pelo malo

this was on someone’s my space page. the caption reads: “dale, vamos a pasarte el blower. ja ja ja. pelo malo.” loose translation: “it’s cool, we’re gonna blow dry your hair. lol bad hair.” like hair biases in the united states, hair biases in the dominican republic and latin america are ingrained starting at a young age.

“pelo malo.” it literally means “bad hair” in spanish. and in latin america (particularly the caribbean) it’s something heard not infrequently. so i’m trying to prepare myself for how i’ll react when i hear it in the dominican republic. i’ll be there for 27 months. my hair is natural. so i know i’ll hear it. at times, it will likely be directed at me.

hair tends to be a pretty touchy topic for black (american) women. we go through so much with our hair. it shapes parts of our culture. it dictates our schedules. and many of us have hair damaged so much so that we don’t believe our hair can even grow (by the way, this is a myth!). and in our society for the most part, that tends to be a part of femininity–long hair…or at the least, present hair. so many black women have hair issues, and are discontent, feeling that their hair has a weak presence (am i right, ladies?). so to talk about our hair, for many of us, is like talking about our mamas. i heard a yo mama joke once that said, “yo mama’s hair so short she curls it with rice!” LOL! i’m sorry, that’s funny! but it also proves my point. for many black women, it’s just one of those unspoken rules if you don’t want to be perceived as disrespectful: “DON’T TALK ABOUT MY HAIR!”

*sigh!* SO… “pelo malo.” this is something i’ve pondered from time to time since i started this peace corps preparation process. though dominicans have african ancestry like we do, there was a lot more mixing of the races in latin america than in the united states historically. so the european standard of beauty that took influence in the culture is far more infused and magnified in latin america than in the united states. (i have a love/hate relationship with latin american “race” relations…but that’s another post.) so it’s just an accepted thing:

african-textured/curly/kinky hair = pelo malo.
straight, long hair = pelo bueno (good hair).

i found this in google images after typing in “pelo malo.” yep, this pretty much sums it up.

(and hey, let’s face it, we as black americans definitely have our share of hair issues too, which is why this post exists at all, but i’ve never been told in the u.s. that i had “bad hair,” like i have been told in latin america.) now, to be fair, not EVERY dominican holds this view, but it’s pretty widely accepted.

i think in dealing with the youth, this will be a great opportunity to plant seeds of beauty in the young girls, letting them know that beauty is not found in the man-made standard, and teaching them to appreciate how they were made, whether their hair is naturally kinky, naturally straight or anything in between. it will be a chance to show them that kinky/afro-textured hair is not “malo” when you care for it.

MISSING (in latin america): images that affirm the beauty in natural black hair

but i think the adults are gone. it’s probably too ingrained. don’t get me wrong, i know black americans have had a history that facilitates our own disturbing hair biases, as this antidote depicts. but this will be a new experience for me because (1) the way the concept of “pelo malo” is so blatantly stated and nearly completely unquestioned, and (2) this is outside of my cultural context, without some form of reassuring comfort like the image to left coming back into play to balance it all out. so i’m trying to prep myself for the best ways to handle being told that i have pelo malo, and should go to the corner beautician for help. i will have to remain rooted in the truth of the Word of God, and in how he made me in order to stay grounded, reaffirmed, not prideful, and not angry. any other suggestions?

i couldn’t think of any better way to end this post than leah smith’s beautiful made. let it bless you. 🙂

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7 thoughts on “pelo malo

  1. Thanks for sharing this post! I didn’t realize that other groups of people with African descent had the whole “good hair, bad hair” war until I visited Ghana, in West Africa. I was shocked to see majority of the women preferring straightened hair over naturally kinky. But there is a movement or trend that is encouraging African women and African American women to wear their hair natural, but the revolution has a long way to go. But it has made progress because of more positive images popping up in the media. And because some women are just fed up with weaves and chemicals. To go even further, we have to lead by example and pass it along.

  2. So, the revolution needs to reach Latin America! They need to see some positive examples. Maybe you can be a good example as you hold your head up high, confident in knowing that you are made beautifully by God!

  3. This is an AWESOME post and I think YOU should add it to Facebook. We do have issues with hair in the US (Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair’ highlights this). But this post taught me about ‘pelo malo’ and ‘pelo bueno’ which I wasn’t aware was an issue in another country (sometimes we (I) can be so shortsighted). Thank you for teaching me something new. Be strong as you always are within yourself and ignore any suggestions you get with a ‘thank you for your suggestion, but I am beautiful as I am’. Because you truly are Ms. Laila!

  4. Great post, Laila! I’m so happy for you! This is really exciting for me, so I can only imagine what it is for you! I’m glad that God is planting you in the DR to “pollinate” the land and spread the message of His love and to instill in the young girls that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made”! Get it deyah, blac guhl! (insider lol)…also just realized that you gave me a copy of a Leah Smith CD. That was a very beautiful song. I will have to actually check out the CD, as it’s on my bookshelf.

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