Mamas, Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Hate Kinky

Oddly enough, the most consistently visited posts on this blog are the ones relating to hair. They no longer come out top everyday as they did last year, but they get at least 20-30 hits daily. Moreso lately because one was linked by Feministe (hi there!). Since I’ve been given this soapbox to stand on and folks are obviously interested in the topic, I thought I’d share my views on another aspect of ethnic hair issues: kids hair.

As I said before, my mother started relaxing my hair from the time I was about 5 or 6 because that’s what most black people do. It’s a cultural thing. Once a girl’s hair gets to a certain stage and it’s deemed ‘safe’ to do so, parents make the first important step in defining their child’s hair for years to come.

At the risk of bringing on an inundation of hate mail and hate comments, I must say what I feel: Don’t Do It. Don’t relax your daughter’s hair. Please, please, please, for the love of follicles, Just Don’t Do It.

Why? you ask. There are many reasons. Ranging from the social and cultural to the personal.

One of the reasons parents start relaxing their child’s (more specifically, daughter’s) hair is because of their own ideas about what is attractive, acceptable, and easy to manage. Most kids under 8 or 9 don’t do their own hair. Most can’t, and that’s okay. So it falls to Mom or Dad to take care of it. I’ll wager most parents don’t have a lot of time to devote to a kid’s hair, especially if they do it in the morning before school and work. Naturally, they want a style that is quick and neat. Most kids want a style that will make them look good, emulates the styles other girls have, and won’t get them laughed at or teased. Sometimes these desires match up nicely. Sometimes the parent’s desires are given precedence because they are the parent. Nothing wrong with that thinking, except the parent isn’t the one who has to walk around with the hair all day. And, eventually, the parent isn’t the one who will have to deal with the consequences of their choice once the child is old enough to do their own hair.

The kind of styles parents encourage or force upon their children sends a strong message. What kind of message depends on the style or the language used. Relaxing indicates that straight hair is more desirable, regardless of how much it hurts or how horrible it may turn out. Calling natural hair Dirty, Nappy, or Ugly may give a little girl a really fucked up sense of self-esteem. In order to look pretty, acceptable, or right, she has to fundamentally change a part of her body from its natural state.

The message that natural/kinky/nappy hair is bad doesn’t only come from parents — kids at school, teachers, television, movies, books, any social or media entity a child may come in contact with might perpetuate this idea. Those factors are even harder to fight than familial indoctrination. But when this message comes from both ends, a girl doesn’t stand a chance.

Beyond the fact that any notion of natural hair being ugly and wrong is complete bullshit, there is the pervasive opinion that it’s harder to take care of. Running a comb through some kinky hair can be painful for both parent and child. Keeping frizzy curls looking neat feels like an uphill battle, especially on a humid day. But I’m willing to bet most parents don’t do a lick of research on how to care for natural hair before deciding to relax. They probably don’t feel they need to when the traditional solution works just fine. Truth is, natural hair care for kids can be easy and inexpensive. One just has to find the right combination of product and technique.

Granted, this is much easier to do now then when I was a kid. Due to the explosion in natural styles and care, more companies and small businesses are generating products and how-tos to make dealing with hair less time consuming and healthier. Most of the knowledge gleaned from dealing with adult natural hair can be applied to kid’s hair. And if you start them early with learning quick and easy ways to get their hair done, the earlier they’ll be able to do it on their own, freeing up valuable morning time for you.

There are plenty of folks who don’t want natural hair. Relaxed/straight is better, they feel. And that’s fine, too. However, I still ask that you not relax your daughter’s hair. Not at first.

As I said before, though you may feel that your daughter is an extension/reflection of yourself and want her to look good, she is the one who has to wear and take care of that hair. Therefore, shouldn’t she be the one to make the decision to relax? And shouldn’t that decision be based on a healthy attitude about herself? It should definitely be based on the knowledge of what she’s in for.

