Black Hair: What are You Teaching Your Children?

This letter was featured on VIBE.

I have witnessed similar situations in my lifetime. I avoided being called nappy because my hair has ALWAYS been relaxed. I mention in my hair story that I was relaxed before the age of 10 and remained relaxed until my big chop in 2010.

Anyway, read the letter and share your thoughts.

“Oohh Child! Nappy, nappy, nappy! We have to get you a perm! I can’t believe I have you out here on these streets with you walking around with all these kinks in your head! Just all out in the open. We’re going to have to nickname you Lil Nappy!” stated the young mother, yanking her child’s head in a too-tight ponytail.

Being what people might call “nosey,” I continued to watch the scene of the small 7 or 8-year-old girl being scorned by her loud mother. As in most cases, the young girl was not worried about her hair before her mother made those comments. Her attention was fully on her Cookie Monster doll as she sat on the bench, kicking a pebble in a circular motion. As soon as her mother was finished with her rant, the young girl began to touch her hair over and over again as if she was trying to hide it from the world. She put down the doll and asked, “What’s wrong with my hair?”

After taking mental notes of the entire situation, all I could do was shake my head and walk away. The simple fact that she kept calling her child “Lil Nappy,” and not saying it in a positive manner, made me almost choke on my cappuccino. But the true issue that stabbed me like a knife was that the mother was simply passing down her insecurities to her daughter. Her daughter was perfectly content, and not worried about how her hair looked, until her mother drew negative attention towards her natural curl. At that point, her childhood daydreams quickly turned to thoughts about her hair and how she could hide it.

As Black women, we know that hair is a touchy subject that we keep close to our hearts. From weave to natural to perm, we all have our personal opinion of why our style is the best to rock. Once we grow older, our opinions may change due to life experiences, the finding of ourselves, or simply a change of heart. Especially if you transitioned from relaxed to natural hair later in life, you may go through a mental transition of shedding a stereotypical perspective of beauty that you were taught in your early years.

It’s understandable that there is not a rule book for teaching and parenting a child. It’s a learning process, but one must realize that the parent is the most influential person in the life of a child. What a parent teaches and says to a child holds weight, and will always settle in her or his mind.

At the end of the day, children are beautifully untainted when it comes to the world. They either become more uplifted, or jaded, by what they are taught. Being a young Black girl is a tough road to travel, and it creates a heavier load when you learn that your natural self is not good enough at the tender age of 7. Whether you’re a mother who wears her hair natural, permed, or weave—allow your child to embrace her true self. Black women are constantly taught through media that we are not beautiful enough, and transforming is the key to opening the door to beauty. It’s our responsibility to stop the cycle.
- Ellisa Oyewo

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About Jenell B Stewart

Jenell Stewart MS, the founder and editor in chief of the award winning website KinkyCurlyCoilyMe.com dedicates most of her free time educating and uplifting women with natural hair by way of her extremely popular website and YouTube channel. Jenell has been featured in Essence Magazine, Black Enterprise.com, and starred on the Dr.Oz television show as a Beauty Expert. In 2012 she was named one of Essences top Instagramers and that same year KinkyCurlyCoilyMe won an award for “Favorite Website” of the Natural Hair Community.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590097275 Angela Jefferson

    Well said, it first starts with how our mother’s feel about our natural hair.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mrs.stepurcookiesup Deandra Gordon

    tru everyone told me i did not have good hair like my mother . she has 3a hair i think. but any way itreally hurt me and made me feel ugly like i was not as good.

  • http://www.facebook.com/natasha.arrington.75 Natasha Arrington

    My daughter is 7 I have never told her her hair was nappy. I always say that it is thick. and it is very thick. I love her hair just the way it is. My hair has been relaxed for since elementry school. I have been transistioning since Janauary 2012. Six months now, I never will relax my hair again (i hope not).

  • candycoatedcashmere

    I pray that when I have a daughter that she will love and appreciate her natural hair because Mama will be rocking hers!

    • http://kinkycurlycoilyme.com/ Jenell : BlakIzBeautyful

      What are some things you will teach her?

  • Nubaby504

    I have a 2 year old daughter. I teach her to love her hair. When asked to point to her pretty curly hair she fluffs it out and smiles. I know in life we all have our complexes but I don’t want her hair to be one of them. As black women and girls we are already told we’re less attractive then other races so I try to make sure she knows that she is beautiful choclate skin, curly hair and all.

