by LV Burns of Natural-Ness.com
Is it just me, or does hearing the term “good hair” make you cringe? I was at the cable company paying a bill a few years ago with my biggest stretched afro. When it was my turn, the teller who was helping me began telling the teller next to her about her son. The teller next to her was saying that my teller’s son looks really cute with his afro. My teller said,”Yes, but he was really cute with his twists.” The teller next to her asked her what happened to the twists and my teller said, and I quote,”They came out because he was running around in the sprinklers like he has good hair!” I had to restrain myself from asking, “As opposed to what?”
This lead to me to ask myself a few questions:
1) Is running around in sprinklers only reserved for those with a certain hair type?
2) If the son does not have “good hair” and she tells him that, what kind of hair will the child perceive that he has?
We really have to be careful with the terms that we use with our children. Children are concrete thinkers. If someone tells a child that they do not have “good hair”, than they will automatically figure that their hair is “bad”. Look up “bad” in the dictionary and it says,”a) not good; not as it should be, b) defective in quality; below standard; inadequate“… The definitions go on and on, you get the picture. I’m sure that if my teller realized that she had just described her son’s hair as “defective in quality” or “below standard”, she would have felt pretty bad.
When a child is “bad” we discipline that child, right? So if a child hears that their hair is “bad”, they will believe that their hair is in a “state” that needs to be “disciplined” or “fixed”. Many of us once “disciplined” our hair with “relaxers”.
Now on the other hand, I do not have a problem with the term “nappy”. A “nap” is a “soft downy fibrous surface (as on yarn or cloth)“. There is nothing negative about the definition of the word “nap” or “nappy”. Actually, after looking up the definition of nap, I’m pretty proud that it can be used to describe my hair.
Can you see the difference between the two words? “Bad” is a negative term, period. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about something described as “bad”. “Nap” is not negative unless we conceive of it as being so.
Now I’m not here to tell you what to do, but if you find yourself using the terms “good hair” and/or “bad hair” on occasion, just take one minute to think about what you are actually saying. Especially if you are using it with your children.
As a child I was always told that I had "nice, soft" hair. I was never told about good vs. bad hair.
I was never allowed to have a relaxer because my mother said my hair couldn't take one.
In my mid to late 20's I got my first mild relaxer. Now at 51 I have cut off my long relaxed hair and embraced my natural hair.
Interestingly, now people want to say that I have good hair – something I've never heard about my hair before. I correct them because there is really no such thing as bad hair. Good hair is well conditioned and has moisture.
It's weird for me to hear this term after all these years. I think my mother was right not to instill this "good hair" talk in me. I wish other mothers would do the same for their children because negative talk hurts a child.
I have had Sistas hate on me because they believe that I have "good" hair. Folks think this because I can get a comb through my wet hair without much problem. My hair is thin, fine, and will break off if it's too windy!! Of course to me, "good" hair is hair that's long, thick, and doesn't break off in a stiff wind.
When I was in middle school I was feeling depressed because my younger sister "the pretty one" was getting praise from extended family while I "the smart one" was being ignored even though the family was there for MY award ceremony. The school counselor tried to cheer me up by saying that SHE though I had "good hair". I wanted to punch her for completely missing the point.
Girl, I hear you. I'm 50 and when I B/C one of my older friends who sports a nice auburn fro said "girl, now I wish my hair could look like yours but you have that GOOD hair!" I was like girl, don't say that–everyone has good hair it's just what you do with it. I have always been told I had "nice" hair (both white & black) and I don't consider my hair to be Type 3. I just had to laugh…the ISM will never leave our people.
I dislike the term but will be happier when we've really left the feeling behind it in the past. And we're a long way from that. Whether we say it or not, a lot of people still clearly believe in "good" hair vs. bad hair. They just use different vocabulary and think that they've evolved.
i hate the term. i agree with you: what is it opposed to? i know what kind of hair people are referring to when they use the term but it is an unconscious self hating term. the opposite of good is bad and that implies that anyone not born with loose waves or straight hair has bad hair and that is SOOO not the case. i love the diversity that our hair tends to offer.
