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Curly Nikki

Tenderly Tending to Brown Girl Hair, With a Smile!

By January 27th, 202127 Comments
Tenderly Tending to Brown Girl Hair, With a Smile!Little Dolls: Tenderly Tending to Every
Strand of Brown Girl Hair, With a Smile
By DENENE MILLNER of My Brown Baby

Good grief, why didn’t anybody warn me? I mean, I had a bazillion dolls—most of them black with coarse hair that I spent hours combing and washing and pulling into ponytails and meticulously parting into perfect and perfectly fabulous rows of cornrows. Sometimes a piece of brown paper bag or a spare sponge roller could coax a curl or two, you know, for special occasions. An assortment of pomades (Afro Sheen and Dax were ready for the sneaking in the bathroom cabinet), Afro picks, rat-tails, and wide-tooth combs, and of course ribbons and beads, made my dolls Ebony Fashion Fair runway-ready. Their hair looked good, okay? And between every brush stroke/twist/hair clipping/braid, I plotted, man. I was going to have babies and those babies would be girls, and those girls would wear beautiful dresses and sit quietly while I weaved their hair into incredible hairstyles that would make them the envy of grade schoolers everywhere.


Tenderly Tending to Brown Girl Hair, With a Smile!

I got what I’d been begging God for since the day I learned how to braid hair at age five: two girls with a lotta hair I can comb. Except my girls don’t sit still like my dolls did. Their hair and scalp isn’t made of plastic and synthetic fibers. I can’t brace them between my knees and pull it and twist it and tug at it. I’m charged with taking great care of two heads of kinky, curly hair—not including my own—with little information and great trepidation, even after all these years. There were no books out there to help me figure it out when they were babies. And there still aren’t any black children’s hair care books out now. Taking care of all this hair is not easy.

Tenderly Tending to Brown Girl Hair, With a Smile!If I just look at Lila’s head, or, Heaven forbid, announce that her hair will need washing sometime in the next month, she screams holy hell—like I just told her the moment all 7-year-olds will be hung upside down by their toenails is imminent. The girl can go three weeks with the same twists—lint and dried grass and all manner of rug remnants intertwined in her luscious locs—and not give a rat’s booty if it looks like complete madness. Just please, don’t say you’re going to comb it.

Tenderly Tending to Brown Girl Hair, With a Smile!
Mari is much easier. I still remember the first time Nick and I washed her hair; she wasn’t even a week old, swaddled in a blanket, nestled in Nick’s big hands. He held her head under the stream of warm water in the kitchen sink, and I rubbed Johnson’s Baby Shampoo over her curly hair. The girl fell asleep—like she was in a spa. I can pull it, twist it, scratch it, the kid is cool. But she’s got a dry scalp condition that keeps me workin’ day and night trying to figure out how to keep her head moisturized, shiny and healthy and natural. Some weeks, I have to wash, condition, and style her hair twice, almost two hours worth of work at each sitting.

I’ve spent exorbitant amounts of cash on hair products that promised miracles. When those didn’t work, I put together my own rosemary oil, Vitamin E, glycerin, and water elixirs for Mari’s hair, and shea butter and coconut oil concoctions for Lila’s—mixtures wholly conjured up from a patchwork of advice and internet research on how to care for African American hair. There’s plenty information about grown folk hair. Hardly anything about the tender tendrils of little brown girls.

Tenderly Tending to Brown Girl Hair, With a Smile!
And when I’m not researching and combing, I’m talking to my babies—constantly talking. About how wonderful it is to have natural hair, with its gloriously kinky, curly, poofy texture—soft like cotton, strong enough to break the teeth of a comb. How it doesn’t need to swing to be beautiful. That afros are the fire.

Nobody tells little black girls such things.

No, we grow up with our own people telling us how “nappy” our head is, and mamas popping us in the neck for crying when all that tugging at our strong hair/tender scalps gets to hurting, and watching TV and magazine ads celebrate little brown girls with fine, loosely-curled, “other” hair. Brought up to believe this hair is a chore and a burden.

Tenderly Tending to Brown Girl Hair, With a Smile!
And so I wash and condition and massage and mix elixirs and spray and oil and pull and twist and part and braid. And I don’t complain. At least not to my girls.

They are not the dolls from when I was little, this is true. But they are dolls, the two of them, and their hair is beautiful.

Every. Single. Strand.


  • Thanks for an informative blog

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  • Sukiyaki says:

    Great article. Years ago, I used to have to wash and comb my 2 nieces hair, one who was thick and almost waist length when stretched. Don't make double work for yourself by detangling several times. When I washed her hair, I tried not to pile it and tangle it. Then I would detangle it with conditioner, part it however I was going to make her braids or twists, and very loosely braid the sections. Then I'd rinse the conditioner out still loosely braided. Her hair was already detangled when it came time to braid. That way I didn't have to detangle twice. It was MUCH easier on me and much easier on her as well.

  • Anonymous says:

    I feel your joy and pain. I too have two girls aged 10 and soon to be 7 and hair day is truly a work day. My girls are very similar to yours in that one loves to have her her done and the other hates it. There hair is nothing alike….different textures, different lengths etc. We are all natural and loving it!!!!!

  • 8PrettyDivas says:

    Awesome message-I love this article! I grew up hearing the, "Your hair is nappy; it's time for a perm" message. Unfortunately, that message stayed with me until my early 30's. It was not until then that I rejected the message and began embracing my beautiful, healthy, "nappy" hair : ) Now I am very conscious about how I manage and speak to my 5 years old daughter about her natural hair.

  • Anonymous says:

    beautifully written.