    • http://kinkycurlycoilyme.com/ Jenell : BlakIzBeautyful

      This is amazing. Our young girls deserve to feel this way and there is no reason why they shouldn’t!
      You are doing a commendable job and she is so special to have you!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=25717337 Camille Cherie

      I also have a two year old daughter and we live in a predominately white suburb of Detroit. I tell my daughter that she is a pretty brown princess daily, and I always tell her hair is beautiful whether I have pressed it, put it in a twist out, or braids with beads. I also tell her to always remember to love herself and to know that without a shadow of a doubt that mommy and daddy love her

      • http://kinkycurlycoilyme.com/ Jenell : BlakIzBeautyful

        You’re a great mom and your daughter is so blessed.

  • Kaila P

    Jenell I think you should consider teaching you son to love his hair as well , because many teenage boys are using texturizers in their hair in the Caribbean. It is just sad.

    • http://kinkycurlycoilyme.com/ Jenell : BlakIzBeautyful

      Y do u think they are doing this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/naomie.saintvil Na Oh Mi Saintvil

    its actually been the opposite for me growing up my mom loved my hair and never wanted to put a relaxer in it lol i was always told that i have “nice hair” (i believe everyones hair is nice) but yeah i’ve never had an issue ith my hair i love it in its natural state i hate relaxers because they damage hair!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/naomie.saintvil Na Oh Mi Saintvil

    natural hair rocks!

  • Tishana Trainor

    So my daughter was natural until she was 13. She rocked puffs and twists and what is now known as a WNG (we didnt even call it that back in the 90′s), and braids… Everything. I did her hair every week, unless she had braids, then it was 3 weeks. When she turned ten, she wanted locs like me. She wore them for nearly 3 years, then decided to take them down, by herself, with a thumbtack (thanks to Jamyla, the Oyin mixtress, who blogged about it). I was loving us sharing our natural hair. 

    Then, she went to her dad’s one weekend, called me from the salon chair to ask if she could get a relaxer. My heart sank. I told her it was her father’s responsibility if he allowed this. She said “Ok!” and went ahead and did it.

    Now, I went back and forth trying to figure out where I went wrong. I embraced our natural hair, deciding to BC in 2001 when I realized that I had no place telling her how to love her hair if I didn’t. I didnt realize it wasnt just me. Her father’s family and other women in my family proudly wore their relaxed hair and were hardly supportive of our natural hair. Not that we had no one, we really had a small group of us in my family sporting naturals… But just that small amount made her curious enough to go for the relaxer. It didnt help that we live in Atlanta, home of chemical hair care. I’m sure she felt pressure from her schoolmates as well.

    She’s back to natural now, after 4 years of relaxed hair, but it wasnt easy. I stuck to my word on who was supposed to care for her hair. Through no fault of her own, her father didnt live up to what h was supposed to do. I advised, but I never dropped an ounce of relaxer in her hair at all. If she needed her hair done, I took her to get it braided. But she wanted more relaxers. Even my mother did her hair. She said she felt I wasnt supportive. I told her I did what was best for her hair. 

    Needless to say, her hair is a touchy subject for both of us, even now that she is 18 and heading to college. But I realized I was truly invested in her natural hair, and forgot to nurture her self esteem even when she was relaxed. I didnt berate her or put her down or anything, but I didnt do my best to help her feel better about her decision to relax because of my bias toward natural hair. I wish I had, and I hope she and I can put this behind us. It can happen both ways… 

    • http://kinkycurlycoilyme.com/ Jenell : BlakIzBeautyful

      This was an amazing testimony. Thanks so much for sharing.

      As a mom, I can only imagine how hard it was for you, but why didn’t you tell her NO! You cannot get a relaxer? I’m dying to know why not?
      Is your daughter happy being natural now?

      • Tishana Trainor

        Whoa. I’m all late, but she likes being natural. About telling her no, she was already in the chair. My ex husband was always playing me against the kids. It was all a game, at the cost of my daughter’s confidence.

        • http://kinkycurlycoilyme.com/ Jenell : BlakIzBeautyful

          Ahhhh *light bulb turns no” that’s very saddening. Well, she now appreciates and loves her natural hair which is great!

  • Cookie78

    I was natural about 15 years ago. I was 18 was working a summer job at a paper mill and we had to wear hard hats. And the smell was awful out there so I decided to wear a boy cut. I did it for about a year and a half. I then went back to my relaxer. Fast forward to having two girls now. My oldest is 7 yo and the school she attends has a lot of caucasians, koreans, and hispanics. She started asking for a perm because she wanted her hair straight like a lot of the other kids. I had many conversations about her hair being beautiful the way it is. But how could I preach that to her when I had a relaxer. So one day I went to barber shop and did the BIG CHOP and haven’t thought about a relaxer since.

