Little Black Girls With Natural Hair: Lessons On Touching, Rocking and Loving Kinks & Curls

By DENENE MILLNER

She was in her early 30s when she passed away from complications associated with diabetes and we were all in deep mourning as we sat in her mother’s living room, waiting for the limousine that would ride us to her farewell. Memories were exchanged. There were tears, of course. And then all attention fell on us. Specifically, my baby daughter, barely two years old, and her hair.

“You need to comb that stuff,” one auntie sniffed, looking with great disdain at my Lila’s afro. My attempts at justifying why I thought it better to keep her hair moisturized and let it just do what it do were met with side-eyes and teeth-sucking from the roomful of old southern black ladies. “Put it in some pigtails or press it or something. Tame it is what you need to do.”

The one thing as certain as death? Black women sitting around judging another sistah’s hair. I mean, we were on our way to a funeral, for goodness sake, and there they were, discussing the merits of snatching my kid’s hair into a style they thought was more acceptable than the one that celebrated the way it grew out of her head.

Nine years ago, this was standard conversation anywhere I or my daughters wore our naturals around black folk; the stares, the side-eyes, the “why’s,” the questions about “appropriateness”—it was never-ending back then, when wearing your hair in an afro, braids, twists, Bantu knots, locs or any other natural hairstyle was much less the norm than it is today. I had my reasons for going natural, the biggest one being that my oldest daughter, Mari, nearly scalped herself cutting off her twists so that she could have straight, blonde hair like one of her little classmates.

She was three.

I nearly died a thousand deaths.

Rather than stage a Drop Squad-styled/Happy To Be Nappy intervention on my baby, I went natural to prove to both my brown girls that their kinky, curly hair was more beautiful to me than anything I could buy in a Korean beauty supply store. I needed my babies to know that, and there wasn’t a day that passed by that my husband Nick and I didn’t tell them how spectacular their hair is—soft like cotton candy, strong enough to break a comb, shinier than a new penny, 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 their chocolate little ears as my fingers weaved fantastic styles through their hair. And soon enough, I was satisfied that both Mari and her little sister were happy being exactly who they are: beautiful bundles of chocolate goodness with kinky black girl hair.

And the more they fell in love with their hair, the more confident they grew in rocking their styles. And the more confident they were, the more adoration they got for looking delicious—particularly from their white friends and their moms. That latter part was always such a shock to me. After all, I’d spent years fighting my own people on the merits of rocking natural hair and keeping my daughters natural, too. The idea that the styles I spent upwards of four hours creating in my daughters’ heads were complimented and adored by anyone, let alone white girls was… interesting.

Of course, the questions were inevitable: How long did it take to get her hair like that? Where did you learn how to cornrow? Does it hurt? Do you take it down every night? How does it stay that way? And for how long? Can I touch it?

I know, I know—I was supposed to pause on all of that, right? After all, my girls aren’t museum exhibits, they’re not animals in a petting zoo. And, as recounted in a CNN late last year, there’s all kinds of history and baggage that bubbles to the surface when white folk try to touch black women’s hair.

Thing is, the questions and the touching doesn’t offend me in the least. Don’t get it twisted: You better ask first, or risk drawing back a nub. Both my girls understand and will tell you with a quickness that their hair is a part of their body and not a living soul has the right to touch them in any way without their express permission. But what, exactly, is the harm in answering questions from people who genuinely just want to know the answer? Or who have never seen a thick head of kinky hair up close or never felt the glory of a thick, beautiful mane of black girl hair between their finger tips?

Mari’s friends really dig her locs, notice when they’re freshly palm-rolled and scented with rose-water, rosemary and grapefruit oil, and love helping her tie them into cute styles. Lila’s friends get a kick out of loosening and redoing her twists and trying to duplicate the intricate parts and cornrows in their dolls’ hair.

Granted, their love of my daughters’ hair grew out of curiosity at first, but now, their playing in each others’ hair is no different from them painting each others’ toes or pretending to put make-up on each others’ faces or playing dress-up. Play in each others’ hair is what girls do. Especially if they’re friends and they’re familiar with each other and they are comfortable in each others’ space. This doesn’t happen if you’re slapping peoples’ hands away and telling them that touching your hair is akin to slave masters examining black bodies on the auction block circa 1836. Around our way, it’s just not that deep.

In fact, I like to think that their asking—and yes, touching—teaches a very useful lesson about black girl beauty. That in a world where we have “researchers” trying to scientifically prove that black women are ugly, natural, kinky, curly black girl hair is lovely and worthy of celebration. That it matters.

That it is something beautiful—exactly the way it grows out of our heads.

