I don’t know if it rises to the level of an epidemic, but lately I’ve seen a number of little girls – as in, girls under the age of 12 – wearing hair weaves, wigs and lacefronts.
As black women, our hair issues begin at birth. We black mothers study our girls’ hair texture, waiting to see if those fine baby curls are going to “nap up.” Some of us start putting that baby hair into plaits, cornrows and ponytails as soon as our baby girls are able to sit up. If there’s not enough hair to comb, we brush it as best we can and put a headband on our girls’ heads, so everyone will know the baby is a girl and not a boy (strangers still get it confused, though).
I didn’t really know how to take care of a girl’s hair when my daughter was born. My mother did my hair until I graduated from high school. Although I didn’t relax my hair until law school, I wore it pressed from age 12. I had decided my girl’s hair would stay natural, but I had no idea how to style natural hair.
I was lucky to find a wonderful babysitter, a Mexican woman who taught herself how to care for my daughter’s hair. She styled my daughter’s hair in elaborate beaded cornrows and two-strand twists. Even after my daughter started school and we no longer needed her babysitting services, our former nanny still styled my daughter’s hair.
It never occurred to me to consider letting my daughter wear her hair out, loose, free. I was brought up that only white girls and girls with a certain hair texture – what we used to call “good hair” – could wear their hair out all the time. I shunned the term “good hair” but was still trapped in its mindset. I believed not combing my daughter’s hair would result in it getting tangled, matted, and eventually falling out.
I said complimentary things to my girl about her hair. I told her how wonderfully thick and curly her hair was and how much she should admire it. I bought all the right books and said all the right things to combat my girl’s jealous feelings towards classmates whose blonde and brunette locks swung down their backs. But my actions spoke to a different belief – that her hair wasn’t the right texture.
My daughter and I began having hair battles. I kept her hair washed, conditioned, combed and braided, but I could no longer fit trips to the nanny into our schedule, and I didn’t know enough cute natural hairstyles.
I gave up and took her to the African braiding shop. I thought I’d found the answer to all my prayers. Their cornrows were so perfect! Even without extension hair braided in, the style would last at least two weeks. With extension hair braided in, they would last even longer.
And so we continued down that steep, slippery slope of “your hair isn’t good enough.”
My daughter complained about the African braiders. They pulled too tight, even when I asked them not to. It took a week for the braids to loosen up enough so her scalp didn’t hurt. I began noticing bumps and bleeding on her scalp – traction alopecia warning signs.
But she loved having that extension hair swinging down her back. She loved being able to get into the pool and not worry. And I loved not feeling like a bad mom because my kid was going to school with her hair undone.
So I was surprised when my daughter said she didn’t want to get braids anymore. She showed me her hairline. The hair around her hairline had broken off to nothing, less than an inch of hair. Her scalp was a mess of bumps. I agreed – no more braids.
At 12, my daughter wanted to start straightening her hair. I refused to allow her to get a relaxer, and made her go back to my rudimentary ponytails and plaits. She told me her “little girl hair” was “embarrassing.” She was teased at school for still wearing her hair natural, in “kiddie” styles.
Finally, I gave in and let her go to the Dominican shop near our apartment for a blow-out. If it turned out well, I was going to let her get it blown out once a week.
It was a disaster. Her hair looked great the first day and then fell out like crazy. It smelled like burnt rubber. Whenever we washed it, big clumps came out in the comb.
The heat damage changed how we both thought about her hair. My daughter was devastated about losing so much hair, and for a while was turned against wanting to wear it straight. I knew we had to do something to get us both comfortable with her hair, both “done” and “undone.”
While her hair recovered, she wore it in two-stranded twists. The twists allowed the broken pieces to grow out. Conditioning restored life to the hair that remained. Products such as Kinky Curly Hair Pudding and Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk allowed to let her wear her hair out in frizz-free curls. No styling, no fuss, just wash and go between twists.
For a while she hated it. I had to do more talking, more convincing. Compliments from her classmates at school and from strangers on the street helped convince her that her hair looked okay.
So I get why women wind up putting their little girls in wigs and weaves. Wigs and hair weaves are all part of the continuum. Doing hair is time-consuming. Straightening can be very damaging and isn’t permanent. Even a relaxer doesn’t make black hair “straight.” And no one wants their child to be teased about the length or texture of their hair. A wig or a weave may seem an easy solution.
We teach our girls that their hair has to be done a certain way to be acceptable. We teach them that styles that help protect our hair, such as braids and cornrows, are for little girls. They learn from their peers and us moms that when they grow up, they have to wear it straight.
