Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Make Your Love of Natural Hair LOUD and CLEAR

Guest post from Kristl of How to Play With Barbies

Does your daughter have good hair?

OMG – you did NOT just consider answering that question!!

The only proper response is: There is no such thing as “good hair.” There is no such thing as "bad hair." Hair is just hair. What we do with our hair may be less or more healthy. It may be more or less convenient. It may be more or less expensive. It may be more or less practical.

But hair is not inherently good. Hair is not inherently bad.

So if you are still saying things like, “I wish my daughter had that good hair,” or you are allowing others to say that someone does or does not have “Good Hair” in front of your daughter, then by virtue of reading this post, and reading these words, a spell has now been cast on you. If you let it continue, your tongue will now begin to rot in your mouth.

When I was growing up my father challenged us mercilessly on semantics. If I said something was “Big” he said, “Compared to what?” A dog might be big compared to other dogs, but is it big compared to an elephant?"

The notion of good hair was borne out of Western Civilization that held women of European descent up as paragons of beauty. “Good Hair” became short hand for “Looks like the hair of movie stars and beauty queens.”

But you know all this, right? Because we all know about Euro-centric (and now Hollywood) beauty standards and how they can make the most beautiful girl feel undervalued. This blog is really about removing our own brainwashing from our speech patterns so that we don’t pass them on to our daughters.

So for starters…no more saying “Good Hair.” It is officially an illegal phrase.

So what do you do when someone says it to you - in front of you precious, impressionable princess? My stock response is a disappointment-laced, “Oh? I really wish it was curlier. I struggled with my limp, stringy hair my whole life so I always wanted hers to be those powerful, tight curls that don’t take 'no' for an answer. But thanks.”

So that’s where you start – don’t say it and don’t let others get away with saying it around your daughter. Because if there is such a thing as "Good Hair" there might be "Better Hair" out there somewhere.

What pains me even more is that so often, when women say this to me, they are almost always accompanied by other little girls who are getting the message that their curl pattern is somehow not good enough. If I can, I take it a step further and point to the little girl beside them (unless she has a relaxer) and say, “When I was pregnant I prayed she’d have THIS kind of hair.” And that little girl always smiles and blushes a little with the compliment.

And this leads me to one of the best ways to let our daughter’s know we value their hair. Compliment and point out other people with the same hair or even curlier hair. I often go up to other people and tell them how much I love their hair or their children’s hair. Leah, at age five, can now spot the people I am likely to compliment, before even I spot them. Now, going up to strangers to compliment them would not be something everyone would feel comfortable doing. I just do it because I enjoy doing it. Then I have to cut and run to keep from seeming all creepy, but I get it said.

If you are not the type to go up to someone and compliment them, then just point them out. But be specific. Say, “Look at that beautiful girl. Her hair is just so beautiful. Look how curly it is!!”

For some reason Leah believes my compliments more when she hears me compliment others. And just think if we were all out there complimenting each other on each other’s daughters’ hair and explicitly saying that what made it beautiful was its curliness. How cool would that be?

You can also make your values known through identification with fictional characters.

My daughter is five so she is in a phase where she wants to identify with cartoon characters. We have one book about My Little Ponies and every single page she interrupts me saying, “That’s me.” And “I’m that one.” And “No wait, I’m THAT one.” So I say, “I don’t want to be any of them because they all have that stringy hair.” Then Leah will try to prove to me that one of them has somewhat curly hair and then we fight over which of us get to be her.

Look for other ways in which your daughter might be absorbing messages from media images. Have you ever heard your daughter wish her hair was blonde? Because that one is easy to counter : “Duh. It’s boring. Blonde hair is boring.” I call Cinderella and Aurora “the boring princesses” because that is exactly what they are. A dime a dozen.

When we watch Bubble Guppies we both fight over which of us gets to be Molly. She’s the brown girl with the pink wavy hair. I always lament that Molly would be perfect if only she had pink CURLY hair. Another of the Bubble Guppies has peach skin and curly blonde hair (alas, Leah finds her boring) – besides we both know that if Molly were living on dry land her hair would be reaching for the sky!! My point in making this example is that claiming to be a particular character is yet another way of showing her what you value about her. I always want to be the brown girl and my daughter grabs my hand and holds it up in front of my face and says, “Mom, look at you! You’re white!” and I do a theatrical scream just to make her laugh. My daughter knows I love brown skin more than any other skin in the universe, just as I love curly hair more than any other hair in the universe.

Be careful of saying that your daughter’s hair is out-of-control or unmanageable. Replace it with “awesome,” “powerful,” and “independent.”

