By Erickka Sy Savané
As the managing editor of CurlyNikki I read a lot of comments, especially on the Facebook page where folks nowadays seem more comfortable, or maybe it’s just more convenient, to sound off. This particular comment and question from a reader was tough to read, and I think anyone would agree, whether a parent or not: My daughter has 4c hair and the shrinkage is real! She gets teased at head start by her peers. They call her bald head and ugly because her hair isn’t long and silky. I try my best to instill in her love for her natural self. She doesn’t feel pretty unless she has crochets in. I was teased a lot in school, and it still has an affect on my self esteem. I’m afraid she’s going to end up the same way. How do we teach our kids to love themselves when we have other kids out here telling them they’re not good enough?
As a mom with two daughters ages 8 and 6 years old, who both have short, 4c hair, I can relate to this mom’s question. It’s not easy, because in an ideal world other moms/parents would be teaching their kids that black is beautiful no matter the skin tone or the texture and length of hair. But that would mean that moms/parents would have to believe it to teach it and that ain’t always the case. And frankly, it’s the subtle things that kids pick up on like, do mom and dad call people ugly? Bald-headed? Black? Do they only compliment hair styles that have length? Do they stay in hair extensions?
Back to the mom who wants to instill self-love in her little girl in a world that ain’t too kind. By no means am I an authority, but I do have some experience with this.
Here’s what I do:
1. Affirm the beauty of hair like theirs. I always point out and affirm the beauty of black women with short to bald hair. I’m positive about longer natural hair as well, but since their hair is short that’s where I have to put the bulk of my energy. Fortunately, there are tons of women with short and bald hair in ads, on instagram, and in my friend circle. Then there’s me proud as a peacock, letting them know that I love my short fro. Sometimes I show them African school girls who rock their hair shortly cropped to the head because in many parts of the Continent it’s required. Now, the fact that they’re there, and my girls are here, only helps so much. But we’ll take the help anywhere we can get it! Here is a photo of a beautiful young girl named Jade who is a dancer in New York. She happens to wear the most beautiful fro, so my girls are fortunate to know her as a short hair positive role model. Jade cut her hair after damaging it with a perm a few years ago and has been wearing it, and loving it, like this ever since. Her story is here!
2. Affirm the beauty of their hair. When I’m combing, washing or conditioning their hair I tell them, “Oh your hair is so strong, soft and beautiful.” My youngest has heard it so much she says, “I know.”
3) Give their dolls a big chop. Not every doll’s hair gets cut, but a lot of them do, especially if the hair gets tangled. Why? Two reasons. 1) Rare is the doll that has short hair like them so why not make the doll look like them so they can feel represented? 2) It sends the message that it’s just hair. It can be here today and gone tomorrow. And Princess Tiana (above) looks great with short hair too!
|One of my daughter’s self-portraits|
4) Encourage them to draw pictures of themselves as they are. My girls love to draw and whenever they draw themselves they have to make the picture with short hair. Early on, my eldest daughter drew a pic of herself with long hair and I told her, “You have beautiful short hair, so I want you to draw yourself that way.” Funny enough, she has an Indian friend at school who drew a photo of them together last year and she drew long hair on my daughter. She told her, “Actually, that’s not how I look. Draw me with short hair.” I feel it sends her and others the message that she is enough.
|My daughter Makho left, a friend’s daughter Nile in the middle,|
and my daughter Ami right.
4) Lay off the fake hair. I know. This can feel like throwing your kid into the lion’s den because you’re forcing them to wear their own short hair. Yes, you are throwing them into the lion’s den but the character they build so young by showing up in the world as their authentic selves is priceless. Once they stand strong in that, and they will, the world is their oyster. And didn’t Daniel beat the lion in the end? And no one is saying that they can’t ever wear braids with extensions, but if they want to wear them all the time because they are insecure in their own short hair, if they wear them even when their edges are a distant memory, that’s a problem. Recently, a friend whose daughter is in the 4th grade and wore long braids most of the time got her hair pressed and damaged so she had to cut it all off. Instead of wearing her short hair out, she’s now wearing a hijab. It’s not easy, but let’s stop hiding our girl’s short hair.
5) If you have fake hair, lay off of it too. Yea, I know. Why Sway? Well, because kids learn more from what they see, not what we tell them. If you’re telling your daughter how beautiful her short hair is while you’re still rocking long, faux hair she’s going to look at you like you’re running game on her. So both showing up in the world authentically can be an exercise in self-love. And again, no one is saying you can never switch it up and wear fake hair sometimes, this isn’t the military, but while you’re trying to build your daughter up, stick with her. It would be the same if you wanted her to eat healthy and lose weight. You wouldn’t walk in the house chomping on an ice cream cone while telling her that sugar is bad.
6) Explain to them that there are a lot of people out there who just don’t get it. It might seem too heady for a kid, but it’s not. Especially when that kid is being teased for being black. When a little girl told my daughter that her hair was ugly, and that same little girl had kinky hair too, I had to explain that she didn’t know any better. That unfortunately there are some people, black, white, and in-between, young and old, that haven’t been taught that black is beautiful. So it’s not you, it’s them.
Okay, that’s all I got…I’d love to hear what advice you have for this mom because CurlyNikki is the longest and strongest natural hair community there is and we know that it takes a village to raise these kids. Sooooooooooooo……