We don’t teach our little girls acceptance of their hair as it is, clean and conditioned, without a comb touching it. That their hair is beautiful without alteration. And perhaps that is the first step.
I remember when Alison Samuels of Newsweek called out Angelina Jolie for not “doing something” with Zahara Pitt-Jolie’s hair, and the blogosphere erupted. I agreed with those who felt Samuels should focus on something more important than a 4-year-old’s hair. At that time, I was just learning to adjust my own thinking of what my daughter’s hair had to look like for her to be accepted and for me to be considered a good mom.
Contrary to what I thought, my daughter’s hair did not become matted, dry, break off and fall out because she wasn’t wearing it “done” all the time. We’ve had some challenges – I’ve had to keep her from wetting her hair every day, because it is too thick to fully dry, and damp hair will eventually rot off. I’ve had to find products that add moisture and sheen. I have to remind her to oil her scalp so it doesn’t dry out. Still, letting her just wear her hair out has led to her accepting her hair as it is more than all the books and lectures.
My now teenage girl still wants to wear her hair straight. I want to scream at her every time she talks about it. Sometimes I can’t help myself, and do. As @sunsetsarefree said on Twitter today: “Feeling like you have an abnormality growing from your head affects your entire self-image.” We have to teach our girls that there’s nothing wrong with our hair – but first, we’ve got to make sure we know that ourselves.
Maybe we black women and girls should have a worldwide hair-out – a day for freeing our hair, and our girls’ hair, from braids, twists, wigs, weaves, etc. and just letting it be. Let’s confront our fears and insecurities about our hair head-on (no pun intended) – especially those of us whose hair grows up and out, not down.
Photo courtesy of Me! All rights reserved.
29 thoughts on “Hair Weaves For Little Girls”
That was a good read. My daughter is seven and I am sooo hoping she doesn’t become overly hair conscious. My hair has been natural for over 20 years, and I plan to promote natural braids, twists or locks for as long as she’ll tolerate it. If I don’t find an existing one, I’ll start a support group of like-minded moms because I can see how this is such a contentious issue and rich material for mother-daughter conflict. Ii-yii-yii.
Peer group acceptance is key. Perhaps there should be natural hair support groups for girls & teens.
This is a marvelous idea!!
I still regret the moment when I let these pressures convince me to relax my daughters, lovely, thick, lush curls. Although it took a number of years for her hair to begin to break consistently, we did real damage to her at a time when we should have been encouraging her to see how beautiful she was.
Now, we’re both in our third year of natural hair and she’s still learning what works for her consistently, and she realizes that the regular blow drying caused very similar textural damage as relaxers. Although our textures are different, my hope is that she sees what I’m doing to my hair and is adopting a similar approach for her own.
Thank you for this post, as we as a people have so much to overcome from years, decades, and lifetimes of working against our natural beauty. Hair is never just personal; it’s always political, too.
“We don’t teach our little girls acceptance of their hair as it is, clean and conditioned, without a comb touching it. That their hair is beautiful without alteration. And perhaps that is the first step.”
My Little A, at three years old, HATES the comb. But I find myself so often, despite the fact that I have locs myself and NEVER use a comb myself, coming at her with the comb so that she will look “acceptable.” When she was smaller, it didn’t bother me to have her hair out, and truth be told, it doesn’t bother me so much now. But two things get to me 1) when she does wear it out, everyone around us, especially non-black people, comment SO much on her hair, to the point that is uncomfortable to make such a big deal out of a little girl’s hair, and 2) when I travel to the East Coast, I really feel out of place when I don’t put her hair in ponytails.
But I need to really start to embrace her natural tendency to not want the comb anywhere near her head. I remember when I stopped using it. It really was the most liberating and self-love expressing thing I’ve ever done. I want that for her, and I don’t want it to come at age 20 like it did for me. Age 3 sounds so much better!
I one day want to know the freedom from the comb!
This is an interesting and thoughtful post. I’ve also considered braids, locs, twists, etc. to be methods of cultural expression. Yes, they they are probably styles borne of necessity, when you can’t just run a comb through your hair and be done with it. But there’s not anything wrong with that. It’s awesome that my ancestors, way before any white folks with straight hair showed up, thought of beautiful ways to style and show off their kinky hair. (There’s also apparently some truth to our parents and grandparents belief that white girls rather problematically wear their hair out all the time; according to my black pediatrician growing up, one of the reasons black girls get lice much less than white girls is because their hair is always neatly parted and platted; nowhere for the lice to hide!)
