Growing up as a black girl it’s almost a guarantee there were two things that were a no-no for you: red nail polish and red lipstick. It’s also a pretty good bet that when you asked why you couldn’t wear those things you were simply told by your mama, grandma, aunties, and older cousins it’s “too grown.”
There are actually a lot of things girls are constantly told are too grown for their age — makeup, skirts/shorts above the knee, and don’t even get us started on hair though, funny enough, most, of us were never told a perm/relaxer was too grown for our pre-pubescent tresses. But that’s just one double standard in the “too grown” debate handed down by parents who routinely prevent their girls from being too womanly while calling their brothers and male cousins “little man” almost from birth.
Aliya S. King, who writes the column, “The (Mis)adventures of a Modern Mom” on The Root, recently discussed this issue in our community, saying she refuses to hold her daughter hostage to such an antiquated ideal.
How many young black girls in our generation were cooking meals, watching over their siblings and left at home after school for hours—but couldn’t decide how they wanted to wear their hair or the size of their earrings or the color of their nail polish? I had to beg my mom to let me cut my hair—and I was a junior in high school holding down an after-school job.
In our culture, things like cutting your hair and wearing red nail polish are symbols of womanhood. And even when we are expected to behave like women, we’re often sent mixed signals by being warned against being visibly similar to adult women.
I’m not entertaining this ideology with Emmy. Yes, she wears hoop earrings. Yes, I let her color her hair with hair chalk. (And I would even let her streak it with real hair dye if she wanted to. It’s just hair color, not a tattoo.) She can wear any shade of nail polish she wants, and while I’m careful about making sure that she wears age-appropriate clothing, I let her wear tank tops, shorts above the knee and even two-piece bathing suits.
King does say there are some limits to what her 8-year-old daughter can do, pointing out two hangups she still won’t allow: cutting her hair and wearing heels. Acknowledging that makes her a bit of a hypocrite and noting she’s still figuring out all of her boundaries, King concluded: “[W]hat I do know is that I will continue to rail against the labeling of black girls as grown with a negative connotation, especially when, in so many situations, they’re required and expected to be just that.”
The aspect of the negative connotation associated with the critique of something being “too grown” is certainly a point worth discussing. So often girls are shielded from things that fall under that ambiguous umbrella for their own safety but the way in which they’re told often conjures up shame and blame. Instead of scolding girls for innocently wanting to wear things that make them look more womanly, more effort should be put into explaining some of the burden that comes with wearing certain things or having a certain look — not to make girls feel responsible for the inappropriate affections of men, but to make them keenly aware of an issue that will follow them all of their lives, even when they are old enough to wear things that are decidedly “too grown” for them now.
Is it time to stop telling little girls what’s too grown?