Pre-teen Bean

When my niece, who we affectionately call Sydni Bean, was born, I released all the built up anticipation and excitement of being a first-time Auntie by writing on my high-school classroom board, “I’M AN AUNT,” along with all of her vital statistics in perfect bubble-letters. It has been nearly 13 years since then and I am still in awe of her beauty and brilliance. She is perfectly cool, much more like me, than she realizes. She has all of her mother’s intellect, and her father’s bravado, but she gets her unwavering sensitivity from me.

This past Thanksgiving as her father was projecting images of all the kids onto my  livingroom wall he came across a picture that she said she didn’t want shown. She said, “I don’t like that picture, it looks like I have an afro.” So I ask, “like that would be the worst thing in the world?”  And she piped back, “yeah, it would!” I think I would have been able to more effectively articulate the “Black is Beautiful!” discourse that I know I have in me, if I wasn’t hurt personally as I stood there, with my afro, poised to affirm my niece’s beauty. Hurt, not as much by her desire to disassociate herself with the fro, as I was by the smile I also noticed on my husband’s face when she said it. It would have been funny to me too I guess, if I wasn’t so “sensitive.” (That being said I have also had a heart-to-heart with my husband where he admitted he likes my hair “straight-er.”)

My family, like many black families, has some ugly hair politics. I too, am to blame. I have not consistently worn my hair natural and I think it is because I fall in and out of love with my natural hair. I do not love my hair in either state, truthfully, and I’m also just not a hair person, but when I periodically “loved my hair,” it was either in a permed, short, precision cut, or in a perfectly unruly head of natural twists. Go figure?

Recently, my niece has expressed a desire to her mother to wear her hair natural. (She has never had a perm, but by natural she just means curly, not flat-ironed) She also, cut it in a bob. My sister sent out the pictures, and asked the troops (my mom, me, her other aunts, etc.) to be affirming. My mom responded by stating something like, “where is the flat-iron?” 😦 which I now understand she believes was only because she presumed when my sister said a “bob” that she meant a straight-bob. I saw the first pic and said it was cute . . .

though I secretly could not understand why it looked so overproducted and wet. 😦

I saw the second pic, and i FELL IN LOVE . . .

I thought it was not possible for it to be any cutter and immediately responded by sending her other pics of women with fros and was so stinking delighted that i had someone else on the fro team. 🙂 Then i got the pics from a Bar Mitzvah she attended post-poof . . .

and I’m like what happened??????!!!!!!!?????????

I know that being a pre-teen is hard, cause let’s face it, it’s just not our best moment as women. But isn’t it supposed to be easier when we get older? Aren’t we supposed to “know better,” and love ourselves more?

Tanji is a wife and mother of three. She has two boys and one girl. She lives in Philadelphia, her favorite chocolate city. She is an educator and her first “baby” is now a Howard University graduate and a Cocoa Mama.

9 thoughts on “Pre-teen Bean

  1. I also thought times were changing, that for girls coming up now that being “natural” would be more accepted and more affirmed. But then of course I saw “Good Hair” and watched how those straight haired girls ragged on that natural beauty and realized times have not changed at all. And you are right, as a teenager, I just wanted to be “pretty” and what that meant changed day by day depending on what was on TV, how my friends looked and just how I felt about myself that morning. I say kudos to her mothers for not allowing a perm, so that she has the versatility to do whatever she likes with her hair. I personally thought the blow-out fro was the best, but I know it took me until college to be comfortable enough with myself to stay “natural” all the time. And even now, I want to cut my locs off just to prove to myself that I’m not attached to the length and the girliness of them, but something is holding me back, and its not because I just love my locs so much. It’s something about perhaps not feeling as pretty, or worry about what people may think, including my husband. Even as we get older, those womanly, perhaps stereotypical and socialized, issues come out. It will probably take a lifetime to get past them.


  2. I stand in awe of both my ‘lil sis and my now Pre-teen “Bean”. My sister has ALWAYS been that phenomenol woman that Maya wrote about. Writing poems about the injustices of South Africa at the age of six and refusing to wear nothing but cornrows by the age of seven, she has always been truly an amazingly brilliant and striking “Beaury”. I am 11 years older than my sister and have ALWAYS admired her strength of character and her affirming presence. She has always been beautiful to me no matter her choice of hairstyles and I couldn’t be anymore proud of her than I am today 

    Now I am raising my own daughter who I find to be remarkably poised and confident for a 12 year old and again, I am taken aback by the courage, brilliance, beauty and wisdom of one so young. I couldn’t be more proud of her. While it has taken me a year to support her decision and to argue her case to my husband, I know it to be the right decision. Not only because a woman (or young lady in this case) should have the freedom of expression when it comes to her hair, but I figure the earlier she identifies with both straight and curly frizzy hair, the sooner she will know that we women of color are beautiful no matter our choice of hairstyles!!

