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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  • Kit

    I wouldn’t put relaxer on an animal, let alone a human being… let alone a CHILD!!!

    Mothers need to wear their own hair natural. Little girls usually aspire to be like, look like their mothers and so if mum has a relaxer or straight hair on your head, the child is likely to figure that into their idea of what it is to be beautiful.

  • Sara

    Growing up with mixed hair, I always hated having a head of wild curls. I used to get made fun of relentlessly for the way my hair looked. So when I turned 14, my mom took me to get a relaxer for the first time. It looked beautiful, until my hair started to fall out and I had a bald spot the size of a golf ball on the back of my head. Turns out I had way too much hair for one bottle of relaxer, so they had to use two. Personally, if I had my choice, I would have foregone the relaxer. Knowing that later down the line I would have to deal with permanent damage to my hair from years of chemical treatments and flat ironing, to which I’ve become addicted to, is something I’ll have to live with. But it was my choice to do this to my hair. My mother embraced my hair both curly and straight, of course preferring my curls that used to stop people in the street. And that’s the way it should be: she raised me to make my own choices about my appearance, and never swayed me from what I wanted done.

    At the end of the day, however, it should be noted that no matter how much reenforcement from my family and friends that my hair was beautiful and special, I still hated it because of the negative comments from other classmates. I wish I could have told my younger self how beautiful she was, but I make up for it now by preciously treating my hair like gold.

  • Jess

    When I was in the 10th grade I snuck off and got my hair permed, without my dad’s permission, because I wanted to fit in with other girls my age. Of course, my hair eventually thinned out and began to break off. Then I really fit in with my peers. LOL.
    I’m natural again and don’t plan on allowing my two girls to perm their hair. I think where I went wrong is that I didnt have the self confidence to be myself. And I also didn’t realize that I could temporarily achieve the same trendy styles by pressing my hair, getting weaves, or even wearing twist outs and then going back to my full, thick tresses (which, come to find out many of my friends were envious of.)
    More than anything we should encourage young girls, and constantly remind them about what makes them special. Not just their beauty, but their smarts, personality and talents as well. They will realize that people will want to be like them, instead of the other way around.