Penn State Berks alumni embrace heritage and form Curly Sisterhood

The Varona Sisters pose with their Curly Sisterhood t-shirts.

Cory Varona Corniel (left) and Nicol Varona pose with their Curly Sisterhood t-shirts.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Reading Eagle.

READING, Pa. — It’s obvious when you meet Cory Varona Corniel and Nicol Varona that they are sisters by their uncanny resemblance. But what you might not realize is that it wasn’t until they moved to the United States that they were able to fully embrace their naturally curly hair.

The two sisters, both alumni of Penn State Berks, have started a "Curly Sisterhood," along with their longtime friend Jiolka Peralta. Through Curly Sisterhood, these three Dominican-American women use social media to inform and educate others about how to take care of their naturally curly hair.

But Curly Sisterhood is about much more than hair: The founders want their "curly sisters" to embrace their heritage and natural beauty and not feel pressured to follow the societal archetype of what is attractive – namely sleek, straight hair.

According to Cory, the "curly movement" started in early 2000s when haircare companies began creating "natural" products and targeting advertising to women with curly hair from various cultures and ethnicities. She adds that nearly 75 percent of the population has some sort of texture to their hair. “Women of every nationality and race have curly hair,” states Cory

Nicol explains that the Curly Sisterhood is part of an international grassroots movement started by people who want to feel comfortable in their own skin. Its members range from women with tight coils who live in Brazil to those with soft waves who live in Portugual, and everyone in between.

Varona Sisters visit Berks to take part in a panel discussion for Hispanic Heritage month.

Nicol Varona (left) and Cory Varona Corniel visited Penn State Berks to take part in a panel discussion for Hispanic Heritage month.

Credit: Penn State

“I never liked my curls,” said Cory, who went on to explain that in her native country, straight hair is considered attractive. “In the Dominican Republic, women who go to work with ‘natural’ hair are sent home for not looking ‘professional.’”

When they were younger, the Varona sisters went to a Dominican-owned hair salon to have their hair straightened. Nicol explains that like many Dominican-Americans, they grew up in an environment where they felt like they had to have straight hair to be beautiful.

“It’s sad that you have to go to a different country to learn that your [natural] hair is beautiful,” she added.

The Varona sisters moved to the Reading, Pennsylvania, area with their family in the early 2000s and they became friends with Jiolka Peralta in high school. As time passed, the three friends had been learning to love their naturally curly hair, and one day, they started a group chat to share styling tips and discuss hair products. Then they thought it would be great to share what they’ve learned with other women through social media.

“We are all going through this together, so we should share what we learn along the way,” stated Nicol. “There was nothing like this [Curly Sisterhood] in our area and there is a high percentage of Latinos living in Berks County. That’s why we wanted to share our experiences.”

Cory graduated from Penn State Berks in 2011 with a bachelor of science degree in business with a finance and accounting concentration. She went on to earn an MBA with a concentration in finance at Penn State Great Valley, and she is employed as an accounting and financial analyst for Santander Bank.

Meanwhile, Nicol earned a bachelor of science degree in business with a marketing concentration and a minor in Spanish from Penn State Berks in 2013. She is employed as a marketing manager by SEI Investments in Oaks, Pennsylvania.

Varona sisters at Berks for Hispanic Heritage month

Cory Varona Corniel (left) looks on as her sister, Nicol Varona, answers a question as part of a panel discussion for Hispanic Heritage month at Penn State Berks.

Credit: Penn State

The Varona sisters are not new to starting movements to make others feel included: During their time at Penn State Berks, they founded the college’s first Latino Unity Club and both sisters served as president at different times. Now they are parlaying the knowledge they gained through their business degrees to become social media influencers. Currently, the Curly Sisterhood has approximately 11,000 followers on Instagram and 500 Facebook followers.

Cory is quick to point out that they are considered "microinfluencers" because their number of followers is not considered large enough to be "influencers" in the social media world, but they are well on their way. In the meantime, they get invited to "curly hair" events such as "Texture on the Runway" in New York and the National Hair Expo in Philadelphia. They have also held two Curly sisterhood events of their own in Berks County: one at Mi Casa Su Casa in Reading and the second at the Crowne Plaza Wyomissing.

To follow Curly Sisterhood on social media, visit @curlysisterhood on Instagram, and Curly Sisterhood on YouTube and Facebook.