South Asians are Reclaiming their Curly Hair

For years, South Asians were called “churails” or told that their curly hair was not beautiful. That is now changing — with the help of Black women.

Sanchita Kedia

December 12, 2022

South Asians are Reclaiming their Curly Hair
(Getty)

Jaspreet Sandhu, 18, grew up with black, curly hair or, as her parents called it, “messy” hair. Her mom, whose curly hair is usually in a braid, told Jaspreet to braid her hair daily to make it look “neat.” When Jaspreet turned 14, she wanted to let her hair down. Her parents said she could — as long as she permanently straightened her hair. So she did. Her family members emphasized how beautiful she looked with it. But during her last keratin treatment in 2020, her hair turned brittle and started falling out in large clumps. Scared, Jaspreet began experimenting with a curly hair care routine. Weeks later, she looked at her hair in the mirror and, for the first time in her life, fell in love with her curls. 

“My family asks me why I changed my hair because it looked so much better before,” Sandhu said. “But I know I want it because I like my hair curly.” 

Like Sandhu, many South Asian women have recently embraced their curly hair. Curly hair is defined to be hair that, when wet, has slight ringlets or coils. About 60% of the world has curly and wavy hair, and about 85% of Indians do, yet, in a 2019 survey, 87% of Indians said that they prefer long, straight hair to short, curly hair. However, a 2020 article reported a 50% increase in the Google search “how to make your hair curly” and a 350% increase in the Google search “shoulder length curly hair.” More recently, a breakout Google search has been “how to get wavy hair men.” Actors like Poorna Jagannathan and Taapsee Pannu have worn their hair curly in movies or shows such as Delhi Belly and Ramy, and Manmarziyan, respectively. So how did curly hair come to be considered unattractive, and why are South Asians now reclaiming their natural hair?