“Good hair”…a term used in the black community from the time a child is born through adulthood. It’s just one example of the generational PTSD and traumas inflicted upon us because of slavery, white supremacy, and colonialism. The closer your hair is to eurocentric beauty standards, the “better” it is. Curly but not kinky. Smooth and soft, not unruly and rough. Elders can be heard speculating if a child will have good hair or nappy hair. Beauty supply shelves are lined with products for children as young as 4 or 5 to straighten their hair or at least make it more “manageable”. Media messages are clear…your kinky hair makes you less beautiful and you must change in order to be accepted, to feel pretty, or to be successful.
A Measurable Impact
Results from The Perception Institutes “Good Hair” study found that on average, white women show explicit bias toward black women’s textured hair. They rate it as less beautiful, less sexy/attractive, and less professional than smooth hair and as a result one in five black women feel social pressure to straighten their hair for work — twice as many as white women. Black women perceive a level of social stigma against textured hair, and this perception is substantiated by white women’s devaluation of natural hairstyles. So basically, the internalized racism is real…and traumatic…and passed on to our kids. Black girls are especially susceptible to messages about skin color and hair texture from a very early age. Children’s self-image is affected by the ways in which they see themselves in texts both verbal and visual, and that fairy tales play an important role in shaping self-image and the belief-system of children. The images found in fairy tales, therefore, have particular importance for children of color in relation to the internalization of White privileging.
So what can you do to help your child love their hair more?
1. Love yours first. Really evaluate your relationship with your hair. If you enjoy wearing wigs and weaves, that’s your prerogative…we aren’t judging you. Just try to take stock of why and ask yourself if you’d feel just as pretty with your natural hair. 2. Show her images of natural hair as much as possible in books, media, etc. The more natural hair is normalized the easier it’ll be to combat racist media tropes. 3. Speak about your child’s hair positively and shut down any family member who talks about her hair in a negative light. Being an elder does not give one the right to say whatever they want to your child. SHUT. IT. DOWN! 4. Watch how you speak about other black people’s hair. Your children are listening and taking it all in and using your opinion to form theirs. 5. Talk about it. Talk about white supremacy. Talk about internalized racism. Talk about the origins of the term “good hair”. Empower them with knowledge so they can speak about it to other kids who may not be as liberated as yours. 6. Join a natural hair group on Facebook. Black women in the natural hair community have significantly more positive attitudes toward textured hair than other women. 7. Reclaim the word “Nappy”. There’s a whole movement of women who are finding power in the word nappy. It’s not a derogatory term but one that empowers.
The best thing you can do is teach from an early age that all hair is good hair, but if your child comes to you wanting straighter, more Eurocentric hair, empathize with her feelings, don’t dismiss them. Instead, use it as a teaching lesson to help her learn how to love her natural beauty.