When my hair was relaxed, it took a lot of time to get it looking decent in the morning. And never really looked all that good in the end. When I finally decided to grow the relaxed bits out, it took almost a year. I didn’t want to cut it all off and start fresh because that would make me look terrible, so I had to deal with 2 – 3 different textures on my head for all that time. Plus, relaxer makes hair unhealthy right out of the gate. It breaks easily and therefore doesn’t seem to grow as fast. I’m sure there are other drawbacks that a hair dresser could point out. Girls should know this information before deciding to take that path.

Ease of care isn’t the only issue to deal with here. There’s also the social/cultural aspect: the messages black kids get about “good hair” and what is “neat”, “clean” or “acceptable”. They get it from all sides–home, school, society, media. And most outside forces are definitely on the side of the relaxed and unnatural. Some parents may say it’s better to relax their child’s hair until she’s mentally ready to deal with some of the larger issues. Like it or not, the larger issues will present themselves at the earliest opportunity. You need to prepare your child for them as soon as possible.

One of my cousins has a 7-year-old daughter who, though she has beautiful curly hair like mine, insists that she needs to have straight hair because it’s prettier. She didn’t get that idea from her home, but from school. At 7. You can’t wait.

It seems to me that if you’re going to raise a daughter in the present era who is proud of herself and her heritage, she needs to be proud of every aspect. Just as you’d want to bolster her from feeling that she’s inferior because of her skin color, race, religion, culture, or language, she should never feel inferior because of her hair. Women especially cannot divorce their sense of self-worth from their hair because American culture puts so much emphasis on it. Being ashamed of one’s natural hair is intrinsically linked with being ashamed of any other part of self. It’s growing out of the head, as much a part you as your skin, nails, or eye color. Therefore, it is imperative that hair becomes just as much a consideration in the self-worth building process as anything else. And it should go without saying (though it can’t) that brown girls growing up in America need all the help they can get in developing a strong sense of self-esteem.

So I’m asking again: please don’t relax your daughter’s hair as a matter of course. Learn how to take care of her hair as it is. Teach her to help you do so. Find a beautiful, natural style that will make her proud and is easy to do. And, when she’s ready to go it on her own, make sure she understands the choices before her. They will affect her for life.


Related Posts: Good Hair, Kinky Hair | Black Hair Etiquette Guide

Here are some posts (on another site) specifically about hair care and good products that folks might find useful: African American Hair Care (applies to anyone with curly hair, really) | 15 Minutes to Perfect Curls

47 Responses

  1. And put the hot combs down!

    I can still hear that hair grease sizzle…

  2. White person question: I thought dreads didn’t really require any care, but I am told they need daily “twisting”–does this care stack up to the care you are discussing here? Is the dread-twisting as time-consuming as the relaxing?

    I think dreads look fabulous. (Not on white people–except Jewish people like the guy from Counting Crows.)

    Are dreads an option for children? My friends seem to think not, because kids won’t do the “twisting”…

  3. daisydeadhead:

    It takes me about 4 hours to twist my locs.

  4. OMG what a well-timed post! I’m a self-described clueless white mother of a biracial girl with medium to tight kink. She decided to cut her hair 2 yrs ago but now is growing it out again. At about 3 inches long (3 inches of curl, probably more like 5 inches long), she’s starting to look ‘messy’ and I haven’t figured out what to do w/ it yet. Someone needs to write the ‘Black Girl Hair for White Girl Dummies’ book! Anyway, your older post led me to curlygirls.com so now I have some investigatin’ to do!

  5. You know, I hate two words when it pertains to our hair. I say our because 1 I am black and 2 I love sistahs as well as my niece aunt, mother and grandmother and hopefully one day daughter.

    Those words are kinky and coarse.
    the connotations that they carry disturb me to no end.

  6. Sandra, I’ll do you one better.

    This post on Black Hair Care is a good place to start because it links to a ton of other posts on that blog with specific product suggestions. (A quite smart person wrote most of those posts and I trust her judgment about hair ;) ) Also, get your girl one of the towels mentioned here. I have one and it makes life so much easier. If you scroll through that particular contributor’s posts you’ll find several on hair stuff for curly girls. She’s tried a lot of the products you’ll find at curlygirls.com.

