My name is Daniella De Jesus and I wanted to share my college essay with the CurlyNikki community. Last year, I spent the entire summer going through hundreds of topics for my college application essay. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon your blog that I realized what I should write about. The story of your hair journey and journeys of your subscribers inspired me to tell my own hair story. So here it is:
Atop a stack of books, I sat in the salon chair frowning at the tangled bird’s nest that seemed to swallow the puny frame inside the mirror. Born into a family of fine-haired women, my curly head often made me feel like an outsider, a burden, and a curse. Five hairdressers (yes, five!) pulled at my knots as if they were fighting with my scalp and I yelped in pain as they tackled my mess of curls. My grandmother walked over to me, wiped my tears, and whispered, “It hurts to be beautiful mamita.” I was then made to sit and sweat underneath a hair dryer for two hours and thirty minutes. The dryer heated the metal hairpins, which burned my ears. “It hurts to be beautiful,” I told myself.
After many such experiences, my mother tried taming my curls with the help of mayonnaise rinses, relaxers, and even a Japanese straightening treatment. Unfortunately, nothing had given us the results we desired, so I began researching hair products on the Internet. This was when I discovered “Poem for My Grifa-Rican Sister/Broken Ends, Broken Promises” by a woman named Mariposa. In it, she had vocalized the pain and loneliness I had experienced for so many years with her words “braids twist and tie contain/ hold in the shame/ of not havin’ long black silky strands/ to run my fingers through”. At the end of the poem, however, Mariposa comes to accept the beauty of her hair’s natural texture and her curls have been freed from chemical straightening. Never before in my life had I read a literary work that spoke to me and my experience so profoundly.
“Poem for My Grifa-Rican Sister/ Broken Ends, Broken Promises” inspired me to chop off all of my damaged, processed hair and begin a new life in which I embraced my hair in its natural state. I printed out this poem and attached it to my mirror. Each day, as I styled my now shorter and curlier hair, I would look into the mirror reciting the poem. Through Mariposa’s words, I grew to love every curl on my head and my smile shined brighter.
All of this changed about one month later, when my cousin Indy, who like me had thick, wild curls, visited my family for the holidays. Her hair had been straightened and I marveled at how shiny and smooth her strands were; Indy now possessed the hair I had always longed for. My heart grew envious and the curls I had learned to love became shadowed in hate. Indy revealed to me that she had straightened her hair using a flat iron. That day, I purchased a flat iron and began straightening my hair daily. Not before long, I removed the poem from my mirror and tucked it away in a box with other seemingly useless items.
About three years later, while cleaning out my closet, I stumbled upon “Poem for My Grifa-Rican Sister/Broken Ends, Broken Promises”. The words jumped off the paper, as if Mariposa were scolding me for rejecting my identity. Guilt and disappointment overwhelmed me: I had not even left my house unless each strand of hair was completely straight. That day, I placed the poem where it belonged and I vowed to wear my natural hair proudly.
Mariposa’s poem helped me realize a number of things. I adore my untamable hair, generous hips, and horizontally extensive nose because they are part of who I am. Beauty should not be painful and only requires self-love. Most importantly, “Poem for My Grifa-Rican Sister/Broken Ends, Broken Promises” taught me that God bestows to us incredible gifts, which must be shared with the world. This is why on March 20th, 2009 I cut and donated twelve inches of my hair to the “Locks of Love” foundation. As I researched and saw photographs featuring all of the children suffering from alopecia and cancer, I realized how ungrateful, shallow, and ignorant I had been. For years, I had wasted money trying to change the hair on my head when there were children who would do anything to grow even a tiny patch of hair.
A few months after mailing my donation to Locks of Love, I received a postcard thanking me for the difference I had made in a child’s life. The poem attached to my mirror was removed and the postcard was put in its place, so that each day I am reminded that the source of shame and insecurity for so much of my life was now the source of confidence in the life of a child and in my own life. I must confess to flat ironing my hair occasionally; however, I have I stand a lot straighter when my hair is curly. I thank Mariposa for allowing me to celebrate myself, for saving my family an inordinate amount of money (can you imagine tipping five hairdressers?) and for helping an insecure child transform into a bold and beautiful butterfly.
Thanks for the inspiration!
P.S. This essay helped me get into NYU: Tisch School of the Arts, which is where I will be attending college in the fall!