Growing up in New York City, Val Mercado regularly visited the salon to blow out her curls. "Straightening my curly hair was part of what I thought it meant to be a Dominican," says Mercado, a model and actress. In Dominican culture, natural hair is often referred to as "pelo malo," which literally translates to "bad hair." So, for years, Mercado wore her hair in long, shiny waves.
When her career took her from New York City — which has one of the largest Dominican communities in the U.S. — to Los Angeles, the Afro-Latina had difficulty finding a hair salon that could work with her hair type, forcing her to wear her natural texture. But Mercado found a silver lining in the city's limited options: She learned to love her hair and began to show her curls off to her 1 million+ followers on Instagram. "It's been so good to finally be the real me and just myself in my natural state," she says.
But even with her love for her curls, Mercado still missed the Dominican blowout experience. So, for the first time in L.A., Mercado went to Salon Republic in West Hollywood to blow dry her hair — this time on her terms and not to fit cultural expectations. Although she was reminded of home, which brought her comfort, she realized that she loved embracing her curls more and found herself at the Ouidad salon in Santa Monica where a curl professional taught her how to wash and style her bouncy strands.
Mercado took Refinery29 on a full day of self-discovery, all while discussing her culture's influence on her perception of beauty. Press play above to watch the entire video, and be inspired by how Mercado has come to love her hair no matter its texture.
In Refinery29's Skin Deep, Refinery29 teamed up with Google to explore the realm of beauty and culture, examining the influences that shape how we talk about beauty today.