RELATED POSTS:

1. The Joys (And Pains!) Of Kinky Black Girl Hair
2. The Attack Against Black Girl Beauty
3. A Beautiful Black Girl Finally Says, “I Love My Hair!” 
4. Learning How To Care For Black Baby Hair
5. WTF: Mom Straightens 4-Month-Old Black Baby’s Hair—She Is Decidedly NOT Happy Her Girl Is Nappy

 

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

23 Comments

  1. I originally went natural out of sheer curiosity and I’ve stayed natty because I think it compliments my hair better. I also know I have little eyes looking at me. My 3 year old god sister ran up to me with twists in her hair and told me “Ashleigh! I look like you!” I had no clue she paid that much attention to me until she said that.

  2. compliments my features*

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Oh my goodness, Ashleigh—your hair is BEAUTIFUL!!!! And yes, those little ones really do notice, don’t they? My Lila is the same way as your niece—she really does check my styles and takes notes so that she can do them in her hair, too. It’s adorable. I don’t know if they’ll choose something different when they get older. They’ll have the right. And I won’t judge. But I know that under my watch, they’re going to love their hair exactly as it is so that when they grow up, they’ll have that love of self firmly planted in their hearts…

  3. I’m a white woman with straight fine hair, albeit thick…there’s a lot of hair, but the strands themselves are fine. My mom would always try to put those plastic barrettes on my hair, one on each side, to hold it out of my eyes, but the barrettes would just slip out of place with my thick slippery straight hair. One day I got ahold of the basket of barrettes and I came out of my room with all these barrettes in my hair, like the black girls in my class had their hair (this was some 25-30yrs ago), and I admired so much…how they clicked and clacked as they swung their head…all different color barrettes or beads. I thought I looked great, but my mom and grandmother freaked out. I knew by the looks on their faces that I had done something wrong, but couldn’t figure out why. I don’t remember them saying anything in particular, just that I couldn’t wear my hair like that and to take all the barrettes out. Anyway, your post brought back this memory and I thought I would share. Kids are so innocent and I’m sure your daughters’ friends do truly admire your daughters’ beautiful hair and styles.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Wow, Allyssa—thanks for sharing that story! I don’t think I’ve ever heard that perspective from a white woman. EVER. I think it says something about how little girls just admire “different.” Not that they hate their own—just that they dig “other.” I honestly believe that we assign so much to our children’s innocent actions—way more than we need to. I appreciate your childhood perspective!

  4. Your reasons for going natural really resonated with me. I recently stopped coloring away my gray hair after my 4-year-old daughter asked why I was doing it. I had never really stopped to think about it and felt like my only real reason was, “Well, society says brown hair is nicer than gray hair…but only for women, men can go gray if they want.” It seemed like the best way to teach her that she’s beautiful to the people who love her no matter what she looks like was to believe that for myself as well. So, no more hair color from a box. I’m rocking the brown and gray and loving it!

  5. As a white woman with a beautiful black niece I’m always saddened by any one’s efforts to change her hair, I have always been fascinated by this hair that is not only so different than my own but is truly beautiful and amazing in it’s own right, the things you can do with it that I could never dream of doing with my own, the different care it needs, everything. My sister has taken her daughter to salons that primarily service black women to get their advice and from there she has given her 3 year old baby extensions, first ones were made from yarn >P , and plenty of other suggestions that really just tell her beautiful baby that her hair is not so beautiful.
    I’m so grateful for posts like this that celebrate hair as God made it, esp. for those who don’t really know any better and are just trying their best to do what “experts” tell them.

  6. My daughter has a beautiful head of curly hair just like my mom. I have not gone natural and I don’t know if I ever will, but I make sure to tell my JadaBear that she is beautiful just the way she is. Lucky for my she loves twists and cornrows and wearing her hair out in a big curly fro. She knows at 6 how beautiful she is and her how beautiful her hair is!

  7. I started growing my hair out a few years ago because I was tired of having a burning scalp trying to get my creamy crack fix. But what I found that as my now 5 year old daughter got older and got more comments from her “classmates” requesting her to wear her hair “straight” I was able to wear my curls and say your hair in beautiful just like mommy’s. I wear it straight, I wear it curly, I wear it twisted and I tell her she can too! And when some of her “classmates” send in requests I happily go to the school to be the mystery reader armed with the book I Love My Hair and talk about the versatility of our textures and curls.

  8. My 14 year old and 10 year old daughers decided to go natural. The 10 year old eventually begged and pleaded with me to cut off the rest of the relaxer from hair that was down to her back. I call her 10 years old and oh so bold, because there are adults that would never let go of hair. My daughter’s reasoning was, I want to have my “real hair” and that “it’s just hair”, 10 years old. I have older southern ladies some of the same things you heard and I just shake my head at how sad it is that some of us still reject ourselves.