Lately though, I’d been hearing Leah ask for me to make her hair straight. I didn’t know what to do about her request because I don’t want to make such a big deal out of it that it ends up being MORE important to her. So, I tried a different tack. I built a collage using pics of beautiful curly-haired women and pointed out that “everyone knows these women are the most beautiful and talented women in the world and not ONLY are they beautiful and talented but they were also blessed with gorgeous, curly, powerful hair. And sometimes they straighten it because they don’t want to make all the stringy girls feel bad. It is much easier for a curly-haired girl to fake straight than vice versa. But they don’t wear their hair straight all the time because A) it’s boring and B)if you don’t take good care of the curls you were blessed with then it will get all damaged and you won’t get to have it anymore. “

As a blonde, stringy-haired child I got spiral perms every six months. It never looked natural, but it was better than straight in my mind. Both my sisters had them and even my brother. If you see a girl with a straight-to-curly perm whisper to your daughter, “Look, she’s trying to fake like she was born with great hair!! But you shouldn’t be mean to her. You should feel sorry for her. It’s not her fault she was born with boring hair.”

So after I put together my collage of powerful women with powerful hair I put together another collage of girls trying to have curls. Sometimes it works okay, sometimes not so well. I showed both collages to Leah. And whaddya know, it seems to be working. It’s only been two weeks but she hasn’t asked for a straight style again.

So, am I contradicting myself by saying "all hair is created equal" and then raving about curly hair constantly? Not really, because I always careful to say that I love curly hair and that lots of other people also love curly hair. Just as I call my daughter "Pretty Girl" as a nickname and tell her that she's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen - but then occaisionally remind her that every other mom I know thinks their daughter is the prettiest girl in the world. Being the most beautiful girl in the world is overrated. But having your mom and dad, your grandparents and eventually your signifcant others tell you that your face is among their favorite faces in the whole world - that is essential!

One more note – kind of off the subject but – “Nice Eyes?” My daughter has Ebony Eyes. My husband has Ebony eyes. Ebony Eyes are my favorite color eyes in the universe! There have been five chart-topping songs written about Ebony Eyes!!

Start examining your messages today and let us know how it goes. What works for you? The more we exchange our ideas on this topic the more we can help each other keep our girls heads straight (oh wait, curly!)

Kristl Smith Tyler writes a blog called, "How to Play with Barbies" her blog gives step-by-step instructions and tips for using 11.5 inch "fashion dolls" to create a world full of possibilities for her young daughter. Her daughter's barbie world is a world where girls with beautiful Ebony eyes and dark hair are much more common than "that skinny blonde chick who always wears miniskirts". Her daughter's dolls include brown-skinned dolls with a range of body types, natural as well as straightened hair. She also has Asians, Muslims, Indians and many other diverse dolls. Her latest post is about creating dolls with locs or dreadlocks. Check out her blog at:


  1. Overall I agree, but if we say things like "Blonde is boring" we're actually still saying some hair is better than others. As the mama to three girls, all with very different hair types, I walk a fine balance between elevating one hair type over another, and putting down the other types in our home. Besides, I don't think hair itself can be boring. Any hair type can be in a boring hairstyle, or we can really liven it up no matter what head of hair God gave us!

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  3. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!!! I'm all for banning the "good hair" phrase! How about "healthy hair" instead! "Oh girl, you have some healthy hair," whether it's kinky, coily, curly etc!

  4. In essence you're heading in a good direction. But it's too far. :S

    I have both heads in my house. Blonde and perfectly straight - and - brunette and perfectly curly. and both with white skin.

    you better believe that if either one of them were old enough to read, or heard you saying this in real life, BOTH of their feelings would be crushed. :(

    You can't bring down stereotypes and even the playing field by saying the straight hair is boring. You shouldn't even be teaching your daughter that you don't like your own hair or skin tone! What you do and how you act is ultimately more important that what you say. Be careful. You may just be raising her to think - just like you - what she was born with isn't enough.

    Part of me agress with this post, and the other part is crying on the inside.



  5. I couldn't agree more with Karli--right direction, but too far. The author talks about how the terms "good hair" and "bad hair" should be banned, but then talks about how her hair is stringy and anyone with straight hair has stringy hair (such as the My Little Ponies). In my opinion she is using other words to say "bad hair". I'm all for my daughter loving her curls and I tell her every day during bath and hair time that she's got the most gorgeous curls, but I don't talk down my straight hair or say other people or characters that she loves are "boring" because they don't have curly hair. Yes, all parents tell their children they are the most beautiful/handsome in the world, but in the same breath they don't downplay their own characteristics.