  • Anonymous says:

    I loved reading this article! Those sweethearts are so lucky to have a mama tending both their hair and spirits so lovingly. I have recently come across a book about how to care for our hair called "The Science of Black Hair" by Audrey Davis-Sivasothy. I have found the book to be a godsend -as it's given me great info on how to maintain my own hair naturally. There is actually a section in there devoted to children's hair care!

  • Anonymous says:

    excellent post!

  • shamigreen says:

    *sheds tear* I love this post 🙂

  • Back2Front says:

    This is good stuff. I have been thinking about putting my little girl's face in my blog and I think I will. You are so right about us not being told our hair is beautiful. I just did a big chop and my aunt and grandmother look at me funny everyday and tease me about the kind of hair I have. It is time we change our image and how likely is it that we start from the top.

  • Chicworkingmom says:

    Ahh!Love this so much as a mother of a little brown girl. I adore her texture. It's more of a 4a or 3b while mine is a definite 3 (something)….I love her texture more than my own. It's thickness with little girls it's to die for. Great post!!

  • SwirlieCurlies says:

    Love this article. It was well written and made me full of nostalgia. I suppose this is what I have to look forward to when I bring my future daughters into the world…(mind you no time soon), but I will do it with a smile.

    Those are some beautiful girls..thank God their mother is teaching them that they are naturally beautiful…

  • Anonymous says:

    Love this post. You're right, "No one tells little black girls such things." As someone who had thick hair growing up, it was rare that I got this assurance, except if my hair was pressed, or when I started relaxing it. Even as an adult I am told by an aunt and my mother that my hair looks better braided as oppposed to loose. SMH. When I have a child, I'll be sure to encourage them early on.

  • Nakpangi says:

    😀 I used to have similar issues when I lived apart from my mother and was responsible for doing my little sister's hair… Except maybe it was a lil worse because when Mom washes her hair she complains but when I mention her coming in contact with shampoo she screams. and cries. and mutters curses under breath. and holds a grudge with the potential to last until the next shampoo. Needless to say, we needed to work on our sisterly love.

  • Anonymous says:

    Their Hair looks beautiful. Kudos to you for trying to change the message we heard as kis that our hair was "napppy" and needed to be "fixed". A good youtube channel which I love is called girlsloveyourcurls itsa woman with two girls whose hair looks just like yours and she has some really good tips on natural hair care, and styling tips for young girls.

  • Kia says:

    I've never commented on an article before and I read CN daily, but this was just so great to read. I too have 2 daughters, 6 years and 15 months and have to care for their hair plus mine. I can totally relate to the author esp the part about telling my 6 year old that her hair doesn't have to "swing" to be beautiful.

    Thank you for such this great article! :o)

  • Ayo@NaturalHairLoveAffair says:

    Love it! Imagine a world where All women embraced their goddess-descended coils, lips, hips, skin and body. Oh what a FIERCE World it will be! Hairs to our future Naturals- as strong, confident and full of love as they CHOOSE to be!

  • Angela says:

    I cried! I laughed and I cried! What a beautiful piece of writing (this coming from a professional writer). I also have two little girls, so your piece resonated deeply with me. And your daughters are beautiful. Their hair! Oh such hair! You're a good mama. 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    Yay for Denene and this article! I have a 4 year old daughter and I am so thankful that at least for now, she absolutely, positively loves her A is for Afro.

    My hubby and I both, tell her how beautiful her hair is. She has a shoe organizer hanging on the back of her door that's 1/2 full of cute hair accessories that she loves to rock. And we even make some hair mixes together.

    I love my daughter's kinky curly tresses and I pray that she will continue to do the same. I'm even planning to cut/take out my locs so she and I can take the loose natural journey together. And hopefully, as she gets older, she'll enjoy the same confidence in rocking her afro that she does now.

  • Anonymous says:

    i absolutely love 🙂 nice to see her featured here

  • Anonymous says:

    I love this post and can so relate. I have two daughters (5 & almost 3) and they both have a head full of hair. I went natural 1 1/2 yrs ago partially because of them. My hair had been treated with chemicals since I was in the 3rd grade and I'm 39 now. I just did not want my daughters to think they had to get their hair relaxed to be accepted or beautiful.

    Doing their hair is most definitely a labor of love. Both of them do really great sitting still, etc. But, it takes so much time!! My oldest has hair down her back and it is thick, manageable, but thick as all get out!! I could spend all day on her hair, easily. I love cornbraids for both because I get a break from doing hair and that keeps me sane!!

    To the author…I feel you!!!

  • LifenotesEncouragement says:

    this is so true and well written. I can relate as a mother of daughters who are all now back to being natural again.

  • aaliyah says:

    this post is awesome. love love love it. and your daughters are beautiful!

  • monicac2 says:

    Bravo! I have two girls myself and being the steward of their hair has been a journey. I started going to the salon at 6 to get my hair pressed, so this idea of mom doing all the care of a daughter's hair is new to me (my girls are 7 and 9). It is a lot of work, but a labor of love!

  • Anonymous says:

    One of the best posts I've ever read.

  • Anonymous says:

    I love this article and momma keep doing it lady, keep loving them, talking to them, supporting them, encouraging them, telling them how beautiful their brown skin is, helping them to love themselves and every single strand of hair on their head. I love it, love it, love it and they are some beautiful brown-skinned girls with beautiful hair. Keep up the good work.

  • TiAnna Mae says:

    How sweet! Great article. I can only imagine the time commitment to take care of three natural heads properly. Would you consider a light blow out before styling sessions or detangling and shampooing in sections?

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