“As a mom of an intelligent, talented, and beautiful little brown girl, my struggle was in teaching my daughter that her natural traits are not less beautiful than those of Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, etc.”
My daughter loves all the princess and fairy movies. One of her favorites is Tinker Bell: The Great Fairy Rescue. She watches that movie over and over again and even asks me to act out the scenes with her. I have pretended to be Lizzie many times. She is Tinker Bell’s co-star in the movie—an adorable, and inquisitive, little girl who wears her straight brown hair in two flowing pigtails that drape down her back.
I enjoy watching and reenacting her movies with her, especially since most of them have a positive message. It’s a lot of fun. However, the day that my 5-year-old daughter said, “Can you straighten my hair? I want straight hair like Lizzie,” I panicked. I immediately replied, “No. I’m not straightening your hair.” She began to cry. Even though I had no intentions of backing down, I did want to understand her reasons for requesting it so I calmly asked, “Why do you want me to straighten your hair?” Her response caught me off guard. She began to name all her friends at school with straight hair, and then she perked up with a big bright smile as she recalled her experience of touching her friend’s straight hair. “It’s so soft and so silky….” I had heard enough. I interjected, “Curly hair is soft, too.” She snapped back, “not like straight hair. I want straight hair like my friends. Will you buy me a flat iron?” I was done. My immediate, “No, I’m not going to buy you a flat iron, and I’m not going to straighten your hair,” was met with hysterical crying. At that point, I knew that we needed to have a serious talk about how her movies were impacting her self-esteem.
One of the last things I ever want to hear my daughter say is that she doesn’t like her curly hair. I am a huge advocate for raising children with healthy self-esteem. I even wrote a children’s book about natural hair, so the thought that my child could potentially hate her hair because of something I brought into our home, made me sick to my stomach.
I had to fix it, and yelling, “You will never watch Tinker Bell ever again!” was not going to do it.
Instead, I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts. I told her, “I understand that you want to look like the characters in your movie, but I am not going to straighten your hair.” She shrieked inconsolably. I held her close and when she stopped crying a bit, I told her how beautiful her hair is and showed her pictures on our computer of celebrities and family members who all have curly hair. I told her about all the cool things that curly hair can do and even searched the Internet for photos of different natural hairstyles that I knew she’d like. I explained to her that our curls are what make it possible for us to have those styles—that the styles wouldn’t “hold” if we had straight hair. Little by little her tears and sobs disappeared as she pointed to the most complicated hairstyles on each page and asked if I would style her hair that way next time. Having no idea how I would figure them out, I agreed to do whatever styles she wanted. I was just happy that she got the message.
Our children are influenced by their environment whether we like it or not. It is part of our job to help them navigate the messages they receive. Having grown up insecure, raising my daughter with strong self-confidence is a “big deal” for me. Ever since the “Lizzie incident,” I have made it my business to ensure she knows her curly hair is beautiful. On our commute to and from her school, I constantly point out people with curly hair and say with full enthusiasm, “Hey, she has curly hair like yours!”
Yeah, she may ignore me at times, and roll her eyes, but it’s worth it to me to drive the message home that “we are ALL beautiful as is.”