    Dandy Man – I don’t mind the word kinky, myself. I think it’s fun. I know it has some negative connotations, but I think it’s a word we can embrace and beat back the connotations on (unless other, harsher words that start with N). Coarse is a little bit harder because, yeah, it’s never been a particularly nice word. It has some neutral properties, but coarseness is not generally considered good. But, sometimes that’s the best way to describe certain hair types.

  7. daisydeadhead – I actually have no clue about locs having never had them myself. But I’ll ask friends who do to drop by and see if they can answer that for you. though Angel’s experience may common.

  8. Ok… despite your warning, I hope I’m not being a wrench.

    I’m glad you pointed out the obvious reasons for most black women to relax or straight their hair – manageability, introduction to adolescence, acceptance and fashion reasons etc. I also wish cooperate employment would accept black women in their natural hair state. That too is a major contributor for many BW becoming chemical junkies (I live in the Carib so it’s easier for me either way). Now, it also seems black women with natural hair are putting emphasis on black women who prefer their hair straight as having some kind of self-hate. This insinuation (not saying by you) usually offends me.

    I love to see black women with kinky hair as well as straight hair. I wish we all could accept each other’s choice without judgment. Sometimes I do wish we could go back to those big afro days – black pride. I also fantasies on having locks in some point in my life. But, right now it’s much easier to maintain keeping my hair relaxed and it’s also cheaper personally… believe it or not. I relax once every 6 to 8 weeks and wash it myself in between. I wrap, get up and go. I don’t have to worry about paying someone to braid it, much less sit down for hours to get it braided or twisted. That’s just me, and I don’t think I’m the only one. I once heard a natural tress black woman say black women should stop spending money on their hair and put it towards something useful. I agree, but this was also coming from the same sistah that spends 150.00 on every pair of shoes and heaven knows what else. It would also be a plus if black people were the ones financially in control of the black hair industry. That’s the real issue, right there.

    So basically, what is the real issue about accepting black women with relaxed hair? Are we associated with wanting to emulate a non-black female? I sure don’t care to do so, and I think many other chemical junkies feel this way too. I can’t speak for everyone and particularly those that insists on wearing weaves and ridiculous extensions. In a way, I could see that being more of a blatant premeditation to “emulate” something non-black.

    Just my opi.

  9. But oddly enough I have noticed more women with curly hair in advertisements and in sci-fi. Maybe it’s just me.

    Throw a thick sista with natural hair and I get all giddy. Oh I like the word kinky as long as it pertains to blue movies and hopeful endings of third dates.

  10. I also agree with Dandy man. I hate (yes hate) “nappy”. I cringe when I see black women and black people use it (black people did not originate that word. The origin is similar to the “n” word). Also, I don’t care for kinky or course either. I prefer something like natural tress or curl tress… something like that, if you get my point. How can people expect others to embrace something if it’s namely associated with a less than positive descripotion.

  11. “But oddly enough I have noticed more women with curly hair in advertisements and in sci-fi. Maybe it’s just me”

    Oh yeah lol, but the thing is their “curly” hair texture still have some form of chemical texturizer in it. If not, then they’re most likely multi or bi-racial, and that too is another bias issue.

  12. Thanks for this post. I agree with every point especially the ideas of natural hair as ugly being reinforced from every direction, parents, media, friends. I actually know people who lost friends when they went natural.
    Another thing I turn to is the health ramifications of BURNING YOUR HAIR STRAIGHT WITH DANGEROUS CHEMICALS! Everyone always has the choice to do whatever they want with they’re body and their hair but as someone who has straightened and bleached his hair on occasion I have to say that any procedure where you know it’s working because your scalp is on fire is probably not good for you. There’s a reason why many older black women notice their hair growing thinner and thinner as they grow older.