I'd wouldn't try to check someone who used those terms – you'd probably get your (pretty?) hair blown back. You can try to be Oprah all you want but there is still freedom of speech in this country.
I personally don't have a problem with the terms "good hair" and "nappy hair." Nor do I have a problem with the N-word when used the "right way." I don't use any of those terms because I don't feel comfortable saying them but hearing other folks use them when we are amongst ourselves does not make me cringe.
Yeah, that term 'good hair' or 'nappy hair' can have a positive or negative impact our self esteem. Growing up I was never told that I had, 'nappy hair' but my mother never made me feel like my hair is healthy or pretty. She made it seem like my hair was more of a burden than anything. Now that I'm and adult and have nieces and nephews, I try to have them feel self confident in who they are as people. My niece is adorable and has cottony hair that is soft! Her mother constantly tells her that she has nappy hair. I don't feel it's my business to tell my niece's mother what to do but I do tell my niece how pretty her hair is and how smart she is.
I don't care what labels other people decide to make for my hair , I am in love with it! It is healthier than it's ever been since I was 7 (before the hot comb and 4 or 5 years later the relaxers). I feel healthy and empowered.
I had an argument with my family members because they used the term good hair, I questioned what they meant, and they said "oh, come on now… you know what it is. Its that hair growing out of YOUR head..!" I'm like, huh?
Seriously? Who uses that term…? I have folks in my fam from very loosely curled hair to the kinkiest of kinks! Is any of us better than the next? I think not.. we all have the same blood. Besides, I dare not look at anyone of my darker skinned relatives (with loosely curled hair) that even though I my hair is 3c/4a, I am better because I am light skinned…..
The discussion is so slave mentality to me…
I'm with you! I do not like that term at all. It makes me give you the *side-eye*. I honestly think it may be a race thing because I have never heard whites, asians, or latinos say anything about good and bad hair related to texture. We have embedded in out head that "good" hair is that which is not kinky…sad. I love Kris Rocks "Good Hair" documentary
I truly appreciate all of you sharing and I really need to take into consideration we don't live in a world that everyone is respectful of each other. My mother definitely protected me from the ignorance of others, but she also taught me to love them for some people don't know any better. As my husband and I talk about having little people of our own, I am hoping that I can be as strong as my mother and have the strength that some of you displayed in challenging times.
Live, Love, Peace. ~Sweetsop
Thanks for all the comments! I appreciate each one. The comment above about the 3-year-old was heart breaking, but I am so glad that the writer took it upon herself to turn it around! Bravo for helping that little girl learn to love her hair!
This post is on point. I BC'd almost 5 months ago and have been thoroughly upset at responses like, "you can do that (go natural) because you have good hair" or "you must have some of that other peoples' stuff in you" and last but not least, "I don't have good hair so I can't go natural like you".
My hair is just as nappy as anyone else's. I'm just taking especially good care of it. It's ridiculous and people need to stop it.
I feel the same about the whole good hair, bad hair thing. I don't like any of the "N" words either. The definition of nappy may seem as if it's not negative but when it was used toward African/Afro American race it wasn't used in a good or positive way. It was used in the same way "good hair" was used. When it was said it was used to make us feel inadequate, defective in quality, and below standard.