    I love both of my girls and both are beautiful, brilliant and inspiring 


  3. Oh, if I had a full head of natural hair like that! Just a little chunk of it; I would just stick it to the side of my head…just let it hang there. LOL!

    I agree with Toya; I had hoped times were changing. I remember the excitement of being in college and realizing natural hair was sorta “in.” I’m committed to not permanently straightening my daughter’s hair (and probably not using a flat-iron either), ever; if she wants to do that, she’ll have to do it after she leaves our home. I’m committed to that not only because I think her hair will be beautiful in its natural state, but because I remember that the first time I ever felt my hair was beautiful was after I cut my perm off in college. I finally stopped wanting it to be like someone else’s hair. I finally stopped fearing the rain, and fearing the broken ends, and fearing the stiff and awkward way it could stick out in the back. It really affirmed my sense of self. That being said, I also remember using quite a bit of gel to try and give it a slicker curl.

    Like LaToya, I’ve also struggled with the decision to cut off my locs. I know it’s not just about loving locs (which I started because it just got too hard to maintain my hair in twists; it would take me hours!). I know it’s also about the length, about the feeling of it whipping around my shoulders and back, about the way my daughter reaches up and grabs it while sitting in my lap. I’ve also admitted to my husband that I’m afraid I won’t be as beautiful if I cut it off; I’ve definitely invested in an image that, admittedly, is influenced by whiter standards of beauty.

    And then, of course, is the added issue of being a teen. I imagine it to be harder than it ever has been for young girls today…I’ll spare you all my rant about Beyonce.

    In any event, I commend you, Mom-of-preteen for giving her options, and allowing her to identify with the versatility of her very beautiful head of hair. Just a chunk….*sigh*


  4. She is beautiful either way, first of all 🙂

    Ahhh the natural hair discussion lol Love it every time.

    I cut off my relaxed hair when I was 16, in a predominantly white boarding school, and with no money or access to a regular hair stylist. I hated relaxers, always did. Hated getting them, maintaining them, and the fact that I ended up looking like everyone else. I think, as I look back, that I secretly didnt do well maintaining my relaxed hair because I wanted my mom to hate it enough to just cut it all off. She didnt. In fact, she didnt really care much about it either way except to tell me that I couldnt cut it. Well, when I turned 16, I said eff it, this is MY hair, I’m doing me. Went to the barber, got it all cut off. Came back to school my junior year with a lil hair on the top and a fade in the back. And, I never felt more beautiful.

    NO ONE at my school (Black girls) has natural hair. Sure people wore braid extensions (since we were away at school), but no natural hair. I was the only one. People, both Black and White, asked so many questions, wondering why I would do such a thing. It was hard, and there were times I felt self-conscious, especially sicne I was taller than most of the boys, bigger than most people, and now, I had short nappy hair to boot. The lesbian rumors began and I remember feeling hurt. Not at the idea of people thinking I was gay because I am bisexual. But moreso that they called me lesbian as a negative thing related to how my hair looked. Then, my family hated it. They always had negative things to say about it, but they really went in. My mom actually liked it cuz she kept her hair in a similar cut.

    Right before college, I installed my first set of locks and decided that was what I was going to do. By graduation, I had long locks and received so many compliments about them. It was funny, I remember some people thinking I added loc extensions because my hair seemed to be much longer than people who’d started their locs around the same time *shrug* A year later, I cut them off. By then, the longest ones reached my lower back. IN 20 minutes, I went from long, girly locs that attracted so much sexual attention to about 1/2 inch of hair. And, I didnt care. I felt the weight of them and was ready to be rid of that weight.

    People lost their minds LOL

    It was as if I’d personally hurt them. People told me I wouldnt be seen as attractive. My family had only accepted my locs because they were “neat” and “not dirty looking” and long, of course. Men would rave about how beautiful I was with my OWN long hair. It was bananas. Cutting them off became a true testament of my desire to affirm my own beauty, regardless of my hairstyle. I realized, then, that I truly was not my hair.

    I’ve worn my hair natural since I was 16. I’m approaching my 15th anniversary of being natural. The changes in style and look over the years have all reflected where I’ve been in my life. 15 years ago, it wasn’t “trendy” or “in” to be natural. It was still something reserved primarily for/attributed to the radical millitants, older women, lesbians, or women who others considered not beautiful. Nowadays, more women are letting go of relaxers, but have exchanged relaxers for chasing curls and waves (curly is still “better”) and length. I can only hope one day we wake up before we breed another generation of women who are slaves to their hair (and to the processes of trying to alter it).


