, silky hair. I started to straighten my big, poofy curls because I wanted to be just like them,” explains Sri Lankan American model Deseni Fernando. “But after seeing more people in the media and in my South Asian community embrace their curls, I started to see the beauty in that. I thought, Wow, my hair is like that too.” So over the last year, Fernando stopped straightening for good. “Embracing my curls has made me a much more confident and proud South Asian woman,” she says.

 David Koma dress. Norma Kamali one-piece. Demarson earrings. To create a similar makeup look: Hot Singles Eyeshadow in Heat and STFU, Epic Wear Liner Sticks in Blue Trip, Turquoise Storm, and Intense Tea, Epic Wear Metallic Liquid Liner in Brown Metal, and Epic Wear Liquid Liner in Stone Fox by Nyx Professional Makeup.

Peter Ash Lee / © ArtPartner

“When I first started modelling I would go to shoots with my hair blow-dried. I thought it would be easier for the hairstylist,” says Indo Guyanese model Shaanti Chaitram. “I was thinking, I will just try to take up as little space as possible. And all the other South Asian models that I saw had pin-straight hair. It almost felt like I was hiding a part of myself.” By putting aside her hot tools and claiming her whole self, Chaitram has found encouragement from the natural hair movement on social media: “It’s not specifically directed toward me as a South Asian woman, but it gives me room to not feel like I have to straighten my hair. Because straight hair is not the only thing that looks great.”

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