By DENENE MILLNER

Mari was three when she practically scalped herself with scissors fluffs of her curly afro clumped like polka dots across our beige carpet. With her father and I surveying the scene of said scalping in sheer horror, girlfriend asked us all slick and sly, Now can I get long hair like Missy? Missy, mind you, was her BFF in her daycare class specifically, a white girl with long blond hair.

You want a black mom to die a thousand deaths? Have her daughter tell her that she would prefer long blonde hair to her kinky afro.

Trust: We considered a Drop Squad-styled indoctrination you know, kidnapping her, putting her in a dark interrogation room with a harsh, bright light, with a table full of down-ass natural sistas who would spend hours reading Happy To Be Nappy, and I Love My Hair through a bullhorn until she publicly swore off any delusions of silky, swinging, blonde hair. But seeing she was still a preschooler and all, we figured that would be a little much.

So we decided to take a different tact. From that second on, not a day passed by that we didn’t tell that little girl how beautiful her hair was soft like cotton candy, strong enough to break a comb, black as night, shinier than a new penny, curly and swirly and all awesome all the time. Perfect for parting. And a million little twists. And a bunch of beads swinging and clacking in the wind. Each of these things I’d whisper into her chocolate little ears as my fingers weaved fantastic styles through her kinky hair. She’d giggle and shake her hair and crack up when the beads bounced against her little round face. And soon enough, I was satisfied she was happy being exactly what she was: A beautiful, bundle of chocolate goodness with kinky black girl hair.

Of course, these days, I know that when she announced she wanted Missy’s long, blonde locs, Mari wasn’t so much rejecting herself as she was latching on to something new. At age three, kids start noticing simple differences from those around them and point them out, and if it’s different enough, they may just want to try it out for themselves. It’s no rejection of self it’s simply an embracing of something interesting and new.

Still, to this day, there isn’t a 24-hour-cycle that goes by that I don’t tell her she’s stunning because she is and because she needs to know that someone else thinks she is, too. Someone who loves her unconditionally and has solely her best interests in mind and is fully vested in her having a healthy dose of self-esteem, particularly in a world that goes out of its way to tell little black girls that their hair and their skin and their bubble butts and their thick legs and their wide hips and their dark eyes and their thick lips and their plump noses don’t fit into mainstream society’s beauty ideals.

And my work is paying off, I tell you. Just a few months ago, at the beginning of the summer, Mari decided she wanted her hair styled into locs, a process in which hair is left uncombed until it mats and coils and grows into itself. I’d long wanted to loc her hair, but because it’s such a permanent hairstyle, I needed her to decide for herself that it’s what she wanted to do. Sure enough, she started looking around and seeing all the beautiful women surrounding her who wear locs in their hair her grandmother, a few dear friend of mine, including my girl Joyce and my other buddy Akilah and her two adorable daughters, and a bunch of women at our family’s church. And after a few months of admiring them, Mari made clear that she wanted her hair to be beautiful like that, too.

And so I set about finding a loctician who would love her hair and tend to it and teach Mari and me how to care for it properly and make it beautiful, from roots to ends. And beautiful, it is.

I tell you these things because just yesterday, Mari was standing in the mirror playing in her newly-forming locs and trying to decide which sparkly barrette to accentuate them with when she ran her fingers through her hair and said, with the biggest, juiciest smile, the four words I’d wanted so desperately for her to say that day when she took scissors to her twists: I love my hair!

And today, my heart is leaping for joy.

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22 Comments

  1. yaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!

  2. MelADramatic Mommy

    I chopped my hair too. On Easter Sunday. I still have days when I hate my hair but it's mostly because of the high maintenance rather than the hair itself. Good for Mari. And good for you too. You're doing a great job with the girls.

  3. Chocolate Covered Daydreams

    I love Mari's hair too! So glad that she's confident in her locs. It's beautiful!

  4. Well..I'm the Missy in this story. And not surprisingly, the Missys of the world wish that they had different hair, too! I remember wanting to have my hair put in rows soo badly..and two years ago, I did! Many people THOUGHT I was rejecting myself when I had my hair styled this way, but as the author mentioned, I too just wanted to "latch onto something new."

    On another note, one of my three year~old students always made it a point to show me when she was wearing her hair down because I always complimented her…she had beautiful, kinky, free curls; the way they bounced when she ran was so adorable. One of the ladies working with me said, "Oh! Her mother should tame that thing!!!" But this little girl knew how much I delighted in her big, beautiful hair..and she was so flattered and proud!

  5. Way to go Mari!!! That is soo soo beautiful. I get that same overwhelming feeling when Emma declares how much she loves her hair, and then she proclaims that others will love it too! Our babies are nothing short of amazing little women in training. I can already tell that Mari is gonna have a fun journey growing, playing with, dressing up, and caring for her new locs. They are beautiful, as is her spirit!

  6. Coming from an extremely diverse family hair was always an issue, especially for the elders whose hair determined identity for them.

    Those of my generation fought back by refusing to be "tamed" by it. We curled, braided, beaded, grew, chopped, dyed and more importantly accepted the "straight", the "wave", "kink" and "curl" we were born with in an attempt to break the notion that our hair held us back or pushed us forward.

    With the birth of each new child my siblings, cousins and I make sure each child, even the boys, know how beautiful and prefect in their beauty they are. We invest time learning to enhance, not tame, hair. It doesn't mean the Aunties and sometimes the Uncles (peachfuzz haircuts anyone?)don't have things to say about "doing something with that child's hair" but rather than argue the point or feel shame we smile at the 75 year old auntie in a fro, the 82 year old cousin in braids, the older cousin gone grey and the little ones as they run pass with all types of hair flying behind them.

