Longing for Becky’s good hair, or hair and cultural occupation

Ever since dipping my toe briefly in the “mommy blog” waters a few years back and realizing it just wasn’t for me…plus things like increasingly bright spotlights on me as I became one of the “official” Black voices in Maine…I’ve begun to shy away from writing about my kids. But things eventually circle back on you and intersect no matter how hard you try to keep them discrete, and so let me talk about my daughter’s hair for a moment.

My recently turned 11-year-old increasingly tween girl had a hair crisis recently. I had let her take on responsibility for her own hair without my meddling (like braiding it at night before bedtime) and all seemed well, even if her desire for long hair almost always ended up with her making a big, uninspiring curly ponytail or letting her hair hang loose and long and coily once or twice a week when weather and such cooperated.

Some days back, she told me she had a knot she couldn’t get out. What she had, it turned out, were two large portions of hair that had dreadlocked, but not into organized locs. No, they were dread-clumps for lack of a better term. Turns out she wasn’t paying attention while brushing and when she thought she had all the tangles out, it turned out she had only gone halfway down her head.

I did some emergency deep conditioning but couldn’t loosen the dreaded hair. A couple days later, while she was with her dad for a few days, he went in with some products recommended by some of my Twitter followers and after more than three hours of intense work managed to loosen up most of the smaller clump and a very small amount of the large clump. The rest had to be snipped off, giving my girl the most asymmetrical look ever (and not in a good way) and an emergency trip to the hairdresser a couple days later to give her a short, bouncy bob-like cut to save what she had and set her up for a fresh start at growing.

She hated it. No matter how much me, her papa and one of her best friends told her how cute it was; how much it showed off her face and eyes and made her look older; how much easier it would be to take care of; and even that she didn’t have to love it, just accept that it was a flattering look she might not want to keep…she insisted on hating it.

She went out of her way to put her short hair into a ponytail one night and then let it loose when her daddy tried to talk her down from her hatred again, then fluff it out purposefully and claim she looked like Larry from the Three Stooges. Admittedly, she kind of did when she forced her hair to look that way but otherwise, she was a cute girl hearkening back to some of the short, cute, classy cuts of models in the 1920s but with a modern twist.

In the days since, she’s calmed down and, even if she might want to grow it out a bit still, she admits it has advantages and she likes it a little now.

That’s good, but it brings me to a place of remembering how much white standards of beauty drive us Black women…and our daughters…to places of self-loathing and hair choices that sometimes burn our scalps, leave us with early-life hair loss and more.

My daughter has always dug long hair. No matter that her hair isn’t that so-called “good hair” too many Black people still covet; she wanted it to hang long and not to have to go through hoops to keep it from dreading up. She always liked herself more when her hair was loose and long, even though shorter cuts and buns and pony-poofs and such were often much more flattering. Even her grand-dad (her white grandfather) has commented to my co-parent how he likes pictures of her with her hair down more.

This is a subtlety of white supremacy that too many of us, white or Black, don’t notice often enough. Black girls and women are reprimanded or punished at schools and workplaces still for things like dreads or afros, even though those are natural ways for their hair to grow when chemical straighteners aren’t involved.

I think my daughter wants long hair not so much because it’s a true desire, but because it’s a desire to fit in and adopt the prevailing cultural norm of society. Long hair, straight hair, etc.

It’s an insidious and real threat to the self-worth and self-images of ourselves and our daughters. How many of us truly want to have hair like white people, and how many of us just don’t want to stand out or be ridiculed? How many of use alter our hair to fit something unnatural to us just to be seen as more attractive when we’re already beautiful as we are and should be demanding to be seen as such?

I’m glad my daughter is beginning to like her shorter hair. I hope she begins to love it. More importantly, I hope that she soon embraces letting her hair be what it should be and helping it to stay there, rather than trying to force it into an unnatural mold.
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