Natural Hair: A Teen Struggles To Rock Her Locs Proudly, Courageously

I went #teamnatural 13 years ago with a very specific intention: to show and prove to my daughter, Mari, that she should be proud of her hair exactly how it grows out of her head. And for more than 14 years, I’ve lovingly tended to every curl, kink and tendril on her scalp, speaking power and strength into them and her, with a mother’s hope that by modeling, praising and encouraging her natural journey, she would be all good. That each of these things would be enough.

I underestimated, though, the power of other—other images of black women in the spotlight, rocking weaves like its some kind of super power, other thoughts in her head about what it means to be a 14-year-old African American girl with locs among a cadre of friends with relaxed, straight hair, boys other than her daddy and her brother, who have their own warped ideas of what constitutes beauty. And I found out only recently and quite by surprise that the girl just isn’t feeling her natural hair. Not like I’d hoped she would.

In other words, when it comes to rocking her natural hair with confidence, she struggles. And because she struggles, I struggle, too.

Recently, I found this poem among the many poems and personal essays she penned for school last year. It is called, “My Hair,” and in it, Mari is curious, defiant, fierce. Vulnerable. Her piece led us to a new conversation about our natural hair, one that is decidedly deeper than the many we’ve had up until now. More grown up.

I am grateful for the conversation.

And scared to death of it.

Mari gave me permission to share her poem with the MyBrownBaby readers. I hope you see the beauty in her word and that it, too, gives you fuel for conversations about hair in your own homes with your own children.



A derogatory term that rings in the ears

of every black girl

that wears her hair the way it grows out of her head.

Criticism after criticism tumbling out of the mouths

of those that the corrupt society has captured.

Dreams being crumpled up and thrown into the trashcan

of pointless ideas

just because she has dreadlocks falling down her shoulders.

And they wonder why I would rather tug at each strand so that

I could get it straightened

instead of wearing it

how it is.

See, I want to turn things around.

Bend it, twist it, cut it, so that it can be even again.

Straighten things out so that they can be the way they should be.

Because you people have obviously gotten it all wrong!

Is it okay for a little black girl to grow up believing that her real hair

isn’t good enough?

Is it okay for her mother to drown her hair in perms and relaxers

so that her natural hair won’t ever be the same?

Is it really okay for a black woman to be turned down from a job

just because she has dreadlocks hanging down her back

no matter how intelligent she is?

Over the years

even I was made to believe it’s okay.

5th grade

Hair salon chair


There I sat as she

tugged on my hair, twisting it like my mom always did

but this time, it remaining

filling out to form locks


Like the damages done to a little black girl’s Afro

after it is drenched with hair altering chemicals.

Remaining like the “nappy” headed stereotypes and ideas

that aren’t even true

but still filter their way down into my head

making me question my own hair.

Put me in a group of black girls my own age

and I will probably be one with very few others

that actually have natural hair.

I stand out.

But is that good?

I search deep down into my mind

trying to figure out if I have the guts to stand out

in a society where natural black girl hair is a “no-no”

while struggling to find the courage

to tell my mother

that I want

to take

my dreadlocks


Trying to surpass the stereotypes and assumptions

that people make is hard.

Trying to find the courage to do it is even harder.

Mari Chiles is a 14-year-old high school freshman who writes book and movie reviews and recipes for MyBrownBaby. The avid reader, who plays trumpet and softball, lives in Atlanta with her parents, sister and dog.


1. Natural, Not Nappy: Surviving Back-handed Compliments On My Kinky, Curly Mane
2. A Beautiful Black Girl Finally Says, “I Love My Hair!” 
3. Little Black Girls With Natural Hair: Lessons On Touching, Rocking and Loving Kinks & Curls
4. Adoption and ‘The Blood’: Embracing the True Meaning Of Love, Family and the Ties That Bind

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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.


  1. Wow, strong words and feelings coming from Mari. I know you said you and she have talked, but have you decided what if any changes can be made? This is probably one of the most difficult discussions in an African American home these days, serious due to the history, the decision to be yourself or to conform and then I am not sure about the cost and the chemicals, etc. As a young girl, although I am white, my hair was very wavy, sometimes curly and I admit to hating it. I suffered most of my life with my hair that would never look straight and sleek, now without any explanation at the age of 65 my hair is perfectly straight, and I am embarrassed to admit that I am finally happy. By the way it seems as though your house has another writer.