  7. Joyce The Writer

    D! Now you KNOW I am sooo excited that Mari decided to take that step! That is so fabulous. And I see by the photo that the process is going very well.

    People always look at my locs and ask me if I'm going to loc my daughter's hair. My response is the same as yours: when she's old enough to make a firm decision for herself, then I'll let her do it.

    I can say that she has a lion's mane of THICK hair – and she loves it best when its in humongous afro puffs, or a wild Sly Stone afro. Those aren't the most convenient styles for pre-school where they still take naps, but I let her rock them whenever I can. Other wise its in intricate braids or a million twist

    I love that my baby loves her natural hair. It took me 20 years to love mine because I, unlike Mari, really wanted to have to have the long straight hair because I thought it was better than mine.

    Thanks for the great post and the shout out about my locs. The way you love up on your children, they're gonna be armed with all the self-esteem they need to take on some of the challenging things in this world. Bravo, D! Keep on keeping on!

  8. Teresha@Marlie and Me

    my heart is leaping for joy too!

  9. navelgazingbajan

    This is such a beautiful story. I've worn my hair natural my whole life but even I was not completely immune to the societal messages that said my hair was undesirable in its natural state. It's great to see little brown girls getting healthier messages from the start.

  10. GYF Executive Director

    Love, love, love this post…and my beautiful niece Mari-Bug! Mari's confidence undoubtedly is inextricably linked to the fabulous job you are doing in reinforcing the beauty of natural hair.

  11. Mari, I was the young Jewish girl living in Southern California where everyone who was at the beach had long straight blond hair (including my best friend). I didn't, I had frizzy, clunky, chunky, thick, go in every which direction ordinary brown hair. I am 62 now, color my hair auburn, it turned straight by itself, keep it short and I am no longer that little girl wishing that I had straight long blond hair. It is so wonderful to be comfortable with your own hair. Happy for your new style <3 Barbara

  12. What an inspiring story. I pray that our little gilr will embrace her hair as Mari has done. A huge congratulations to you too – what an achievement. You must feel so proud! : )

  13. Oh boy! my daughter's first week of kindergarten was hair drama. By the fourth grade I gave my baby girl the kiddie perm.
    Last year in her senior year of college she told me she was so sorry she begged me for the perm. After graduation she went to a professional and had every bit of perm cut down to the natural with small golden brown twists. When she goes out in public now people tell her how beautiful it is. It warms my heart to see her smile again and not have stress about it. It even helps her get out of the house quicker each morning!

  14. I love this, I am so glad I found you over here!

    angelia

  15. Wow, your daughter is pretty wise for her age. Natural hair is a symbol of freedom to me. It's also a sign of courage. Freedom and courage to say that I may ruffle some feathers with my kinky locks but I'm pleased with myself. It takes a courageous person to make such a decision. I cut my hair off a few years ago just to "do something different" and found out how liberating it was. I also found out how challenging it was too. I had one particular attending while I was doing my clinical rotations in med school told me my hair was unprofessional and I needed to pull it back and not wear it out. I was very offended, especially since this was his personal opinion and none of the patients seemed bothered by my hair. I did what he said (because I did not want to fail the rotation for something so trivial). For a while I didn't wear my hair out, but then with the encouragement of my husband and others I started wearing my hair out again (and I have never failed a rotation). Now I twist my hair (fairly new for me and I love it). I do cheat and flat iron it a few times per year but not very often. My goal is to not straighten it for a year. Wish me luck :) Thanks for sharing such a great story. It gives me great joy reading it.

  16. As someone who just big chopped in May at the ripe ole age of 20, this is music to my ears. Thankfully, I really never had a complex thanks to having a mother that has worn everything from a bob to a jheri curl to a ceasar cut. She even cut off my relaxed ends. I've had every hairstyle in the book from relaxed/hot combed to weave to the cute little braids that my mom used to string beads onto…Kudos!

  17. This article is so timely for me. For the past two years I have worn sew-in weaves. In June I felt an urge to see and feel my own hair. Here recently, when it was time for a retouch, I noticed that after I came out of the shower my hair would simple coil up.

    At that moment I decided to wear my own hair and take a break from the relaxers, the weaves and the stress of being "on" all the time.

    Some days I just sit and run my fingers through my kinky coiled hair and think "I love it"!!!!

  18. Please detail exactly what you would say to your daughter when she was three ( and beyond), My baby is 1 1/2 and i would like very much for her to anounce one day, “I love my hair!”. She sees mostly very light skin and straight or curly hair (even in her own family) that I want to be sure to make sure she sees the beauty in her own hair and look.

    • Elise: I was telling my babies from the womb that they are beautiful and special and loved, and that continued the moment they entered this world and got their first snuggle in my arms. I also made a point of showing them lots of images of people who look like them—from family members to celebrities to friends, etc.—and noted how beautiful they are so that they had examples of beauty that mirrors their own. Just surround her with love and talk to her—constantly talk to her—about how beautiful her hair is and her eyes and the shape of her nose and lips, and give her sweet names like “sweetie pop” and “girl pie” that make her know that you think she’s absolutely delicious JUST THE WAY SHE IS. It’ll be ingrained in her from early on. I can’t guarantee that she’ll hold on to this or that she will love herself consistently; it’s human to have an issue with what we THINK are our flaws. But the foundation will have been laid by the most important person in her life: you.

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