Afros are cute, and all, but they take A LOT of work to maintain; work that neither I nor my 2 year old is into. Our kinks laugh at jellies and puddings; all it does is make our afro more moisturized, but not any more “loose.” (And I wouldn’t have it any other way.) She also HATES the comb, and there’s no way to keep her from laying on it, putting food in it…you get the point. Every day became a drag to just moisturize and pick out her little fro. She literally ran away from me! For me, the most loving thing I could do for her was to braid it up so that we didn’t have to comb it everyday. The braids are not tight, and I actually refused to braid it until well after her 1st birthday; no braids until there was enough to braid comfortably. But until she’s old enough to tolerate more regular hair maintenance, braids are the right option; it’s not really about being uncomfortable with her hair “out.” When she’s ready to wear her afro out again, and put the work into it, I’ll be prepared to help her out…In the meantime, I try and ensure that I don’t let her hair get in the way of her fun. I don’t force her to sleep with a stocking cap (as has been suggested to me several times, to keep her hair neat…whatevs…), and she’s taking swimming lessons everyday, despite peoples’ horror at the thought of a black girl’s hair being involved in such activities!
Finally, I totally understand the unease expressed about what our girls’ hair look like; when her braids are fuzzy, I get totally self-conscious. I have to remind myself that plenty of little white girls are running around with messy, un-combed hair, and people think it’s cute. A little frizz on my daughter’s braids is just part of her being an adorable toddler!
Just to be clear, my girl’s hair is not braided with extensions. I really should have used the word plaits; cute little plaits! There’s always one that hangs in front of her forehead (she has a widow’s peak), and it’s adorable to me…
I don’t think it is quite the same to equate little white girl’s “messy, uncombed” hair with the uncombed hair of black children. Their hair grow out and it’s okay to just be. I think the point of the post was to say why can’t we do the same for our little girls, and not think that it’s “messy” because it’s uncombed?
Now Little A’s hair is fine and curly and not so much “nappy,” which she gets from her father’s side of the family, so her uncombed hair is a curly 3c pattern. Put a little oil in it and it looks just fine uncombed – not “messy.” My hair would be/was different. I obsessed about my afro. I wish I wouldn’t have.
But I agree that the afro takes work, and with kids, I don’t always have that time. But it may be worth the effort. There is something to the idea that our girls have to have their hair all tied up to be “pretty” while other girls can have it down. Not that we have to always be like them, but there is actually no reason, in this case, why we couldn’t. (And that whole lice thing – I don’t think that’s true that black children don’t get lice because of the parting and whatnot. I’ve read it’s because of the difference in the texture of the hair shaft that make black hair less hospitable to the lice in the U.S. In other parts of the world, black lice infestation rates are higher because the lice have adapted.)
That’s my point, exactly. Little white girls are allowed to have “uncombed hair” and it’s not considered “messy,” while little black girls don’t have the same privilege. But to me, it is messy in both circumstances; I just realize that people don’t care when it’s a white girl; they think it’s cute. They think “oh, kids will be kids!” When it’s a black child, they think “somebody isn’t parenting that child right. That girls is a mess.” So, I remind myself that it’s okay for my child’s hair to be “messy” too. She’s a child. She doesn’t have to be perfect all the time; and, for that matter, neither do I. And what other folks put on her hair is their (racialized) problem. I don’t think we’re disagreeing there.
Interesting info about lice. Seems to me it could be both, although the idea that lice rates are higher in other parts of the world because they’ve adapted certainly supports the information you’ve provided.
I’m not sure where, or on what, we’re disagreeing here. It’s not just about having it down, or not having the time. It’s pretty impossible to maintain an afro (a really kinky afro, like my daugther’s) on a 2 year old, or a 3 year old (maybe at 4 it gets more realistic?) Not if you want the child to look reasonably put together. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that. It’s pretty impossible to maintain a hairstyle on a white toddler, too, except the ease of running a brush or comb through it real quick provides an advantage that I just don’t have with my daughter. It’s all good; we just pick a style that allows her to avoid painful hair combings, allows me to retain some measure of sanity (and avoiding terrorizing her), and which showcases her beautiful head of hair.
Finally, I have to tease you just a little bit about Little A’s “3c pattern.” Oh Toya…you have NO idea! LOL
I think the disagreement, or more accurately just the point i was trying to make, is about the meaning of the words “reasonably put together.” I think that we’ve taught our girls, and this is of all races actually, that who they are naturally, as is, is not good enough, that they must alter themselves, in order to look put together. The makeup and personal grooming business are a testament to this. I think black girls get this the most because of the hair issue on top of all of the other grooming mandates that fall on all women. I don’t think Afros are all that difficult to maintain, if we were able to get to a place where clean and conditioned (and dry) hair, like Carolyn said, was the only prerequisite for being considered good enough on the hair front.
