Guest post from Kristl of How to Play With Barbies
Does your daughter have good hair?
OMG – you did NOT just consider answering that question!!
The only proper response is: There is no such thing as “good hair.” There is no such thing as "bad hair." Hair is just hair. What we do with our hair may be less or more healthy. It may be more or less convenient. It may be more or less expensive. It may be more or less practical.
But hair is not inherently good. Hair is not inherently bad.
So if you are still saying things like, “I wish my daughter had that good hair,” or you are allowing others to say that someone does or does not have “Good Hair” in front of your daughter, then by virtue of reading this post, and reading these words, a spell has now been cast on you. If you let it continue, your tongue will now begin to rot in your mouth.
When I was growing up my father challenged us mercilessly on semantics. If I said something was “Big” he said, “Compared to what?” A dog might be big compared to other dogs, but is it big compared to an elephant?"
The notion of good hair was borne out of Western Civilization that held women of European descent up as paragons of beauty. “Good Hair” became short hand for “Looks like the hair of movie stars and beauty queens.”
But you know all this, right? Because we all know about Euro-centric (and now Hollywood) beauty standards and how they can make the most beautiful girl feel undervalued. This blog is really about removing our own brainwashing from our speech patterns so that we don’t pass them on to our daughters.
So for starters…no more saying “Good Hair.” It is officially an illegal phrase.
So what do you do when someone says it to you - in front of you precious, impressionable princess? My stock response is a disappointment-laced, “Oh? I really wish it was curlier. I struggled with my limp, stringy hair my whole life so I always wanted hers to be those powerful, tight curls that don’t take 'no' for an answer. But thanks.”
So that’s where you start – don’t say it and don’t let others get away with saying it around your daughter. Because if there is such a thing as "Good Hair" there might be "Better Hair" out there somewhere.
What pains me even more is that so often, when women say this to me, they are almost always accompanied by other little girls who are getting the message that their curl pattern is somehow not good enough. If I can, I take it a step further and point to the little girl beside them (unless she has a relaxer) and say, “When I was pregnant I prayed she’d have THIS kind of hair.” And that little girl always smiles and blushes a little with the compliment.
And this leads me to one of the best ways to let our daughter’s know we value their hair. Compliment and point out other people with the same hair or even curlier hair. I often go up to other people and tell them how much I love their hair or their children’s hair. Leah, at age five, can now spot the people I am likely to compliment, before even I spot them. Now, going up to strangers to compliment them would not be something everyone would feel comfortable doing. I just do it because I enjoy doing it. Then I have to cut and run to keep from seeming all creepy, but I get it said.
If you are not the type to go up to someone and compliment them, then just point them out. But be specific. Say, “Look at that beautiful girl. Her hair is just so beautiful. Look how curly it is!!”
For some reason Leah believes my compliments more when she hears me compliment others. And just think if we were all out there complimenting each other on each other’s daughters’ hair and explicitly saying that what made it beautiful was its curliness. How cool would that be?
You can also make your values known through identification with fictional characters.
My daughter is five so she is in a phase where she wants to identify with cartoon characters. We have one book about My Little Ponies and every single page she interrupts me saying, “That’s me.” And “I’m that one.” And “No wait, I’m THAT one.” So I say, “I don’t want to be any of them because they all have that stringy hair.” Then Leah will try to prove to me that one of them has somewhat curly hair and then we fight over which of us get to be her.
Look for other ways in which your daughter might be absorbing messages from media images. Have you ever heard your daughter wish her hair was blonde? Because that one is easy to counter : “Duh. It’s boring. Blonde hair is boring.” I call Cinderella and Aurora “the boring princesses” because that is exactly what they are. A dime a dozen.
When we watch Bubble Guppies we both fight over which of us gets to be Molly. She’s the brown girl with the pink wavy hair. I always lament that Molly would be perfect if only she had pink CURLY hair. Another of the Bubble Guppies has peach skin and curly blonde hair (alas, Leah finds her boring) – besides we both know that if Molly were living on dry land her hair would be reaching for the sky!! My point in making this example is that claiming to be a particular character is yet another way of showing her what you value about her. I always want to be the brown girl and my daughter grabs my hand and holds it up in front of my face and says, “Mom, look at you! You’re white!” and I do a theatrical scream just to make her laugh. My daughter knows I love brown skin more than any other skin in the universe, just as I love curly hair more than any other hair in the universe.
Be careful of saying that your daughter’s hair is out-of-control or unmanageable. Replace it with “awesome,” “powerful,” and “independent.”
Lately though, I’d been hearing Leah ask for me to make her hair straight. I didn’t know what to do about her request because I don’t want to make such a big deal out of it that it ends up being MORE important to her. So, I tried a different tack. I built a collage using pics of beautiful curly-haired women and pointed out that “everyone knows these women are the most beautiful and talented women in the world and not ONLY are they beautiful and talented but they were also blessed with gorgeous, curly, powerful hair. And sometimes they straighten it because they don’t want to make all the stringy girls feel bad. It is much easier for a curly-haired girl to fake straight than vice versa. But they don’t wear their hair straight all the time because A) it’s boring and B)if you don’t take good care of the curls you were blessed with then it will get all damaged and you won’t get to have it anymore. “
As a blonde, stringy-haired child I got spiral perms every six months. It never looked natural, but it was better than straight in my mind. Both my sisters had them and even my brother. If you see a girl with a straight-to-curly perm whisper to your daughter, “Look, she’s trying to fake like she was born with great hair!! But you shouldn’t be mean to her. You should feel sorry for her. It’s not her fault she was born with boring hair.”
So after I put together my collage of powerful women with powerful hair I put together another collage of girls trying to have curls. Sometimes it works okay, sometimes not so well. I showed both collages to Leah. And whaddya know, it seems to be working. It’s only been two weeks but she hasn’t asked for a straight style again.
So, am I contradicting myself by saying "all hair is created equal" and then raving about curly hair constantly? Not really, because I always careful to say that I love curly hair and that lots of other people also love curly hair. Just as I call my daughter "Pretty Girl" as a nickname and tell her that she's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen - but then occaisionally remind her that every other mom I know thinks their daughter is the prettiest girl in the world. Being the most beautiful girl in the world is overrated. But having your mom and dad, your grandparents and eventually your signifcant others tell you that your face is among their favorite faces in the whole world - that is essential!
One more note – kind of off the subject but – “Nice Eyes?” My daughter has Ebony Eyes. My husband has Ebony eyes. Ebony Eyes are my favorite color eyes in the universe! There have been five chart-topping songs written about Ebony Eyes!!
Start examining your messages today and let us know how it goes. What works for you? The more we exchange our ideas on this topic the more we can help each other keep our girls heads straight (oh wait, curly!)
Kristl Smith Tyler writes a blog called, "How to Play with Barbies" her blog gives step-by-step instructions and tips for using 11.5 inch "fashion dolls" to create a world full of possibilities for her young daughter. Her daughter's barbie world is a world where girls with beautiful Ebony eyes and dark hair are much more common than "that skinny blonde chick who always wears miniskirts". Her daughter's dolls include brown-skinned dolls with a range of body types, natural as well as straightened hair. She also has Asians, Muslims, Indians and many other diverse dolls. Her latest post is about creating dolls with locs or dreadlocks. Check out her blog at: http://playbarbies.wordpress.com/