Embracing the Afro in revolt against Venezuela's 'bad hair' stereotype

Two years ago, Victoria Mejias abandoned her slavish pursuit of sleek tresses -- a common obsession in Venezuela where hair and race identity are closely intertwined.

After a near two-decade struggle with damaging chemical straighteners, she embraced her naturally curly hair and a bold, shoulder-length Afro style and says she feels "divine."

From the age of 12, when her mother started relaxing her hair, "I felt obliged to present myself in a certain way, because straight hair gives you status," Mejias, now 28, explained at a salon in central Caracas where she was treating herself to a moisturizing treatment.

Mejias said she long felt ashamed of her "pelo malo" (bad hair), as natural Black hair is called in Venezuela -- a symptom, some say, of deep-seated racism.

Then, she had a change of heart.

"I was tired of salons (for straightening treatments), of not having the freedom to let my hair get wet (as it would frizz).

"It felt like a form of slavery," she told AFP.