  13. Oh I like the word kinky when it’s applied to the outcome of third dates inspired by Teddy Pendergrass, Marvin Gaye and White Zinfandel. awww yeah….giddity goo

  14. It takes me about 4 hours to twist my locs.

    WOW, Angel, I had no idea. What happens if you don’t twist the locks? I’ve seen a lot of dreads that don’t look like they’ve been “kept up” (like show-biz folks’ always do), but they still look good to me! In fact, I really like the Rastafarian type, that look beautiful, natural and wild. (I am particularly thinking of the Rastafarian in the movie THE HARDER THEY COME, who had dreads of all different widths and thicknesses.)

  15. PS: I’m logged in, but my name isn’t showing a link. How come?

  16. Naturallycurly.com might be of interest… it’s a curly-hair website that caters to a multiracial crowd. They classify curliness on a scale from 1-4 (wavy to nappy, basically). There’s a section for salon recommendations by region, natural-hair care tip boards, and even a section that features positive curly-hair media coverage. I’ve found it really helpful!

  17. Good stuff as usual ABW brining the sauce when it matters. I wanted to comment on some of the names that people were referencing such as kinky, nappy, and coarse. I just want to illustrate that there may be a reason that words associated with black people may be unfavorable since logically black people did not choose the words as their descriptors.

    Yes the word can be viewed how you choose or given the power or not by you. However, we use words to communicate and in this time, words have more power than ever to shape minds. So if your instinct is telling you “man I really don’t like the sound of that in reference to this” chances are you’re on the money.

    VJS

  18. Points well taken, Victor. :)

  19. Daisy, I just came across a post on LJ that may of some use to you. It’s a person asking for resources for those who want to start locs.

  20. hey ABW,

    I also want to throw in that young children should be exposed to more natural hair media from a young age, like the children’s books Cornrows and Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. I didn’t get my hair relaxed until I was twelve, and cut it off when I got to college. I think the images I picked up in those books, among other things, helped me make the jump back to natural.

    On the other hand, I feel that for a lot of moms (single or otherwise), buying that $7 box of relaxer and pulling your child’s hair into a 2-inch ponytail is a lot faster/cheaper than the time it takes to maintain healthy natural hair. And if you have more than one girl and are working full time, well…it’s a very tempting alternative.

  21. Thanks!

    One of my family members is all about this for her toddler son, but we don’t know if he will sit still for any twisting!

  22. Slightly directed to La – msviswan but being biracial/multiracial doesn’t mean you’ll have silky hair with a loose curl pattern. My dad is black with tightly coiled hair and my mom is white with stick straight hair. My hair is tightly coiled.

    I’ve had many black hair dressers insist I’m not mixed because my hair is too “african” (which they think is bad). It’s thick, it’s curly and it stubbornly refuses to be straightened (chemically or otherwise).

    I had natural hair (short little afro) until middle school. My mother (who is white) and my father (who is black) have always loved my curls and my natural hair. But when I was 13 I started processing it because that was more “adult.” The usual horrors ensued. I went back to natural in college after reading the book “Good Hair” by Lonnice Bonner.

    Which is not to say that there isn’t a bias towards black people having a certain type of curly hair. Elongated curl pattern, silky hair, etc. Nice curls. Not those out of control afro like curls.

  23. For more info about natural hair, with emphasis on the tightly curled variety, go to http://www.nappturality.com (they also have a specific board for napptural children).

  24. Slightly directed to La – msviswan but being biracial/multiracial doesn’t mean you’ll have silky hair with a loose curl pattern.

    Hi starkeymonster, that I know. I was actually referring to those average biracial and multiracial black women that are usually preferred and chosen.

    Also, I know there are black biracial people who have almost straight to slightly wavy hair compared to the average black biracial person (even when the black parent had real “course” hair). My father is one of them uncluding one of my Aunts. Because of this, my older sister in particular happen to have loose curlier hair compared to the average black biracial person. She is a black woman from two black parents (I consider my father black) and yet, she gets mistaken for biracial along with my own daughter who is thrid generation. So again, I’m aware of the particulars and I was speaking in general when I made that comment.

