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Last weekend, my niece grabbed a blanket, stuffed the tip in a ponytail holder and ran around our living room with her “hair” flowing. She motioned toward the blanket and asked “Doesn’t my hair look pretty?” I couldn’t help but go into teaching mode. “I like your hair like it is,” I said, fondly smoothing over her mound of curly ringlets and removing the blanket. “Do you like it?” She smiled, nodded her head and ran back off to play.

Too often I overhear mothers in the hair aisle at the supermarket searching for relaxer boxes while criticizing kinky-haired daughters who stand dejectedly by. I can’t help but shutter as seeds are planted that label their hair bad, difficult and wrong, seeds that could stay with them for years to come.

I remember as a child wondering why my hair “poofed” up instead of hanging down like the white girls I went to school with and the beautiful black women I saw on TV and in magazines. I determined I wasn’t born with “good hair” and needed to change it immediately.

Then, I could’ve benefitted from someone helping me to see the beauty in my own texture—especially since I was hard-pressed to see a ton of gorgeous natural-haired women in the media in the ’90s.

When I decided last year to grow out of my relaxer, I had to shed those limiting notions of beauty that I had adhered too for the majority of my life. Looking back at what a liberating and challenging process that was, I resolved to encourage my niece to love her texture early. And if she decides to get a relaxer later on in life, that’s completely her choice but I will not force that decision on her like so many of our women tend to do.

For now, I want her to embrace what grows out of her head naturally and to believe, with confidence, that there is nothing wrong with her hair.

Do/Would you teach young girls under your care to embrace their natural hair texture? How young is too young to give a girl a relaxer?

-Jessica C. Andrews

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