  2. Oh my goodness. The power of Mari’s words touched me to my core. I’m in awe – and so proud – of the way she is able to communicate her complex ideas and thoughts about the incredible and never-ending war black women seem to have with their hair. Her poem was so heart-wrenchingly personal and poignant. It made me think back to my decision nearly 20 years ago to go natural – and how, every so often, I feel that just slapping a perm up there may make so many things easier. I have to beat back those thoughts, too. And for her to be brave enough to share her concerns with you – and others – in such an honest, meaningful and creative way is empowering to me. I am positive I could never have been to transparent at age 14, or even 24. Mari, I so appreciate you and your willingness to bear your humanity. You move me. You’re stunning, regardless of whatever decision you make about your hair, which is yours, and will never change the powerful young woman you are. If you’re this amazing at 14, you’re going to be an even bigger force to be reckoned with in just a few years. Thank you for the inspiration. Love you much!

  3. Very powerful and touching. As a mother, I just want to hug her and take away the questioning angst that we all have to go through, but is no fun. I’m sure you feel the same way. My boys are still babies, so I haven’t gotten to the teenage stage, but I know one day it will be here. You just want them to keep their innocence and confidence forever, but we all struggle…she seems to have a strong support system in which to struggle, so I wish your family the best in figuring this out.

  4. Powerful writing from your daughter. I am 33 and have just started my own loc journey. I hope she knows that she won’t always be in the minority with natural hair, in many cities natural hair is becoming the norm, although the media needs to catch up. I think Mari’s locs are beautiful and I cannot wait until I get to that stage. I wish I had a mother like you who enforced the beauty of my natural hair so that I would have loved my hair earlier. The teen years are difficult for everyone in terms of image and although right now she wants to fade in, one day she’ll relish the fact that she’s standing out.

  5. I’ve had locs for 18 years. I would not loc a minor’s hair. Having natural hair that is not loced is not as difficult socially has having loced hair. I don’t think most minor are mature enough to handle the “othering” that accompanies having locs. While many black women are starting to embrace their natural hair locs are still marginalized on black women. Having loced hair is very different than having unloced natural hair. She might prefer unloced hair that she can wear in a twist out or in braids. Unlocing hair is doable about time consuming.

  6. Go Mari!!! Your locs are beautiful. Just like you. I love it!!!

  7. Wow! Mari is an inspiration at such a young age. I too went natural 3 years ago to teach my daughter, who is now 7, the same values about our hair. I do not regret my decision one bit. Her dad is very supportive and many women in my family are natural. Her BFF is also natural. In spite of this, she too is experiencing the “other” influences – even at age 7. She has asked for long straight hair. I was heart broken. However, I know that we are a minority in a majority society who constantly and successfully indoctrinates the eurocentric beauty standard. I will continue to build help her build her confidence and to allow her to express her angst just as you are allowing Mari to do. I am very encouraged and inspired.

  8. Our sisters really have to get over this hair hangup. There is way, way too much brain matter spent on giving importance to your hair. Hey sisters will you please place more emphasis on what’s under your scalps rather than what’s on top of it? A huge industry has been created and run by people who know we have this hair hangup. And the money is coming from our sisters. And the people I’m speaking of are men. Men who know our sisters have this hangup.

    Just get some shampoo and a comb and call it a day please!

  9. I have experienced what Mari feels even though I didn’t go natural until my late 30’s. I didn’t loc my hair and ended up perming it when I moved to an area that maliciously “othered” black women who wore their hair natural. I felt less conspicuous, but ashamed that I felt the need to fit in. After I realized that I STILL got passed over for the better paying jobs, STILL didn’t get any more dates, STILL didn’t look any better than before – I went back to natural. My spiritual growth is what eventually got me to love what’s on the inside and not obsess over the packaging.

  10. I’m an African teenager from Nigeria.. I just turned 17 this month and i started wearing my natural hair when i was 14 although i bigchopped again. I’m now 8months postbc. In Nigeria,there’s a lot of criticism about natural hair and its rare to find young people of my age wearing natural hair. So it’s a struggle. By the way,great by your daughter ma’am

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.