by Danielle Edwards of Black Married Momma
Those of us in the Black community know what “good hair” is, even if we’ve banned it from our personal lexicon after wising up to its origin, ended the vicious cycle of straightening our own hair, or have become aware of its inherent self-esteem destroying potential.
But for those who don’t know, “good hair,” when used by or in reference to Black folks, is hair whose texture isn’t the tightly coiled, sometimes wiry mass of kinks that is conducive to Afros or growing locks. “Good hair” became known as such because it was somewhat of an anomaly and novelty among Black folks, most of whom had to resort to chemicals, hot combs or hard brushings with thick greases and tight stocking caps to achieve a similar effect. Most centrally, “good hair” was sometimes romanticized as tangible evidence of a racially diverse lineage, and, furthermore, it resembled more of an ideal representation of one of our unique features that the prevailing culture had overtly and implicitly programmed us to hate.
Still, for those of you who need more of a description, “good hair” is typically wavy trending toward straight or curly but certainly not kinky. It tends to grow longer more quickly because it doesn’t experience shrinkage to the degree or extent of Type 4 natural hair. It lies down when wet and can have a high gloss when freshly washed and combed or brushed with a bit of product. It is just as at home in braids as it is in its freeform, which hangs in a way that an Afro does not.
My younger daughter has this “good hair.” I knew it early on, when months after her birth, her coif was still as loose and curly as it was on the day of her birth. After all, black folks obsess sometimes over how it can take from months to the first full year before our features – from hair texture to skin hue – are permanently fixed, so fluid are the range of features and attributes we have. After a bout of cradle cap around 6–7 months of age, my daughter’s hair blossomed as if Miracle Gro had been feverishly applied. She quickly went from having bald spots courtesy of cradle cap to thick curly masses of curls and waves unlike anyone else in our house.
My husband, my elder daughter and I essentially all share the same hair texture – Type 4, prone to thickness, most at home in braids or locs and most able to retain length if left alone more often than not. Our younger daughter, with her type 3 curls, has hair that reaches her waist if stretched to its full length and, these days, elicits unsolicited reactions and responses from strangers.
“Ooh, she has some beautiful hair.”
“Is that all her real hair?”
“What kind of products do you use to make her hair like that?”
I have been dreading this day – this time when such comments would be said within earshot of my older daughter and make her begin questioning her own beauty or worth. And it has started to happen. As positive as I am with both of my girls, my daily affirmations – no matter how loving or sincere – cannot cancel out the steady stream of spoken messages or drown out the noise of unspoken appraisals from the media or regular ole people in our real lives.
And so now I feel like I have to be even more deliberate the balance it all out. I share with them the beauty of Black hair in all its manifestations, diversity and stylings. We have children’s books about Black hair – my favorite, “I Love My Hair.” I keep them on top of their “hair game,” and these days I’m extremely glad that 1) I wear my own hair natural and have for most of my life and 2) I can braid, twist and cornrow like nobody’s business.
Still, it’s complicated having one daughter with the quintessential crown of “good hair” in this society with its ethos of a complicated racial and cultural past.
I imagine it will even grow more complex, since my older daughter is the lighter of the two.
“You know, the younger one with ‘that nice hair’ …”
“You mean the older one, with the light skin …”
I forecast that my daughters will be referenced in these terms in the future. I recognize that I cannot stop this, but my role as mother and parent expands to halt its impact for as long as possible, so that they retain their identities as individuals, no matter how much people try to brand them as indistinct archetypes.
For more of Danielle’s writings check out Black Married Momma.