    I know I would be so upset if someone made fun of or had a rude comment about my daughter's hair. Now, let's take this to the school yard. If a little girl or boy makes a comment about my daughter's hair being "puffy", "funny" or some other crazy word because she's natural I would be all up in arms because I know she would be hurt. Let's turn this around...what if my daughter told some straight haired girl that her hair was stringy and boring? That girl would be hurt because Baby O said something negative about her hair and where did she learn that...from me saying that my straight hair was boring.

    I'm sorry, I had to get that out. I'm not one for long comments, but like KiKiRocksKinks said we should be using the term "healthy hair" to describe any and all hair. :-)

  6. I agree with the other moms! I am white with waist length straight blonde hair, my daughter is mixed with curly black hair. I love her hair & tell her everyday how beautiful she & her hair is, and she does the same to me. When I read that 'blonde is boring' I felt probably the same way you would feel if someone said your daughter had 'bad hair'-hurt & offened. Beauty is everywhere, long, short, thick, thin, brown, blonde. My daughter's hair doesn't define who she is, but her being kind and loving to others does & will take her much farther in life than her hair will!

  7. This was an AWESOME post!! I want to just print it and put it in my memory box, or paste it on the wall in my daughter's room, or SOMETHING!!

  8. My daughter is blonde (and curly) and her hair is far from boring. When I take her to the store I'd hope that no one is pointing at her and whispering about how boring her hair is. I've often found myself down-playing her hair's beauty (in the name of modesty) so she doesn't get a so-called "big head" about it, because she does get a lot of compliments when we're out. No more, Her hair is just as beautiful as every other well taken care of head of hair out there is or has the potential to become with proper care. Thanks for bringing to light the disservice I've been doing my daughter by ever insinuating that her hair is any less beautiful than the next kid's hair. I don't think it's necessary to put other people down to make your daughter feel better. Remember--- "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle." --James Keller

  9. Are you serious????????? It's not okay to teach a child that any part of them is better than another. Straight haired kids are not taught to think their hair is better than curly haired kids. You teach your kids that they are beautiful just the way they were created and to love the curly hair god gave them, but you turn around and say eeewww we don't like straight boring stringy hair, that is contradicting yourself, and teaching your child to stereotype. You don't teach kids to think people are boring because they have straight hair, that is just crazy and ridicolous. You don't have to go to such extremes to give your child confidence in their appearance, you're not really giving them confidence in their appearance you're making them feel superior to someone because their hair is curly.

  10. I agree with Kelly. You don't teach your child to say hurtful things about others appearances.

  11. Thank you all so much for sharing your opinions. I agree with part of the article and disagree with other parts but I do believe the author means well. :) I am glad we can use the blog as a platform to express our opinions and concerns and teach one another a thing or two. -Nik

  12. I understand what you are trying to do Kristl, but like many others have already stated, bashing another hair type, even if it is your own, is only exacerbating the problem. She will grow up to believe that that hair type is lesser than her own, creating yet another problem. I'm sure you have insulted and hurt some readers who have straight hair or blond hair or BOTH, in an attempt to help your daughter love her own, which is totally unnecessary. Instead, you should teach her to love and celebrate ALL hair types.

  13. So just to add my two cents. I hear what everyone is saying and I am not surprised that many are offended. I was born with straight blonde hair and everything around me everywhere reinforced over and over and over again how valued that was. Because the messages are everywhere I am very aggressive in protecting my daughter's self esteem. I feel that the best way to do this is to point out to her that blonde straight hair is EVERYWHERE and therefore, not interesting to me. Those of you who have daughters with both types - I agree you are in a tough place because you have to protect the self-esteem of both girls. For me it's much easier, much simpler. But let's be realistic and take note of the first time your dark haired child wishes she was blonde or the first time your curly haired child wishes her hair was straight. I believe I am righting a wrong and yes, I am willing to let her know that I think blonde, straight hair is boring - because I do.

  14. I see that it's been said several times over, but I want to add to the chorus of noting that intentionally and repeatedly disparaging one hair type in favor of another is not a good tactic. It fosters an air of judgement, comparison, and hostility. A message more along the lines of "curly hair is beautiful and straight hair is beautiful too" or "any hair can be beautiful" is far healthier and frankly, more truthful. You are potentially creating a complex about hair where none would exist by focusing so intensely on it. I just would never teach a child that a certain physical characteristic is undesirable or ugly, that is not the way to build self-esteem and I honestly believe that type of message can do no good.

  15. just ran across this today. i like the message but like others agree that it's going a bit too far. i dont want my daughter to think that she's better than other people. i dont think it's necessary to bring down other people in order to ensure that she has a high self-esteem.


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