I recently went through a similar experience while on a family vacation. My 3yr old niece's dad decided to take down her plaits after she got out of the pool so that she would not loose any of her barrettes and so that her hair could be washed. Immediately I could hear my parents say "ooooh lawd you had better hurry up and do something with that stuff…you know that hair is some nappy….it's terrible!" Mind you my father is from Mississippi so unfortunately I expect this type of talk out of his mouth sometimes. However, I know that if I heard it then she heard it and it broke my heart. Immediately I grabbed a towel to dry her off and while drying her hair I kept telling her how fabulous and adorable she was with all of this hair. When the evening was over I took charge and shampooed and conditioned her hair the whole time re-affirming how wonderfully thick and soft her hair was and how I just loved how tight her little curls were, pointing out her teeny kinky curls to her in the mirror and encouraged her to touch the and telling her that there is nothing bad about having such a beautiful head of hair like hers. Before the evening was over she was rocking an afro that would rival Angela Davis' with a little tiara I loaned her (yes I own a mini tiara) and this was her choice of style, and she made sure to show it off to everyone in the house. On the way home from vacation I took up the conversation with my parents pointing out what they did and how it affects self esteem. At one point they thought it was a joke but after a few minutes understood how serious I was. You can say anything you want to me because I now know better but when it comes to that little girl and little girls like her… watch yourself. It has to stop somewhere.
I still feel out of the loop and I don't think I have a clear understanding of all the emotion behind the term "good hair." It reminds me of starting middle school in the states when a little boy came up to me and said what up n**** like he was saying good morning or nice to meet you. It took my mother several attempts to explain to me that the young man meant it in a nice way, but it was still a bad word and it wasn't appropriate for me to use the term. Personally, I was heart broken that this young African-American man called me a n***** and it still doesn't make sense to me as an adult.
In regards to good hair, my family has always thought that if you look presentable, you have good hair. If you look like a mess, then you are having a bad hair day. It had nothing to do with the texture, it had to do with how people took care of themselves. Personally, I think everyone on the planet is beautiful, unique, and has good hair. That is my perception and how my mother raised me (to love and appreciate everyone the way God made us). If we all put that thought first, would we really be having this discussion. Food for thought.
Live, Love, Peace. ~Sweetsop
My sisters family on her side have mentioned a couple of times that my neice has good hair because it is a looser texture. I'm like that is the hair that she was born with naturally and it's also a brown color, so she definitely won't have to worry about getting her colored in the future. I figure like this you can have good hair whether its nappy,curly, looser texture as long as you take very good care of it and it shows. I have seen some people with some tore up hair and claiming to have good hair, and those that offer you their business cards with wanting them to do your hair. I'm bytch please do I look that desperate to let you miss up my hair that I take good care of lol…
Amen! I've had a problem with that term for years! I believe if you have healthy hair on your head, regardless of color, length, texture or style…you have GOOD HAIR!
i was just playing a little devil's advocate to the situation Mz Assing was describing, that's all.
To Miss sara Yve…
If the little boy has twists…I am pretty sure he has some "healthy" hair. Nobody uses the term "bad hair" to describe hair that "grows slowly and poorly".
i would agree with you on the word "nappy" except it is a term that is used in conjuction with "bad hair", so it has developed a negative connotation. personally, i don't give words that much meaning.
Mz Assing, have you thought that maybe the people you were debating with meant that not everyone has healthy hair, so therefore there is a such thing as "bad hair"? there are people whose hair naturally grows slowly and poorly, so, by your definition, they would have "bad hair".
I've been told that I am IGNORANT because I refuse to believe that there's "good" hair and "bad" hair.
Really now?? They can't be serious. I am ignorant to not believe that "good" hair is hair that:
grows at a fast/moderate pace
soft in texture
and all that B.S that derives from your ethnic background/ natural or chemical hair and so forth
GOOD hair is hair that is well taken care of and that is HEALTHY!!
If I am being ignorant to anything…it is to their ignorance…There's no such thing as "Good or Bad hair"…Bad hair is when you don't take proper care of it…not the texture, the length, natural, chemical treated or the rate at which your hair grows!!
I am so happy some one has come up with this topic! The term "Good Hair" makes my skin crawl!… everytime I hear it i want to say so the worst things to that person! Because they are so ignorant and just not understanding that what they are saying makes absolutely no sense. We really have to learn how to build our selves back up because this country was built on tearing everyone down that wasn't of a Europeon nature. The term "good hair" is almost as degrading as "nigga" to me. Even if someone says I have Good hair. I quickly correct them. Hair is Hair. I don't believe in giving it characteristics. Black people are just so lost. Its just so sad. I love my natural Nappy Head! nappy is beautiful to me.