And yes – I know I have it easy with little As hair, a lot easier than my mother had with my hair. And locs are, in my opinion, simple to maintain once they are mature. So while I can hear you mamas pain, I am blessed not to have to deal with it directly…
Thanks for clarifying. You’re right; makeup and personal grooming is a big one, across all groups. Once, I had to go get waxed with K, and immediately realized it was a bad idea. But I still get waxed; and I shave my legs. And I wear make-up (albeit very little–eyeliner and lip gloss). What to tell her when she wants to do these things? How can I tell her she’s beautiful just the way she is if she observes me changing the way I am?
Funny about locs; I’ve been finding them more and more onerous. I still nurse a dream of rocking a short afro that I can go swimming with everyday. I’ve set my sights on after I stop having children, because despite the upkeep of my locs, it is pretty easy to pull them back in a ponytail, and for me, even a “clean and conditioned” afro is an ordeal.
I agree wholeheartedly about a lot of what you are going through. I decided to transition to natural hair, and I am struggling. Compound that with my 4 year old daughter whom’s hair I have to style everyday. You gave me much to think about.
What are your struggles? I know ORJ and I both have been natural for over 10 years now, both going from teeny-weeny Afros to below-shoulder length locs. We would be happy to help you or answer questions.
Absolutely! LaToya, I actually remember double-strand twisting your hair once in college; remember that? 🙂
Oh wow; I just got all verklempt. Girl, we go WAY back! LOL
I have a 11 year old who will be entering middle school in the fall. We happen to live in Beaverton, OR which is right outside of Portland but very few African Americans where we live. Unfortunately, both my daughter and son go to school with and have mostly all white friends. With my daughter, I have been keeping her hair in braids (extensions) for years. She hates getting her hair braided. I have had locs in my hair for 2 years now which I absolutely love and wish I had done them sooner. I am now 43. I transitioned from permed hair about 8 years ago. When I started my locs, I had about 6 inches of hair and they are now below shoulder length. I asked her if she might consider starting locs in her hair and she said absolutely not! With her hair being shoulder length, I think it would look very nice but I know she still wants to ‘blend in’ with her white counterparts. I don’t think that the appearance of nicely maintained locs are much different than braids. Now that she is going to middle school, she has asked about getting a hair weave. Although I have done them successfully on myself years ago with no breakage, I am wondering if this is a route I want to go with her. For now, since it takes several months to a year for locs to form I think I am going to try to convince her to give them a try and we can comb them out if she doesn’t like it after a few months. But with so many AA’s choosing to wear locs, I just know she’s going to love the versitilty by the time she gets to high school. Wish me luck on convincing her…
National Afro Day is July 4th!
Google in: National Afro Day-July 4th or Youtube it for unity and support.
My daughters have different textures; however, our household will be rockin’ full Angela Davis fros or hair in loose curls that resembles afro puffs or the “top knot” (my Mother’s signature hair style of the 70’s). Well see Monday morning. As for me, I just chopped off all my 7-years-pass-the-rump-locs and will be proclaiming my freedom from all things mentally enslaving by twisting my coils tonight — setting them free on Monday!
PS…I let my toddler’s hair run free in an afro four times a week—she always let out a sigh, runs her fingers through her fuzzyfro and then goes off romping just as free-to-be. I don’t sweat the stares, the glares, or the internal remarks because I want my daughter to truly love her hair beyond the Sesame Street song.
Happy July 4-Afro-Day Everyone!
Latoya, you’re correct about lice. I’m Ethiopian/African American and each time I or family members go back home to Ethiopia, we take a small lugguage or backpack full of RID and other lice products to the orphanages due to lice otherwise, we just shave off all the hair to the scalp and hope the infestation doesn’t continue.
I certainly appreciate this conversation. I’ve been transitioning my hair out of a relaxer for a little over a year. I have an appointment next week to finally come “out” when I take the twists and extentions out and wear my very own, natural, just my hair, twist out. It’s exciting and scary! Part of the reason for the change is my daughter and my desire not to push her into a relaxer just because I don’t know how to do her hair. She also took a long time to get used to having it combed (she used to literally run and I’d have to pin her down with my leg! Oy!) but now she prefers braids even though I think it’s beautiful when it’s loose. We’ll see what happens as she gets older. But I’m confused about the implication that white girls don’t comb their hair. I get the discussion about public perceptions about grooming and appropriate parenting when the hair is “messy” but don’t white girls have to maintain hair cuts and comb it every day? I sort of understand why we might want to limit/omit the use of a comb on black hair, but I don’t understand why it would be preferable not to “do” it at all.