  5. Hmmm…one of my college roommates likes to remind me of the time I told her that she was a slave to the perm. So Benee, when you said that we are a generation of women who are slaves to our hair…well, that struck me.

    Cause sister, you are right.

    I sure did deride her for putting on the creamy crack, thought myself somewhat “better,” but in reality, we are all going after the same thing at the end of the day – trying to be “beautiful,” attempting to live up to some external standard, or like Ozzie said, afraid that if we change what is working for us right now that we just won’t be pretty anymore.

    This is the longest my hair has ever been, so I admit that I’m a bit amazed by it. But I used to be one that would take a pair of scissors and cut my hair in my bathroom no problem. I too am afraid that people will lose their minds if I cut my locs off (including my husband), even though I personally am a bit tired of them, and could gain a lot of my life back from twisting and maintaining. I thought that once I went natural I would lose all the angst and anxiety about my hair. I was really wrong.


  6. One of my freshman year roommates once said to me, “Long hair is for people who have never had any;” this, in response to my shock over the fact that she’d recently chopped off all her long hair. I agree with Toya; having never had long hair, I am quite enamored with mine now even though, like her, cutting it would be a good idea for many reasons. I also thought I was beautiful when I first cut my perm off and rocked a short fro; but now that it’s long, I’m totally into the look of it.

    I know there are some physical characteristics we’re biologically wired to prefer: big eyes, pouty lips, and symmetry, being 3 of them. Apparently, women who have some of the characteristics that make baby mammals so cute–doe-like eyes, for example–are usually considered more attractive. And supermodels often have very symmetrical faces, as do athletes–their symmetry makes them both attractive AND athletically gifted. There is also a “golden ratio” that is repeatedly found in nature. Women whose facial features reflect the ratio–from how far apart their eyes are relative to their nose, to the width of their front teeth–are also often considered beautiful. Apparently, you can take a mask that maps out the ratio and apply it to any woman of any ethnicity who people consider beautiful, and their faces will fit the map.

    I’ve never read that hair is one of these characteristics, but I note all of this to explore our fascination with long hair. Yes, much of this is influenced by the value our society places on a long, bouncy, blond pony tail. But hair has a lot of significance in many cultures, and dating back to stories about Samson and Delilah, hair has been thought to be a source of intrigue, power, and yes, beauty. So, my question is, how much of this is just about culturally imposed white aesthetics? Is there something else? And is there something so wrong with equating long hair with allure, beauty and sexiness? I’m interested in all of your thoughts on this…


    1. I don’t think long hair is about white aesthetics, but I do think its about womanhood. I think back to one of Christine’s early posts about her young daughter having short hair, and her obsession with trying to change it, to make it longer. We don’t do that with our sons.

      I think there is a case to be made why long hair, and symmetry, are considered beautiful, and that’s because they may be markers of good health, and therefore evolutionarily preferred. But as far as long hair goes, I can’t think of any biological or evolutionary reason why long hair should be preferred to short hair only for women. Long hair to me is like shaved legs. I absolutely hate shaving my legs, but feel this compulsion to do so even though it really makes little sense. My husband doesn’t shave his legs, and nobody thinks twice about it. And he keeps his hair short, and it’s preferable to most (I liked when he was rocking a bit of a fro.)

      I don’t hate my long-ish hair, but my life would be simpler without it.

      And so I do think there is something wrong with necessarily equating long hair with beauty if it’s to the exclusion of other lengths of hair, and when it’s applicable to women. And being derided for being somehow not a “normal” woman – i.e. lesbian, simply because you choose to take off the long hair for something else is problematic too. I remember that thought going through my head too, like do I look like a lesbian? right after I cut off the perm. Like Benee said, not that I was threatened that I my sexuality would be questioned, but I was really more concerned (ignorantly, I admit) about the threat to my femininity. Why should that be hooked into the length of my hair?


    2. “, my question is, how much of this is just about culturally imposed white aesthetics? Is there something else? And is there something so wrong with equating long hair with allure, beauty and sexiness? ”

      This is interesing. I think it has a lot to do with gender roles and expression of gender-identity. Women are supposed to have long hair to be considered feminine and men are supposed to have short hair to be considered masculine. Although history shows us that those ideas have been reversed, at times, we still seem to subscribe to it, regardless of race or ethnicity.