  9. I’m a white mom of a black girl. I take my daughter to a black stylist who specializes in natural hair and she has ordered me to do nothing more than occasional twists to her hair as it is extremely fragile. She’s about to turn three and it’s only really been in the last year or so that it’s started to blossom into a beautiful full head of hair.

    Sometimes I feel like a need a doctor’s note from her, though, when black women (admittedly, usually of the older generations) approach us and tell us what we’re doing wrong. I’m not going to lie – it pisses me off. I may not have started out knowing all that I needed to know but my husband and I have worked very, very hard to get educated on black hair. We don’t need anyone telling us what we’re doing wrong by our daughter, especially if they don’t know us.

    Also? Way to give my kid a complex.

    Anyway, that was my long way of saying thanks for this post. I’m going to print it out in lieu of a note from my daughter’s stylist. ;-)

  10. Hello
    Thank you so much for sharing these pictures of the natural journey of your family. I have been a natural for three years and I love it. I would never go back to perms. The freedom I feel is so indescribable. I have a daughter who I have chosen not perm but to keep in braids * twists. She loves her curly kinky hair to the fullest and she is only six.

  11. It’s wonderful to hear that your daughters are now comfortable in their skin. I have a brown girl and boy and I always tell them just how gorgeous they are (actually, I can’t help myself!). And if I hear them comparing the colour brown to something icky like dog do, I tell them quickly that brown is my favourite colour, it makes me think of yummy chocolate. And it has been useful, because when a kid at my daughter’s judo class told her that her skin was the colour of poo, she told him that it wasn’t, it was the colour of chocolate!

  12. Hello MBB:
    Back in February I put a kid’s texturizer in my 8 y.o.daughter’s natural tight curly beautiful sandy blonde hair. This was just to stop the breaking and make some of the curls became looser to be able to comb it better. Well…I think I ruined her hair. Her hair is straight now (I wasn’t really going for the straight so much as just being able to comb it better), but now her hair is breaking more and I really want her natural hair back. I cry inside when I have to do her hair b/c being a lil black girl, I surely don’t want to give her a complex. I don’t know what to do. I will never use a kiddie texturizers again, but I’m praying to God, that she can regain that natural curl again. What do you guys think?

  13. I’m a latina step mom of an 11 year old black girl. We recently had an incident where my step-daughter went home to tell her mother that she wanted hair like my daughters. Long curly and flowing. However my daughter loves my step-daughters hair, and the hair of her black girlfriends as well. She loves the braids, cornrows, beads, and twists they wear in their hair, and has asked if she could wear her hair that way. My husband and I whom is black are on a mission to go the all nataral way with my step-daughter, and are now just educating ourselves with this process. I of course am taking this with much more stride then her father is as he is so used to his daughter being well put together “proper’ so to speak. I want my step-daughter to know that no matter what her skin color and hair texture is that as woman we come in all shapes, color, and sizes are beautiful and we must love ourselves to the fullest. And how we represent ourselves is how we will shine. So thank you for this story, I will share it with my husband.

  14. My daughter has butt length, honey blonde hair, silky and stick straight. She’s one of two white kids in her class. The other 27 kids are a mix of Asian, Nepali, Somalian, African American and Hispanic. Let me tell you, they are ALL fascinated with each other’s hair! Every chance they get they are stroking, braiding, petting, pulling and otherwise reveling in each other’s gorgeous textural diversity. (Even the boys can’t resist rubbing each other’s heads.)

    The other day, my daughter came home and told me “Mama, I want to dye my hair brown and get a perm!” I told her that G-d made her perfect exactly the way she is, and that G-d made all her friends perfect for who they are. If we all looked the same, how would we tell each other apart?

  15. As the white mom to a sweet baby with gorgeous natural hair, I wanted to tell you how much I adore your perdpective. When our daughter first came to live with us, she had a very negative image of her hair. She had been living with a black foster family and the mother had constantly told her she had to have her hair put up. She had been told that her natural hair was a mess and it should never be down. The first time I let her hair fro out in all it’s glory and just put a cute bow in it she looked in the mirror and her eyes lit up and she said, “momma! My hair looks beautiful!” I could have cried. My older daughter has very straight hair that will not curl at all and she’s crazy jealous of my younger daughters hair. I’m so glad to hear someone else affirm that my daughters hair is beautiful exactly the way it grows out of her head and sometimes, it’s not about white or black. It’s just about little girls doing what little girls do and admiring each other’s differences.

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