Hope was home for the recent holiday, and while she was here, she decided to cut her hair. Hope had decided some time ago that she regretted relaxing her hair and wanted to “go natural” again. After about 7 months of growing it out, we snipped off the relaxed ends and basked in the glory that is now her little Afro.
Ok, so maybe I basked; Hope seemed beside herself with shock, anxiety and the ever present teen worries about how others would see her.
When Hope came to home nearly 5 years ago, she had a lot of hair that I lovingly nurtured right on down to her shoulders. It was not chemically treated. I twisted it, coiled it, braided it, did all kinds of things with it. Hope was really proud of her hair; she got a lot of compliments. She learned to really embrace how her naturally curly, coily hair looked.
Hope has thick hair. It’s not just that each strand is thick; there are also a lot of strands. I swear when I first started doing her hair, I thought I was wrestling a carpet!
As she got older, and I shifted more of the burden of doing her hair to her, things got…difficult. My daughter’s care-taking abilities didn’t produce the same results, and eventually she decided that she wanted to relax it.
I hated the idea. I wanted her to love her hair and to learn to properly care for it. It had been years since I’d given up relaxing my own hair, and there was a part of me that took it really personally that my daughter wanted to relax her hair.
I had failed to promote the beauty of our hair.
I had failed to foster a sense of pride in our hair in its natural state.
I had failed to cultivate a sense of beauty that didn’t adhere to Euro-centric beauty norms.
I had failed to get her to love herself.
In spite of these failures, I also support one’s ability to wear their hair however they please. So, I asked her hair dresser to relax her hair.
Oh there was lots of hair swinging. There were smiles. There was hair flipping. Hope’s hair grew and then…all the things that happened before the relaxer happened. Poor maintenance; lazy care, heat damage, split ends and breakage. There were a couple of heavy “trims” that took inches off.
And I was spending a small fortune getting her hair done.
We ended up in the same place as before, which made me feel as though my prior failures had been confirmed in this hair relaxing exercise.
Then one night I was watching hair videos on YouTube when Hope said she regretted relaxing her hair. She thought it would be easier, but it wasn’t.
I still have teeth marks on my tongue from where I nearly bit it off so as not to say, “I told you so!”
So she begin the journey to grow her hair out with the first major development happening during her fall break.
I’m delighted that she grew her hair out and that she wants to embrace the fullness and textures of her natural hair. That said, I know that rocking a teeny weeny Afro (TWA) is a shock at first. You see all your other features and you can feel weird about them.
Is my forehead really that big?
Were my ears so noticeable when my hair was longer?
I swear my acne was not this noticeable with bangs.
My nose is big.
My skin is so dark.
My teeth are big.
I need earrings to distract from this.
I don’t like the way I look.
People will make fun of me.
I’m never going to look like Becky (No, you’re right and you’re not supposed to.)
It’s all so loaded. Helping her reframe her thoughts about beauty is hard. Helping her think about the fact that six months from now she will have a lot more hair is hard. Helping her believe that she doesn’t need to “fix” anything is hard.
Self-acceptance is hard at almost any age; it’s especially hard at 17.
I think she’s stunning. Her chocolate skin is dark and creamy. Her almond shaped eyes sparkle. With the hair away from her face, her acne quickly faded. I finally was able to coax a pair of small, classy earrings on her. With her militaristic posture and figure I’d kill for, I think she’s an 18 out of 10.
But to hear her tell it, I’m mom so none that counts.
Understanding how oppression shapes even the way we see our beauty is exhausting; really, it is. Teaching that…it’s not only exhausting but also infuriating. I silently rage thinking about the fact that my daughter questions her beauty because kinky coily hair isn’t universally seen as gorgeous. I cut my eyes at the folks at her school who looked perplexed like they weren’t sure to compliment Hope when she returned rocking her afro. I nearly cried when she cast her eyes down when she saw folks see her hair for the first time.
Hope is gloriously gorgeous. She already doesn’t know how lovely she is; the short hair is a radical change that makes her glow. She doesn’t believe that though.
That’s not my fault even though I feel like I failed in instilling that.
It’s all of our faults. That nearly exclusive white standard of beauty is so embedded in our psyche that our brown and black kids hardly know and appreciate African diasporic beauty when they see it. And that makes me sad and mad, really mad.
I look forward to the day when my daughter looks in the mirror, smiles at her reflection and turns on her heels to go knowingly, purposefully slay us all.