“Sister, Sister” Helped Me Appreciate My Curly Hair as an Afro-Boricua

Celebrity Image: Getty / ABC Photo Archives / Disney General Entertainment Content

Image Source: Getty / ABC Photo Archives / Disney General Entertainment Content/ Illustration by Aly Lim

Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of girls confidently sporting their natural curls in TV shows or films. There was Jennifer Beals’s famous “Flashdance” curls in the 1983 film, but that was a rarity I wouldn’t see often. And even when I would, the actresses rarely showed off curly textures that resembled my own. It wasn’t until the show “Sister, Sister” debuted in 1994, starring twins Tia and Tamera Mowry, that I finally saw natural curls that looked just like mine on a popular television program.

I was around 9 or 10 years old when the show first debuted. Tia and Tamera – and their gorgeous heads full of thick, spirally curls – ushered me right through my middle school days and my freshman year of high school. It was around this time that all the girls in my New Jersey high school started to finally covet curls just like mine.

It just so happened that my obsession with “Sister, Sister” coincided with me taking on the responsibility of doing my own hair before school each day and inevitably coming to the realization that my texture wasn’t actually the loose, curly waves my mom braided, pulled, and pressed to make it more manageable for herself in the mornings. No, I had a head full of thick, long spirals and corkscrews that needed a whole lot of love and care.

I was a teenager with no clue how to take care of my curls, but I admired Tia and Tamera’s rizos.

I was a teenager with no clue how to take care of my curls, but I admired Tia and Tamera’s rizos. In many ways, they became hair goals for me. Seeing them sport healthy and beautifully styled curls helped me realize that even though I was struggling with my own curls, it was possible for them to look amazing. If the Mowry twins were able to rock curls on a mainstream show that aired every Friday night on The WB, then that had to mean my hair could be just as glorious too, right?

Like so many others in the late ’90s and early ’00s, I, of course, resorted to flat ironing my hair to death for years. But later, when I finally ditched the heat tools, I still looked to Tia and Tamera as my hair inspo. And I honestly still do today. I love seeing them share pictures of their natural curls on their Instagram accounts. If you ask me, they were and continue to be the curly-hair trailblazers for millennial girls who grew up with super-curly hair like mine.

Even though I didn’t understand it at the time, I’m sure another big part of the reason they made me feel so seen is because I was born to two Puerto Rican parents of different races. The Mowry twins are also Afro-Caribbean; their mom is Bahamian, and their dad has European ancestry. My mixed Puerto Rican ancestry means I am also a mixed-race girl – I, too, have European, African, and Indigenous Caribbean DNA. Seeing two celebrities on one of my favorite TV shows at the time who looked similar to me – Latina or not – helped me internalize confidence in my appearance. They were beautiful, funny, smart, trendy, and cool and true to exactly who they were. Seeing them on TV in my tween and teen years helped me realize that girls who looked like me could be all those things, too.

There are a lot of mixed-race women in America, including mixed-race Latinas of African descent like myself. In fact, according to the 2020 census, around 30 million Americans now identify as multiracial, and the number of Latines in the US who identify as more than one race grew by a whopping 576 percent in a single decade. Still, we don’t often see them in prominent roles in Hollywood, and definitely not often rocking naturally tight curls.

Image Source: Shayne Rodriguez Thompson

While I did relate to the few Latinas I saw on screen growing up like Salma Hayek, Jennifer Lopez, and Rosie Perez, most of them were significantly older than me and not quite as brown either. So in many ways, the connection just wasn’t the same. Tia and Tamera were it for me. They were closer in age to me, and their characters on “Sister, Sister” went through a lot of the same things I wound up experiencing during my teen years. There is even one episode of the show called “Hair Today,” in which they tackle the idea that straight hair is prettier than curly hair after the twins experience more popularity thanks to their sleek blowouts. But in the end, Tia decides to stay true to herself and goes back to her natural curls. I’ve thought again and again over the years about how many times I was told to straighten my hair for a job interview or thought I couldn’t attend a formal event without a blowout. These days, I rock my curls no matter the occasion, just like Tia’s character.

Related: How I Embraced My Curvier Mom Body With Self-Love This Summer

Today, I’m raising a little girl of my own, but I still feel like not enough has changed. There is more representation, but not as much as there should be, for Afro-Latinas and Afro-Caribbeans. My daughter has a rich gingerbread complexion and a head full of soft, spirally curls, and while there are more characters that look like her in cartoons and books compared to when I was a kid, there are still not that many in mainstream movies and TV shows. Hollywood is still lacking. The toy aisles are still lacking. It still takes a concerted effort to fill her bookshelves, watchlists, and toy box with characters that look like her. Though I am grateful for how far we’ve come, we still have a ways to go.

Still, I love that my 7-year-old daughter knows who Tia and Tamera are, too. She knows them and loves them. Because they made such an impact on me, I made the effort to introduce them to her through the many fun family movies the two have made throughout the years. They were role models then, and they are role models now.

And it’s not just because they look like us – still showing off their gorgeous natural curls whenever they get the chance – but they also continue to take roles playing strong, confident, and successful women, similar to the women they are off screen. Seeing those positive female figures who look like us opens up both minds and doors. It allows us to see ourselves in a different, more positive light. And that’s invaluable.

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