'You should always take up space with your hair': Teen author teaches kids confidence with read-aloud book series that celebrates diversity

Dana Oliver

My Beauty, My Way is a new video series hosted by Yahoo Life beauty director Dana Oliver, where women of different ages and backgrounds break down their beauty routines to explain what beauty truly means to them and how it represents their cultural identity.

Marley Dias may not seem like your typical teenager, especially when you take a moment to consider how much she has already accomplished in her 15 years of life.

In November 2015, Dias launched a campaign called #1000BlackGirlBooks to promote literacy and the representation of Black female protagonists. It went viral, and she’s since collected and donated over 12,000 books. Her activism landed Dias a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and earned her a Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Award in the Youth category.

The Philadelphia native has also penned her very own book that’s coincidentally titled Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!, and has interviewed some pretty impressive people for Elle, including Ava DuVernay, Misty Copeland, Hillary Clinton and Naomi Wadler.

While Dias’s passion for literacy has afforded her opportunities many teenagers can only imagine, she is very much a 15-year-old girl trying to maneuver this “new normal” that the coronavirus pandemic has created. Playing with her dog, experimenting with makeup (Dias uses a classic beauty hack for creating the perfect nude lip) and doing viral TikTok dances keep her busy. Yet, in the midst of quarantine, she still found a way to support kids and parents from the comfort of her home.

This was a unique time and a unique experience that none of us were really prepared for. Marley Dias

Dias launched a read-aloud book series that celebrates diversity and boosts confidence in young Black and brown children. “There are already a lot of things that I do with my campaign and I feel like I give a lot. But this was a unique time and a unique experience that none of us were really prepared for,” she tells Yahoo Life.

In her home library, Dias is surrounded by countless books that she read as a kid or received from mostly first-time authors. When reflecting on the reasons why she started the read-aloud book series, she says, “It’s not only an opportunity to really make sure that parents and kids have the resources that they need, but also for these authors to be celebrated and recognized.”

On Facebook Live, you’ll find the bubbly teen engaging with her followers as she reads inclusive titles such as I Am Enough by Grace Byers, Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and I Like My Do by LaDwanya D. Roberts. Dias also styles her hair in Afros, puffs and box braids, largely inspired by the characters in the books. Why? It’s all about her “mirrors and windows” outlook on diversity.

It’s not only an opportunity to really make sure that parents and kids have the resources that they need, but also for these authors to be celebrated and recognized. Marley Dias

She explains: “Mirrors are important for Black and brown people to feel as though they are reflected, that their experiences are seen; and it allows for you to feel confident, to feel brave and that you are understood and recognized. Then the windows are for people that are not Black and brown that see these experiences, respect them more, learn about them more and are exposed to new experiences beyond what they may learn in school or in the media that may not be true.”

Wearing her natural hair was a decision Dias made early after growing tired of “feeling insecure” about the way her father attempted to style her strands as a child. “I started wearing it in an Afro every day to school,” adds Dias. “It was actually a personal choice and I felt super liberated in wearing my hair out.”

These girls that are watching me, they’re watching me in Afros. They’re watching me in box braids. They’re watching me have Senegalese twists. And they’re seeing that there is so much variety in our hair. Marley Dias

Dias continues to make the conscious choice to sport her textured coils on-camera or at events because she understands that may be “the one opportunity that a Black girl’s going to see me.”

“These girls that are watching me, they’re watching me in Afros. They’re watching me in box braids. They’re watching me have Senegalese twists. And they’re seeing that there is so much variety in our hair,” says Dias. “Wearing natural hair in any way you choose is super empowering, and you should always take up space with your hair as much as you want to.”

Keep up with all things Marley Dias by following her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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