Sorry this is so long!!
The term 'good hair' is soooo old. New generation, let's do away with that term! Good hair is healthy hair. Period.
Yes, the good hair bad hair distinction drives me crazy. And I do cringe when I hear people using what I call "plantation language" especially when they are using it in the presence of children because then I know the nonsense is being passed on to yet another generation. While I know that there is a historical reason for the self-hate that expresses itself in the use of such language … enough already … no more excuses for continuing to damage our children's self image.
@Redbonegirl97: 'combative hair' I love it! I call mine 'willful' but we have lots of fun together!
Love this post! And love Chardaed's comment!
One of the earliest lessons I remember learning as a child was that there was no such thing as "good" or "bad" hair. I'm absolutely convinced this is one of the main reasons why I and my sisters were able to go (back to) natural without a ton of angst.
With regards to the specific incident mentioned, I probably would have had to say something. If the child in question had been present I definitely would have said something.
While I agree that ideally children should be raised to not let words affect them, the reality is that it's human nature to want to fit in and if someone is regularly ostracized for a feature it's going to affect them in some way. So rather than let words slide by, we should do more to challenge them and their meanings directly.
I loved one of the comments using the word "defective". That is exactly how I use to feel when some people with less combative hair would say they have "good hair". I use to think, what is mine broken?
Peace, Love and Chocolate
I grew up with the good hair bad hair thing. I don't think people always mean it in a negative way. The article states that children growing up with this message may "being told their hair is good or bad," may hurt them in some way. I agree but what if this is told to them by someone who is not their family, like a student at school. I realize people are cruel but this is the life we live. Life is not easy and I think if we raise our children to be "tough in their mind and spirit" they will be. I don't think any word or type of phrasing should ever be able to send anyone into a wave of recentment or self-esteem issues. So, often in our society this is what happens.Someone says something stupid and the next things you know someone is offended or someone doesn't say something stupid and someone is offended.I just feel like some terms are dated and because some people are dated that these are the terms they will use. When someone who should know better is using these terms, then it is necessary to correct them.
Actually, I feel that many people *do* mean "defective" when it comes to our hair. Hence the need to "train" it and relax it into something "better". The disconnect really comes when parents and other people don't seem to realize that defining something as basic and genetic as hair as something "bad" turns into "well, I must be aesthetically bad all the way around" when a child hears it.
Yeah, the "good hair" term is definitely used a lot and is not good for people to hear, especially kids. Also, thanks for the definition of nap, I didn't know that! ~KF519
I really appreciate this post. I don't like the term *good hair* either. I have sisterlocks and I do tell people I have bad hair for locks because my texture is loose curl and fine. I say bad hair because it's the hardest texture to lock. So just because someone has loose curl fine, soft texture (so called good hair) doesn't mean it can take the best of styles.
I also agree with not telling your children they are bad because when you do they will prove to you that they are bad and you will have a hard time raising them.
I think it's so important to be conscious about your word choice. Little kids are very impressionable, and you have to be careful about what you say around them. My mom taught me that there was no such thing as "good" hair or "grades" of hair…people just have different textures. Mind you she couldn't deal with my thick curly/kinky hair and sat me in a stylist's chair to get a relaxer at age 7. I've since learned she was highly mistaken.
I have a younger cousin who dreams of looking like a white Barbie doll with long, flowing hair, and it makes me sad because she doesn't linke herself. Her parents got her a relaxer so she'd shut up. Now, she barely has any hair. It makes me sad that people think there's only one solution to the problem, rather than simply educating their kids. I think it takes an even stronger parent to do that.
I'm 23 and don't plan on having kids for at least another 5 years. But when I do…they're going to learn that their kinks and curls are beautiful…and hair is just hair! Go play in the water, get dirty, do whatever.