  25. I get what you are saying La – msviswan. After commenting, I realized that I have a knee-jerk negative reaction when people talk about mixed race people having that loose curly/wavy hair, “exotic” features, etc.

    The knee-jerk reaction is because I’m a non-exotic looking mixed race woman, and I feel like I’m somehow failing to be “mixed” enough.

    I do understand, intellectually, that what when people talk about a generic “mixed race” person, they are referring to someone who is just black enough to be exotic, but not so black as to look African. Light brown skin, “good hair”, pale eyes, etc.

  26. Neneh, great website! Thanks so much!

  27. Re: corporate world expectations…

    Hopefully, the lack of acceptance of natural African-descent hair in the corporate world will change. In academia, natural hair has become widely accepted (to be honest, it is rare to see someone of African descent who studies anything relating to black people who *doesn’t* have natural hair), so maybe the trend will spread to other professions as well.

    Finally, to play devil’s advocate on the notion that straightening one’s hair is merely a matter of convenience and acceptance for black women and has nothing to do notions of beauty defined by proximity to whiteness, would black women straighten their hair if–in some alternate universe–African peoples had never been exposed to and, more importantly enslaved and exploited by people with white skin and straight hair? Wasn’t the whole enslavement process just as much about dehumanization–which included indoctrinating slaves with the idea that all that is black is bad in addition to separating them from family and cultural history–as much as it was about selling people? While it seems like the notion that all that is black is somehow inferior to all that is white arose during the slave period, it has been an idea that has been pretty hard to get rid of.

    I think that Toni Morrison explains the significance of beauty as determined by proximity to whiteness far better than I can in the “Afterword” to her novel _The Bluest Eye_ (the novel is from the early ’70s, but later editions have the afterword) far better than I could. The novel itself is a compelling in this regard as well, and has forever changed my thinking.

  28. [...] READ – Jezebel.com has full coverage of this story. READ – Gawker.com is on the case to identify the ‘Glamour’ editor in question. READ- Mama’s Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Hate Kinky, Angry Black Woman [...]

  29. Daisydeadhead: Sorry it took me so long..

    Actually, I haven’t had the patience (or arm strength) to twist mine in a little over a month. I have curly-kinky hair, so it just ends it kinda poofy. I don’t let it get too unmanageable, tho: I saw one woman who teaches at the college I go to who REALLY needs a touch-up.

    Next time you’re out in public and you see somebody with locs that you like, just go up to them and ask if they know a good loctician. I’d would advise going that route first, especially with someone so young.

  30. If I see someone who has natural hair or locs and I think it looks good on them is it seen as condescending to tell them?

  31. Depends on how you say it. but, in general, no.

  32. I say it with genuine appreciation.

    The reaction was interesting. A big shudder and sigh about the hair. She couldn’t hear the compliment but I was not surprised living in this toxic culture.

  33. Can I say thought that I find it so creepy, just plain *creepy*, that so many people are so desperately interested in every little detail of how we fix our hair? Am I not allowed *any* privacy or modesty about my personal grooming? At all?

  34. I agree with Delux.

    I don’t mind a compliment, but I do mind all the follow up questions and comments. If the compliment is just an entry point to start poking and prodding at me, then keep it to yourself.

  35. This was a great post!

    Im a Black woman who had her first relaxer before the age of 8. When I decided to stop relazing, my new hairdressers said they didnt see why anyone gave me a relaxer in the first place, as my hair wasnt that “difficult to manage.” Eh, well, sins of the mothers, lol.
    L

  36. [...] under Angry at Women , Angry at Black People  On the Kids Hair post, La – msviswan made this comment: …it also seems black women with natural hair are putting emphasis on black women who prefer [...]

