All Hair is “Good Hair”

Growing up, Sundays were not only the Lord’s day in our household, but for me and my younger sister, Sunday also meant that it was “Hair Day.”

A day dedicated to preparing our hair for the upcoming week of school. Mom would bring out all the necessities – the jars of Blue Magic and Sulphur 8, the bottle of Pink Oil, multiple hair accessories, and the dreaded sizzling-hot hot comb. It was an hours-long ritual that I often dreaded. Our heads were bent this way and that way, hair pulled tightly into various styles, and the anxiety of feeling the heat of the hot comb next to my ear. But what I also remember fondly is how nice it was to have time each week to spend with my mom.

As a mama to two girls, this ritual has continued. I have to admit, I still dread the process of washing, conditioning, blow-drying and styling. But, I do enjoy the memories that I am building with the girls while we sit and talk or watch a movie together.

“Hair Day” has become a challenge in the past few months, however. It has brought up conversations about culture and self-esteem. Our 9-year-old recently asked if I could install extensions in her hair. Not the braid extensions that she has had in the past. She requested long, straight burgundy extensions. When I probed her for the reason she had this request, she informed me that she dislikes her natural hair. Unlike her older sister whose hair is longer and thicker, her hair is very fine, susceptible to breakage, and doesn’t grow as quickly.

I feel her pain. I remember when I was her age I would walk around my bedroom with a t-shirt or towel hanging down from my head and pretend I had long, straight flowing hair like my classmates rather than my short, fine 4-a curl pattern hair. My mom would often twist my hair into protective braid styles that would last through the week. As one of only a couple of students of color in my class, I was called “Medusa” because my braids looked like I had strands of snakes coming down from my head.

It wasn’t just from my experiences with not-so-kind classmates that I got this idea that “good hair” was straight hair. It was also based on the images I saw on television and movies.

Today, television and other media are much more representative of the racial and ethnic makeup of the country. We are much more likely now to see girls and women of color rocking their natural hairstyles – braids, locs, twists, afros, and more. There is even legislation known as the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act of 2020 that prohibits race-based discrimination based on hairstyle. Ethnic hair products are also more readily available in mainstream stores and not just at the “Black hair store” on the other side of town. And people are less likely to attempt to touch a Black girl or woman’s hair without permission because “it’s soooo different.”

Although our society has evolved, as a mom of two Black girls, I am still acutely aware of the expectation that my daughters’ hair be presented as “good” in some way.

So back to my 9-year-old and her long straight hair request. It touched a nerve for me. As moms, we want our children to have a healthy, positive view of themselves. As moms, we don’t want our children to experience low self-esteem in areas that we ourselves struggled in. It took me until my 30’s to unlearn much of what I believed about my hair or African American hair in general.

I have since had several conversations with my daughter reminding her that she was fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator and that He made no mistakes in creating her – including her hair. I have reinforced the belief that “all hair IS good hair” despite the historical roots of the perception that straight hair=good hair. We’ve discussed all of the amazing styles that her hair is capable of being shaped into that many of her friends with straight hair are unable to achieve. We talk about why I style their hair into various protective hairstyles to help keep moisture in her hair and save it from being damaged from manipulating it too much. We’ve also read empowering books about hair like hers.

So we came up with a compromise. Instead of the long, straight burgundy hair extensions, we ended up doing burgundy and black braids. This gave her some length, the color that she wanted and is age-appropriate for her. Hearing her say “I love it” when she saw the finished product was a joy and a relief.

My hope is that she will grow to have a healthy and positive relationship with her hair sooner than I did. I also hope that she will hold fond memories of our mama-daughter Hair Days.

How have you navigated helping build your child/children’s self-esteem – especially in areas that can not be easily changed to what they desire?

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Christina and her family moved to SW OKC from Indiana in 2014 . She married her high school sweetheart 18 years ago and they have three kiddos: son, (15) and daughters (12 and 9). She is a former college professor/public health researcher turned PTA president/dance mom. She has a heart for public policy/advocacy work, particularly in areas affecting children, marginalized and vulnerable populations. Her family’s mission statement is “Love God; Love Others.” As a family they volunteer together often, enjoy traveling, and hold impromptu dance challenges in their living room.

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