      Look at “powerful” women. They almost always have shorter, more “masculine” looking hair styles. It seems as they rise is power, climb the career ladders, their hair gets shorter. It’s as if a woman must appear more “masculine” to be taken seriously in the workforce (see: pantsuits). Women with longer hair are seen as more feminine and pretty, but don’t seem to be taken as seriously. Similarly, men with longer hair, from locs to ponytails, are not always taken as seriously. Men are expected to have closely cropped hair that accurately reflects society’s idea of masculinity.

      Then we look at the LGBT community, which despite its existence in the margins of society still caters to socially acceptable expression of gender identity, we see men and women altering their hair to look either more masculine or feminine, based on how they identify. AGs (aggressives) will never have long hair unless its braided up in cornrows and “gender-bending” queens keep hair longer and often more gorgeous than most biological women. Hair, thus, is a very important element of gender expression.

      Yet if we look back at historical images, some of the strongest men, the fighters and warriors, often had long flowing locks, from Spartans to Zulus. Maybe then, shorter hair represented refinement and was more a statement on socioeconomic status. I’m just throwing some ideas out there.

      As people with Afro-textured hair, our journey has been different. For the most part, we don’t know how to care for Afro hair in ways that support growth and length retention, so this idea that Afro hair can’t grow long is perpetuated. The truth is, it can and does grow long. We just have to learn proper ways to care for it so that it does. It doesnt grow any slower than anyone else’s, it just curls and coils up and gives off the look of being shorter. We’ve been taught to hate it, from birth, and as soon as possible, change it (straighten it) so that it more closely resembles that of the dominant culture.

      Add to that the growing perception that Blakc women are emasculating ball busters, many of us feel that we need to look as “feminine” as possible, which seems to mean having longer hair. Black men have been taught the same things we have, so many of them crave women with long hair too. We seem to all show favorable preference to women with wavier, looser patterns of coils/curls, which is subscribing to the Euro beauty aesthetic. However, I’ve seen sisters with the coarsest, thickest hair grow it very long and still receive favorable responses.

      So with locs, women can have the best of both: natural hair and long hair… without having to work very hard at it. It only took 5 years from my hair to grow from an inch to reach my lower back. There is no way that will happen without locs. And honestly, I’m not interested in that. I just love it the way it is, and feel as strong a woman with my short nappy hair standing straight up as I did with long locs down my back.


  7. This is a very interesting conversation. I too wear my hair natural. I was natural until about 12 years old. My father was against perms. I finally convinced my mother to sneak me to the salon to get a relaxer. I wanted to wear my hair out instead of in braids all of the time. My thick hair was made fun of by kids and adults. So, of course I wanted it slick and straight.

    I then went natural again in my adulthood. It was a decision that I made when I became pregnant with my first child. I didn’t want to use any chemicals. I grew my perm out and cut my hair when he was a few months old. After the initial shock of cutting out my perm, I was ok. The transition was tough. But, I didn’t regret it at all. I tried several products to keep my hair healthy. Just 3 years later, I had shoulder length natural hair. I cut it to a short fro again in May 2008 when I graduated with my master’s degree. This time, there was meaning behind it. I was entering into my doctoral program and it represented a new start. Now, two years later, I have shoulder length curly locs.

    Don’t get me wrong. Every once in a while I will straighten my hair because my husband likes to run his fingers through it. But, I love my curly locs. And he loves it when I’m happy. I have even been approached by friends and perfect strangers who have asked what I do to my hair. I share my “secrets” and also inform them of the truth in keeping natural hair healthy. I even ran into one of the women last week. She was wearing a hat. She stopped me. Took off her hat. And showed me her newly cut short fro. She was nervous and anxious. I comforted her and empowered her. It often baffles my mind how there is an entire culture around Cocoa hair. A culture that causes anxiety, laughter, intense conversation and a new market for hair care products (organic).

    The sad thing is, I get more complements when my hair is straightened than I do when it’s natural. I think that is part of the white aesthetic. If you watch shows like “Millionaire Matchmaker”, she is always instructing her female clients to straighten there hair. She has even told them that if they don’t straighten there hair she will not work with them. I also recently had a conversation with Dr. Gina Berrecca from UConn. She is a Sicilian from Brooklyn who has naturally curly hair. She was recently on the Dr. Phil show. She said they told her that everyone had to have straight her. So, they then took 40 minutes to straighten her hair. She said it curled right back up by the end of the show. There is definitely an aesthetic that seems to go beyond what is popular. I don’t often agree with Paul Mooney. But, I think he was right when he said, “If your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.”


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