Black hair trauma is real. I hope my daughter feels more empowered with her hair than I did growing up.

·4 min read
Black hair trauma is real. I hope my daughter feels more empowered with her hair than I did growing up.
  • Being a mom to a daughter has made me reflect on my own journey with my hair.

  • We need to let go of European beauty standards and embrace our own hairstyles.

  • I want my daughter to always know her hair is beautiful, in whichever style she chooses to have it.

It's time to style my daughter's hair. Once I start loosening the old style and reaching for a comb, she gets the message loud and clear. And she makes a run for it. If I manage to get a chance to start braiding, there'll likely be crying, no matter how gentle I am.

This is a Black girl rite of passage. We endure the pains that come with getting our hair done. We're taught to expect discomfort, from the tight pull of a braid to the burn of a relaxer or hot comb.

We suffer for beauty, and yet we're still criticized for the choices we make when it comes to our hair. Every time I do her hair, I'm left questioning what effect this emotionally fraught hairstyling session could have on my daughter. Developing a negative association with her hair now could affect her self-esteem for the rest of her life.

In my daughter's eyes, I see a 2-year-old version of myself, not yet concerned with her appearance⁠ — free. As a 30-year-old mom of Caribbean descent who's still undoing years of damage both to my psyche and my ends, I hope to be able to gather enough wisdom to pass down a more empowering message about Black hair than what I received growing up.

My daughter's hair journey has made me question a lot of things

As I navigate my daughter's hair journey and reflect on my own, I realize there's a long-standing history of Black hair trauma.

I remember crying while getting my hair braided and being told that I was too sensitive. Moving my head wrong could result in excruciating pain or an annoyed whack on the head from the hairdresser. I became desensitized, but hair care always carries some sadness.

I remember getting micro braids in the age of Brandy and "Moesha." When I took the style out, the last three rows of hair were gone with the braids.

I started relaxing my hair in middle school. Although my hair is kinky, it's also fine and fragile. So while my strands could lay flat with the best of them, I struggled with damage on my ends. The heat styling didn't help.

After years of protective styles, braids, weaves, and relaxers, I finally went natural in 2014. I did the big chop, cutting off my relaxed ends, and I started tending to my natural curls like plants in a garden. I was obsessed with this concept of loving my natural hair. I bought every kind of hair butter and pudding.

With all of that gentle care, my hair started to grow longer. That's where the real challenge began because as much as the natural-hair community praises long natural hair, no one talks about how challenging it is to maintain long natural hair. I would spend hours with my arms aching as I detangled my coiled tresses.

I didn't feel like staying up late at night to make sure I finished twisting my hair so I could wake up in the morning with hit-or-miss results. Eventually, I cut it all off. Although my hair was the longest it had ever been, I was completely over the naturalista experience.

What I want my daughter to remember about her Black hair

Growing up, my mother always told me not to let anyone else's opinion dictate the way I dress or style my hair. I want my daughter to know that her hair is hers for self-expression. It's a source of empowerment, and caring for your hair is a form of self-love. There's no right or wrong way to express yourself. Don't let the pressures of society dictate what makes you feel the most beautiful.

If our ultimate goal is liberation, we have to give each other the freedom to know what works for us individually. We have to stop enforcing European beauty standards and continue to show up fully in all spaces with no shame about our hair.

The standards that hurt us growing up don't need to traumatize the next generation.

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