Having curly hair is a big part of my identity, but for a long time, it was something I tried to hide. I spent years relaxing, blow drying, and flat ironing my hair until it was so straight, it couldn’t curl even if it wanted to. The decision to go natural was difficult for me, but I stuck it out, and I’m glad I did. That doesn’t mean embracing my natural hair has been easy, however. For years people questioned my decision to give up straightening my strands. At any given moment, I am still the only person in the room with textured hair. So when I heard about CurlFest, I knew I had to check it out.
This year marked the fifth anniversary of CurlFest, an annual event hosted in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York by the Curly Girl Collective. Each year, the Curly Girl Collective partners with several beauty brands that carry hair products for curls and, more specifically, textured hair. The festival has become a place where curly girls and women of color can not only learn about the latest hair products and techniques but also celebrate their textured and curly hair. In a world where women with textured and curly hair are often told their hair is not good enough, CurlFest aims to be space that uplifts and honors curly manes.
I couldn’t immediately see the festival when my cab pulled up to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY, but it was clear that I was in the right place. The expansive park looks unassuming from the outside, enclosed by a short concrete wall and filled with lush trees. Inside, however, far-reaching green fields make you feel miles away from the big city. Hundreds of ladies with curly hair filled the streets as they made their way it the park. Once inside, I realized the hundreds of women I saw walking in the park were just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of women with absolutely breathtaking hair filled the park. There were down-to-there curly manes, elegant protective styles, all kind of colors, and curl patterns. For the first time, having curly hair made me a part of the majority—not the minority.
I couldn’t help but think back to all of the times my curly hair made me feel like an outsider—like the time a few weeks into my natural hair journey when my former boss asked me if I planned to do my hair. Or the first time I built up the courage to wear my natural texture to a job interview. I was convinced my natural hair would make me look unprofessional and I’d risk not getting a job I knew I was an excellent fit for me. I wondered if it would have been easier for me to embrace my curly hair had I had the opportunity to attend an event like CurlFest earlier.
CurlFest is more than just about hair, however. It’s about creating a community where everyone feels welcomed and empowered—particularly ladies with curly hair. In addition to the many product tents, several panels covered a wide variety of topics from hair to female empowerment. A lively drumline complete with majorettes marched all over the park, bringing the party with them wherever they went. The designated “Chill Zone” provided a place for people to relax, regroup, connect—and take killer selfies. The highlight of the day, however, was watching hundreds of strangers link arm and arm and “Swag Surf” as the DJ spun on the main stage.
Curlfest is creating much-needed space for women with curly and textured hair to feel accepted. I can only hope the rest of the world will follow suit.
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