April 19, 2016

Going Natural May NOT Be the Key to Helping Your Daughter Embrace Her Natural Hair

by Kirleen Neely PhD, LPC-S of http://www.richardsoncounseling.com/ 

In recent years natural hair moms have begun to unapologetically enter PTA meetings, playgrounds, and mommy groups rocking their curls. Many of them made a conscious decision to “go natural” as a way to teach their daughters self-acceptance and also help them learn how to navigate their kinky coils.

One significant off spring of their choice to “go natural” is for the first time in decades many little Black girls have grown up knowing that wearing their hair natural is an option. They have gone to weddings where the bride strolls down the aisle with kinky curls, had teachers who proudly rock a fierce twist out, and seen their moms do the big chop. Undoubtedly, in the last decade little girls have been exposed to a higher percentage of diverse hair images than in years prior.

However, despite the revolution many moms are still dealing with their daughters feeling like their natural hair is ugly. Moms continue to field the age old questions about “why can’t my hair be straight and long?”. The questions seem to reach crescendo level as girls enter junior high and the pressure to fit in becomes more important. The perception that natural hair is difficult, complicated, and not attractive is still part of their mindset.

Moms are now asking, “Was going natural to help my daughter embrace her hair a waste of time?” Working as a psychotherapist for fifteen plus years and being the author of a natural hair children’s book has given me the opportunity to hear their frustration and disappointment firsthand.

The seemingly obvious reason that “going natural” didn’t have the impact that moms thought it would is because for every diverse beauty image a child sees, they have probably seen thousands more that are monolithic and Eurocentric in appearance. Exposure to diverse images is very important component, but may not be enough.

In my opinion one missing factor is the lack of connection between the positive images of natural hair and the historical message. Mom’s expose their girls to positive natural hair images and expect them to make the connection of self-acceptance solely based on the image. Kids are intelligent and may need to understand the WHY behind the image.

One of the major reasons the message does not get discussed is the complicated nature of the message. After all, how do you explain to a child the painful truth behind today’s dominate beauty standard for Black hair and it’s close ties to slavery and the ugly separation of Black people based on hair texture and skin color.

I do believe there is a child friendly, age appropriate, way to discuss these difficult subjects. I further think that negating the rich complicated history from the narrative does our children a disservice. Of course, what you tell a five year old will be different than what you tell a 15 year old, but the inclusion of the WHY behind the message is important. I am hopeful that once girls understand the history behind positive natural hair images they will be more invested in keeping the natural hair movement alive.


Dr. Neely is a licensed professional counselor and has worked in the mental health field for over twenty years. She holds a PhD in counselor education and supervision from St. Mary’s University, in San Antonio, Texas. She has served as the chief executive officer of Richardson Counseling Services since 2001. The center provides counseling services with a focus on self-esteem empowerment. In 2010 Dr. Neely conducted an extensive qualitative research study exploring how dominate beauty standards impact African American women’s perceptions about their hair and hair loss. The study’s findings lead her to publish a natural hair children’s book titled “Straight Talk”. The book empowers children to love their natural hair and gives them a natural hair history lesson at the same time. Dr. Neely frequently appears as a guest expert on radio, television, and at conferences. Some of her recent appearance include, The National Black Child Development Conference, Sirius XM’s The Maggie Linton show, and Natural Hair Texas conference. Dr. Neely is supported by her husband and two beautiful daughters. She can be contacted at www.richardsoncounseling.com

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