Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hair: A Hairy Subject

I've been trying to process some comments recently, and I appreciate the advice I've been given.  Maybe some of y'all have similar dilemmas and this can help you as well.  Here's what I asked my Ethiopian-Mama's Facebook group:

Ok, mamas of Ethiopian daughters, I have a question and a bit of a rant about hair. My daughter is two, and has beautiful soft fluffy hair. I detangle, moisturize, sometimes style and sometimes leave it natural. [...] Here's the thing: I am getting comments [...] about her hair when I leave it natural. "Did she put her finger in a light socket?" " It's so FLUFFY!" "It's so big!" "Wow, look at that HAIR!" "It's everywhere!" etc etc etc.
I really do NOT want to shut these people down or even be the least bit rude- most are some of our greatest support base, and it is 99% well intentioned. I just don't know what to say or how to communicate that it's normal and natural, and nothing to be "wow!" about. It's just her hair. It doesn't need commenting on. [...]
Jayce and Anya, with Anya's hair in some twists

I'm thankful for the fellow mamas that responded, and I feel as though I should share some of their advice.

  • "I would just try to educate. You don't want your daughter growing up with these comments which will affect her own self-image. Maybe just start with something simple like, "You are right that her hair is different than yours [...] What is important to me is that her hair is healthy and cared for, and that she hears positive comments about her hair [...]"" -S.S.
  • "Even when the comments are positive they mostly aren't welcome. Because it's non-stop focus on hair. It makes her different." -A.S. (emphasis mine)
  • "I would seek to educate them quickly on the significance of hair in the black community. That includes the ways in black women are persistently and consistently made to feel that that their hair in it's natural state is undesirable or somehow not good enough. If they can become armed with this information, it should be a quick connect the dots for you to show them why their comments are detrimental to her ability to grow up with a healthy self-image." -K.B.S. (emphasis mine)
    Anya's crazy curls
  • "For people you are close to, I'd try talking to them quietly without your children present [...] For people you don't see often, once -off encounters, I'd just give them The Look and say 'Her hair is beautiful, isn't it?' Because ya know, who goes around making comments like that to white adults? Wow - you're nearly bald there grandpa! Yikes, aunty Sue, did you pay someone to do that to your hair? [...] You don't have to be immersed in a Black community to understand that comments joking about a child's appearance can be really hurtful." -I.Z.H.
  • "Our daughter is seven and has HUGE, beautiful hair. When she is not in braids, she gets a lot of comments from strangers. We say thanks, or ignore, or educate, or--if we are feeling silly--we pretend they were talking to me. I pat my very plain, brown hair and say, "Thank you so much for noticing!", or my daughter giggles and says, "Mama, I think they must be talking to you!."" -C.T.
  • "[...] Maybe a sweet, "I wonder what my daughter thinks when you say that?" Put it on them [...]" -D.A.P. (emphasis mine)
  • "[...] It is constant and not really good for my daughter. She could easily think the world thinks she is a walking hair holder.  [...] On the other hand it is not good for my son. Hair is very important to him. I don't think he thinks other people need to comment about his hair, but four comments about sisters hair in one short grocery trip last Thursday and no one notices his makes him feel pretty crappy, and a bit angry at sister. All I can say is sigh." -J.G. (emphasis mine) 

I am grateful for these ladies that chimed in and helped me realize that I'm not going crazy over nothing.  One lady was kind enough to forward me her blog post on the same issue.  You can read it here: Are Your Boobs Fake?.  Indeed, hair is important in the black community, and will be important to my daughter as she grows older.  Black hair (or "sister-hair" as my cousin called it) is naturally lovely.  Anya's hair is beautiful, but it is very different than yours (if you're white) or mine.  It requires unique care, it looks different, and it's textured differently.  Drawing undue attention to hair (or almost anything, really) will make any child feel "different" or that she needs "fixing".

I'll admit, Anya's hair is pretty fantastic.  She's two, and isn't conscious yet that taking a hat on and off and on and off and on and off will make her hair stand on end in every direction!  But, then, hat-hair is common to everyone.  I'm sure if my hair was rubbed in fuzzy blankets and smooshed in a stroller and carseat, it would be pretty "special" also.  I'm sure there are times when Philip and I have made too much fuss over her hair, or Jayce's (drop-dead-gorgeous) dark skin, or some other feature.  

Hey, the kids are two.  No big deal, right?  Well, as they begin to get older, they will start to internalize some of these comments.  Even comments made "positively" can make a child feel self-conscious, as if they may not belong, or there is something odd, undesirable, different, or not good enough about them.

So, maybe you're another mama out there with a similar dilemma.  I hope the advice given to me is helpful for you as well.  Or, maybe you're a friend or family member of some adorable, dark-curled beauty.  Hopefully you've been given food for thought.  The idea is not to be so self conscious that we never comment on my (or someone else's) child's appearance.  The thought, though, is to make sure that we draw attention to the good, not the different.

Oddly enough, I have a positive example to share as well.  I recently posted a picture of Jayce and Philip in a semi-public forum.  Besides having over 100 "likes" almost instantaneously, people's comments were so precious.  "What a cutie!" "The cuteness is too much! He looks like a total charmer!" "Gorgeous smile!" and my favorite: "What a handsome boy with a sweet smile.  Clearly he loves his Daddy."

It's overly obvious that Jayce and Philip don't "match".  Yet, people chose words that affirmed Jayce, instead of calling out a difference.  I loved that someone noticed that Jayce loved his daddy.  Yes!  What a wonderful thing to comment on!  Thank you, random stranger.  

A creeping lion with her hair in rubber bands

So, the next time you see Anya, her hair might be nicely contained in twists or braids or rubber bands, or it might be in it's natural state.  She will be adorable either way.  My guess is, that if you were African, your hair would look like the "poof" that hers sometimes does.  People would ask if you stuck your finger in a light socket, and you would become really tired of people pointing out that what God gave you on top of your head is different than white peoples' more flat, boring coiffure.   As if you weren't already aware.  Anya's hair is just her hair. And, for a black child growing up in a white family and mostly white community, she doesn't need these differences emphasized.  She needs to be affirmed for who she is, affirmed that she is fearfully and wonderfully made, and affirmed that she is loved.  

I understand that my daughter's hair is not what most of my friends and family are used to seeing. I get it.  I'm sure you also "get it", if you've a black child in a white family.  I just hope that as our friends and family come along side us and be the village that helps us raise our children, they will realize that marveling at an "abnormality" (poofy hair) may cost our black children their sense of belonging, their security in who they are, their sense of what's normal and strange, and their sense of what's right for them as a black American.  And, it may annoy the mama who will need to address these issues (and undo a mindset) with her daughter at a later date.  

Morning hair for Mama and Baby Girl

Hanging at the zoo, watching lions!

1 comment:

  1. This was really educational! I think you're right that comments that you get are 99% positive, because every time I see her picture, be her hair natural or "done," I think how beautiful she is. Yep, I notice her hair... it is different! And we are so in deficit of awesome black hair in our corner of the US. But..... I had not once given a thought to how she feels about it or what pointing out her hair might seem like to her or her family. Thank you for pointing that out. It makes sense and will help me steer comments more encouragingly.