The natural hair movement has been full force in the U.S. for over a decade, but in some Latinx countries it's just now gaining steam. In places like the Dominican Republic, people have held on to the belief that straight, "groomed" hair is beautiful and natural curls are unkempt. This perception affected Carolina Contreras, a.k.a. Miss Rizos, personally, and it's why she decided to open the first all-natural hair salon in the Dominican Republic, her birthplace. She hopes to normalize natural hair in the Latinx community. Contreras shares her personal story of self-identity and rediscovery with us. The following interview was told to Thatiana Diaz and edited for length and clarity.
I came to the U.S. [from the Dominican Republic] when I was 4 years old, and my mom started relaxing my hair around 8 years old. It was the "normal" thing to do. She had a really difficult time caring for my hair, and she also had preconceived notions of what curly hair would do for me in society, essentially that it would set me back. So, she did what every good Dominican mom would do and relaxed my hair. At the time, she thought she was doing me a favour and getting me to be more accepted in society. It became normal to me, and that's why I continued to relax my hair throughout high school and college.
Reaching Her Roots
While in college, I started becoming more aware of what it meant to be a woman of colour and, more so, a Black woman in America. It was interesting to me, because so many Dominicans don't necessarily identify as Black, but I was identifying as a woman of colour. At this time, I started looking at myself in the mirror a little different, and appreciating the fact that I had dark skin. But on the other hand, I was attached to this straight hair that I felt made me prettier, which was a conflicting idea. I started questioning why I would go and relax my hair. It wasn't because I wanted to, it just felt like I needed to in order to feel and be more beautiful.
"People think that women with curls don't need to have a hair salon like those with straight hair do. We do."
I tried to go natural six times, and it didn't work. I would always go back to the relaxer. But then, it all changed when I went to visit the Dominican Republic. I was 21, and it was my first time there in 17 years because my parents never had the resources to bring me back to the D.R. while I was growing up. After my trip, I was left with a lot of questions. So, I made the decision to live in D.R. for two months to get closer to what being Dominican means. I remember tweeting, "I'm on my way to the D.R. to rediscover my roots," which ended up meaning literally rediscovering my roots... my hair roots. I ended up staying on the island for nine years — I just didn't take that plane back.
While I was there, it was really hot, and I remember going to the salon for a blowout, and as soon as I would leave, the salon, between the humidity and the sweat, my hair would puff up. It wasn't working out. And going back to this idea from college, that when I look in the mirror I want to love myself fully, I finally said ,"It's time." I went for the big chop and cut off all my hair in the summer of 2010.
The Birth Of Miss Rizos
When I decided to open a natural hair salon, I wanted to create a project that solved a problem. There were all these women returning to their curly hair, but there weren't many options for natural hair care. There's a misconception that women are not embracing their curly hair among the Latinx community, but there's actually a whole movement happening where women are choosing to rock their curls.
Miss Rizos salon is exclusively for curly hair. We don't straighten hair, and we just started colouring. When we opened in 2014, we were really the first all-curly hair salon on the island. Now, the salon sees anywhere between 30 to 50 clients a day. The service that Miss Rizos does is so special. Beyond the expertise and techniques, it's the positive vibes of being in a space where you are celebrated fully, where you are able to leave knowing that you are so worthy and that you have this beautiful crown on the top of your head.
A Curl Connoisseur
A lot of people think that women with curly hair don't need to have a hair salon like women with straight hair do. But we do. We're normal, and so is our hair. Sometimes, you don't want to wash your hair at home, and you want to go into some place for that luxury experience. So, this idea of making curly hair accessible is important for me, and I hope to create more spaces like the one we have in the Dominican Republic.
There's still so much room left for dialogue on natural hair, especially on a global scale. There are young girls who are being banned from school because of their hair, and servicewomen fighting to wear natural styles. We need to continue to have these conversations. Natural hair is something that is celebrated now, but I do look forward to the moment when natural will become a standard part of the conversation.