Oh, my other thought was that even when I was a tween and had relaxed hair, I still wasn’t allowed to wear it loose because the women in my family thought of loose hair, worn down, as too grown, not for little girls. Perhaps that’s something else to add to this conversation.
I agree with carolynedgar that peer group acceptance is key. I don’t want to turn this into a homeschooling discussion at all, but I have to admit that once my daughters weren’t going to school everyday to face teachers and peers with “hair expectations”.. they developed a higher hair self-esteem. I have to add that they are both natural and have never felt the need to do anything to their hair in the way of braids, twists, or locs; they just wear it out wavy, curly whatever… with a headband or in a pony tail. I think the lack of peer pressure was a real liberation. They really didn’t see other AA girls with weaves, braids, or otherwise so they just assumed what we did and how we felt was the way it should be. Now my oldest is 17 and she gets a blowout and flat iron about 2/3 times a year, as she feels like it. But before homeschooling, I seriously struggled with the natural decision. There was so much spoken and unspoken pressure to “do something” with their hair.
Yeah, I think it’s societal pressure, whether it comes from school, or family, or media, or whatever. Do your kids watch TV, or music videos? Our pressure comes from family and strangers – my kiddos are too little for school.
My girls watch some music videos, and they do see women with weaves, extensions, etc., but tend to see that as something they do and not something a normal everyday person would want to wear. We really don’t have that type of peer around us on a regular basis so videos and tv shows are entertainment and not fodder for emulation. I still have to constantly teach them to be themselves and to love who they see in the mirror, but it has gotten easier, not harder. I really have to admit that I felt the most pressure when it was time for school; before they went to school it just didn’t seem to be an issue.
I found this blog while looking for help with my twin stepdaughters hair. They are 1/4 Cuban, 1/4 Mexican, 3/8 Black, 1/8 White. Let me tell you…if you ladies think it is hard to do your daughter’s hair, imagine a straight-haired white woman trying to do it! When the general public looks at my babies hair, they think…”oh, the poor girls. The white mom must be the reason…”. And you can imagine what baby momma and grandmomma think at the end of our visitation weekend!
I love their curls, and I ALWAYS tell them how beautiful they are. I just can’t figure out how to define their curls. You have all mentioned not combing, but I think that doesn’t apply to our mixed texture. Their hair is a little longer than shoulder-length. They have slightly different texture than eachother. It is very fine and dries out within seconds of being under the shower sprayer. They have never had cornrows, their mom always has them in pig/ponytails. I love their hair down with a headband, it is delicious looking until an hour in the carseat leads to frizz.
What should I do? Would it be offensive if I went to an shop where they specialize in Black hair and ask for lessons? Am I really doing a bad thing by combing? What are locs? Please fill me in…my short experience with a spiral perm at 14 is not cutting it!
I am first blown away by the precision with which you attempt to define your stepdaughters’ racial heritage, and the issues that reveals. 3/8 black, 1/4 Cuban…really? As if “Cuban” is a separate racial denomination? As if Cubans – and for that matter, Mexicans, blacks and even whites – can’t also be of mixed race? Is this how their biological parents define them, or just you?
Anyway, that’s not even the worst part. In case you never noticed, black hair ranges in texture from very straight to tightly coiled, with a multitude of variations in-between. The hair you describe is a type of “black hair,” although not only black women have it. Put another way, curls are curls, and curly hair defies your neat, though probably inaccurate, attempts at racial classification. You should first get over your own biases and seek out information about dealing with hair similar in texture to your girls’ hair, without regard to the race yof the people giving the advice. The Internet is filled with resources. Start with CurlyNikki.com, afrobella.com, ouidad.com, and take it from there. There are lots of videos on YouTube dealing with how to care for curly hair. DevaCare is another site you may find useful. These resources and others may be eye-opening for you. It may be liberating to see so many black and mixed race women who look like your stepdaughters, with hair like theirs. It might show you how to embrace your girls’ hair and their identity as children of color. And hopefully you can stop defining your stepchildren by fractions and percentages.
You can take care of your girls’ hair. It just takes education and practice. I agree with carolynedgar that the internet is a good place to start. Check out http://www.happygirlhair.com (she doesn’t post much anymore, but there are a lot of resources there) and http://www.chocolatehairvanillacare.com. Both are aimed at white parents caring for black girls’ hair and talk about everything from oils to combs to braids to trims, etc. And I’d guess that any black salon would be happy to answer your questions, too. Plus, it’d be a great place for your girls to see other people who have beautiful hair similar to theirs!