  • Sweet Tee

    I had gone to Ouidad to get my hair trimmed the day before a wedding. At that wedding, I was seated next to the 7 year old daughter of a good friend, her dad. His wife was home, having recently given birth. We we all watching the announcer at the recception when out of nowhere, she leans over and says in my ear, “if you want to get a man, you’re gonna have to get more hair.” Initially, I laughed at this shocking advice coming from a 7 year old. I asked, “Where did you get that from?” “No one, I made it up myself.” Dad was quite upset and texted me an apology later. This African girl wears extensions like her mom. When it hit me later, I was saddened at the reality of her understanding of our hair. I was hurt by the implication. And even moreso when I shared it with two 45+ year-old men who laughed and basically agreed with baby girl. The 49 yr old said “Hmph, out of the mouth of babes!” It would be great to see an article on men’s roles in our insecurities. Our journey, even as singles, are just as important when we walk down the street rockin our naturals. These children see and learn. Thanks for the article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chefritag Chef Rita G Chef

    I grew up in an era when people were saying phrases such as “Good Hair” and Mail Man Hair (when each man has its own route) however GOD blessed me with much wisdom at an early age. In the 5th grade I put a stop to an old racist music teacher named Ms Bessor from making us all sing Mammies little baby loves shortening bread and Old Black Joe. Was put out of Frick school for it but it brought the dirty deed to light. I refused to refer to straighter hair as GOOD. I refused to believe that lighter skin was better. Yet I constantly heard these phrases from adults. I raised two girls with two totally different types of hair, the good hair for me, as a mother, was the one that stayed in the braids that I did each Sunday. The other hair was frizzed and aged by Wednesday. I don’t have to tell you which was which. When I see weave in a little girls hair, my skin crawls!!! You are telling that Baby that her hair is too short and ugly, lets add to it. When I see a perm on any child under 12, I want to beat her Mama down!!! You are sending the message that straight is best and if you are nappy you are UNHAPPY. My girls are now 25 & 26, they have opposite hair types and skin hues. I made it my business to make sure that they grew up embracing all differences, they are now both beautiful and totally confident Black Women.

    • Mommy Naturals

      That is so great. So happy to hear that you have raised such wonderful Queens.

    • http://kinkycurlycoilyme.com/ Jenell : BlakIzBeautyful

      This was so compelling.

  • Mommy Naturals

    This is so so sad, but so common. I have two baby girls ages 3 and 4. They both have different hair textures and complexions and I go through it. I have been natural now for almost 5 years and wouldn’t change it for the world. Everyday I let my daughters know everything that they have is beautiful. I never use the word nappy, rough or any of that to them. We recently moved from NYC to a small town in the south (my husbands hometown) and it’s tough I tell you.

    For example this elderly black lady about 79 yrs recently said to my husband and I this baby girl is beautiful, the other one is cute what wrong with her skin? (she has freckles) and what are you going to do with her hair? I took a breath and almost lost my mind when I seen the look on my daughters face, She was confused as if asking what’s wrong with me mommy? why did she say that? I had to as nice as I could let her know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her hair or skin and in correction both of my African princesses are NATURALLY BEAUTIFUL. She gasped and I stared and she said “OK that’s good” and I said know it’s great. I face that in this town damn near daily.

    But, I will no stand and let anyone break my children’s spirit in any way shape or form. I have worked too hard to build them up to love who they are, their history, there culture and their people. No one protected me from those negative people with their venomous comments as a child, and I believe as a Nubian Queen raising two Nubian Princesses it’s a must. My husband is our biggest supporter in our natural hair state. He loves it and I see how confident that makes the girls. Every time I style their hair they say “but mommy I want to wear my frosky just like you today” it’s cute. So, when we are out we get stared at, and I hear the remarks “she need to comb they hair, that’s a shame” and I just smile and keep it moving.

    The other day this older natural sister that I just met (refreshing) said to me they are so confident in who they are and for a town like this it may be too much for people to deal with. Like I told her, they must be that confident because daily the self esteem, self image and self worth of Black girls is being assassinated. I could go on with some of the ridiculous things people say, but why give them the shine (lol).

    So now, with my background in fashion and their flare to be creative (they wear cowboy boots with church dresses and such) I began designing t-shirts with positive messages about natural hair with them and they love it. Look by no means am I perfect and sure I have my insecurities but damn it I will not pass it on to them :). Black women are beautiful and we need to stop the venemous attacks on each other so we don’t poison our young girls of tomorrow. Thank you for sharing Jenell this dialogue is so needed. My website for the shirts is http://www.mommynaurals.spreadshirt.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/ophifer Ozzie Phifer

    I don’t have children, but sadly I see this happening with my niece. I don’t think my sister actually realizes what she’s saying to her daughter who’s only two… or what she shows her. My sister is a big proponent of relaxers, weaves and high amounts of heat. While she doesn’t put any of this stuff in her daughters hair yet… she’s already started to make plans for when she will. Such as when she’s three she’ll start pressing her hair, so on and so on. My niece is mixed, so her hair isn’t all that thick at all; its wavy and curly and cute. But with her mom telling her that thick hair is unattractive, who knows what sort of complexes she’ll develop.