  37. I love my mom’s hair which she has always worn natural. I envy her and my best friend who wears twists, etc. I wish I couold do that to my hair. I . . .I feel that natural black hair is still demonize, like in that hair advert in the Black magazines, which made me not buy Ebony btw. I wish that women could just love what God gave them, and I include myself in this. I love my skin, my lips, my nose and my huge brown eyes but I don’t know about the hair. For me, and both parents are black, it was entrance into the world of my friends. I hate going to get the shampoo in the “white section” and being told by someone that I am in the wrong section, being constantly asked if I am mixed or guided to the right section. I use Aussie, and anyone who thinks that having naturally straight hair is “easy” is nuts. For me natural, locs, etc. are beauty and unattainable for me. My mother represents this as does my friend.

  38. [...] exoticed by a beauty standard that’s skewed in favor of whiteness.  (I recommend reading the Angry Black Woman’s post on black women and natural hair for a great discussion on this issue– or, really, just read the whole blog, it’s [...]

  39. I love they way my friend, Valerie, looks. She is a black woman whose family came to this country by way of the West Indies. She wears her hair in a short afro; has huge, expressive black eyes; a generous, very cute nose; large, sensuous lips; high cheekbones similar to Angela Bassett’s; dark skin with a reddish tint; and a huge, toothy smile. This Latino male thinks she and countless other black women who look a lot like her are beautiful by any definition of beauty. So there!

  40. [...] black women in America are practically BORN with a complex about their hair. The Angry Black Woman wrote a great post about this. It’s hard enough to deal with such naturally beautiful, but naturally difficult, hair. Do we [...]

  41. [...] are a number of reasons for my decision. Partly, it’s for convenience: now that I practice yoga nearly every day, I like to wash my [...]

  42. [...] exoticed by a beauty standard that’s skewed in favor of whiteness. (I recommend reading the Angry Black Woman’s post on black women and natural hair for a great discussion on this issue– or, really, just read the whole blog, it’s [...]

  43. no perm
    yes,
    no hot comb?
    almost unimaginable.

    When I was growing up, I was not allowed to perm my hair. It was more out of the religious conviction that made my dad forbid me from wearing pants around him or makeup and what promoted him to get angry when mom wanted to wear makeup, but the truth is, it wasn’t based on afrocentricity.
    I remember my mom making me wear braids, and I did so until I went to college. It was so easy, but my hair is light.

    now,as much as I could not stand my dads strictness ( or religious frigity) I am glad I never got my hair permed. I got to know what my hair was REALLY like. I am still trying to find commercial mainstream products for my hair. I read horror stories form other women and I decided I would rather learn how to deal with my hair and how to style it than perm it. I can go back and forth and a blow dryer/hot comb allows this for me ( althought, I shun heat, its just not healthy for hair).

  44. Chemicals are definitely damaging to our fragile hair.

    in 2000 I had a co-worker who constantly complained that her hair “wouldn’t grow”…she had a perm, and it did appear that it didn’t grow. But she had also colored her hair auburn, and you could see new growth. Problem was it never was able to reach any kind of length, because it was constantly breaking.

    I told her if she got got rid cut off the perm, stopped coloring, and wore it natural, that it would grow. Poor sista was scared to death…but she did it. Shortly after sporting her new ‘do, she went to a loctician and had it loc’d.

    Her hair is absolutely GORGEOUS! Her beautifully crimped crimson locs hang just past her shoulders. She is absolutely thrilled with her hair. And I’m pleased she’s pleased.

    I gave up the perm in 1997; had it cut out by my stylist (who spent the better part of ten minutes trying to convince me that I really didn’t want to do that). When my close cropped hair begain to grow out, I didn’t loc, but the “kinky twist” hairstyle has been my signature hairstyle ever since that time. My own hair is about about 8-9 inches long, but when I want to make a bolder statement, I’ll have my stylist braid in kinky hair, for a longer, wilder look.

    My journey back to natural hair was an easy one, because my mother did not use relaxers and hot combs were not used in my or my sisters’ hair. I made the decision at age 16 to get a perm. My mother was disappointed, but she allowed me to make the decision.

    In ’97, something strange happened to me…I was sitting down in my livingroom massaging my scalp, and as I was massaging, I became aware of the new growth…and that new hair felt…good. I decided then that I wanted my natural hair back, and have never regretted the decision.

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