    • http://kinkycurlycoilyme.com/ Jenell : BlakIzBeautyful

      Maybe it’s time for you to make an intervention?
      Most relaxed women fall in love with natural hair when they see the length and health of others with natural hair. Maybe share some YT videos of little natural girls with her.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ophifer Ozzie Phifer

        Right now, we’re working on it.. but showing my sister how my hair reacts to not having heat applied and how soft my hair becomes when I use Argan oil and coconut oil. She did start using extra virgin coconut oil in my niece’s hair, because Lei told her she liked how it smelt.

        • http://kinkycurlycoilyme.com/ Jenell : BlakIzBeautyful

          I think you are going to be successful in changing her mind.

  • Miss EM

    amen! i get on my daughter about NOT allowing me to comb her hair to get knots out. she is 8 1/2 now. She now comfortably comes to sit so i can comb her hair. she loves when i press her hair long (i use maxi glide steam press) and i praise her for having beautiful hair. i can say our battle is implementing structure to taking care of our hair, naturally. Its a journey i have loved taking on since the day she was born. Ive been natural for about 15 yrs, but my hair remains short, not by choice. i know it is in how i care for my hair that makes a difference. but as i learn to care for my daughters and keep it healthy, i do the same with mine, and am happier with the progress of health and (slow growth) length.

  • Traci Miller

    I think in this day and age it is easier to be natural. The reason being there are ALOT more products out there that work with our natural hair then when I was a little girl. There are alot more positive images out there rocking natural hair. I LOVE IT.
    Eventually I will let go of my relaxer but at this time I cant…its what I know and I am on a learning curve as to what I can do with natural hair….but in the meantime…I have a 3 year old daughter. She is absolutley GORGEOUS (if I do say so myself) with her naturally thick, spongy, hair. Right now I keep it in braids with beads just because its easier in the morning and for her activities. It is my intention of never getting her hair relaxed. If she wants to wear it straight she can blow dry it and flat iron it…if she wants to wear it curly she can add in some kinky curly to it and keep going….I dont feel the need to put a relaxer on her.
    As far as being a good role model / representative for my child…I think I do a great job…and just becaus her hair doesnt look exactly like mine is really no big deal. In my family you see it all…braids, loxs, dreads, weaves, relaxer, afros…I love it. There is always someone giving advice on how they came up with their own natural gel – or how they twist their hair differently – where they bought their weave hair…LOLOLOL…its great. She sees it all and she sees we are confident no matter what style our hair is in.

  • -A

    I am not natural, I am permed. I began going natural sometime last year, moreso to simplify my hair regimen – but it seemed to have complicated things. For me, I have found that taking care of my permed hair was/is much simpler and easier. I know how to do it – condition and wash it well. It’s just easier to do and works for me. My hair is not broken off or unhealthy. I actually have strong, thick, healthy waist length hair. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like my natural hair, but I do like the simplicity that the perm gives me. This debate on whether permed or natural is better is no longer on my radar. What a person does with their hair should really be up to the individual. As far as children, I will teach my kids to love every inch of themselves, but also allow them to openly express their own unique individuality.

  • Yasmine Amaya

    I think that years before it was harder to go natural. The reason why is because perms was the move! There were the finger waves, asymmetric hair cuts and more that wouldn’t look right with out it!

    Now, there is more support in society with going natural. You would she some fashion lines, magazines, and even commercials with women with kinky hair. Also, there are stores now that have natural products on front display!!

    I was nervous about going natural at first because my hair was.. (thick and would stand up) but i embraces what I was given and did it anyway.

    All it took was one time to step out in the judgmental world that would that only satisfied
    the norm and I felt good just being me and actually felt a difference.

    I feel everyone should work with what they were given period!!!That is the key and you cant imagine how many unique individuals are out their.

    That is my message to my child…

  • Wendy

    Why is “new growth” still something to be managed…instead of enjoyed. I’m
    still amazed at the versatility of my natural hair. (natural for 3 years- and growing)

  • Puff Puff Poof

    I think it’s a beautiful thing that their is a new generation of mothers that can positively reinforce their kids about their natural hair because they understand natural hair by taking care of their own.

    I can imagine how hard it would be for a mother who was accustomed to taking care of her relaxed hair trying to take care of the natural hair. It probably felt foreign and that probably caused frustration which ultimately lead to those hurtful comments. I think a lot of people deal with frustrations by joking so I don’t fault them too hard but sadly because we had little support out of the home and a whole culture reinforcing that our hair is “unkempt” it really damaged little girls’ confidence.

    I really look forward to seeing a new generation of kids who feel happy and confident about their hair and don’t have to deal with these issues. It starts in the home, it starts with us!