Growing up in the 90s, I idolized Family Matters Judy Winslow for her thick, beautiful natural hair. While slathering white relaxer onto my scalp, my mother would shoot down my every request to be natural like Judy. She’s since evolved (and grown dreads), but her sentiment then was that my hair would be too nappy and too time consuming to manage regularly. I vowed that when I was old enough to decide for myself that I’d proudly wear my hair as it grew out of my head.
Now one year and seven months post my (second) big chop, I’m beginning to understand why my mother was hesitant to stop using that relaxer! Motherhood, work and trying to balance it all leave little patience for properly tending to my growing 4C hair. On days when it’s too much to deal with, I reminisce on the easy days of slicked down edges and wraps. Those memories came flooding back to me recently in the midst of a hair day from hell. Pressed for time (and patience), I quickly wet my hair with a spray bottle and dropped my son off to summer camp.
Upon picking him up, a smiling little girl walked up to me and lovingly compared our hair. “You have natural hair like me,” she said. She said my hair was “pretty” and seemed so happy to talk to someone like me. Her tight little curls were separated into several ponytails like Judy Winslow used to wear. I instantly returned the compliment and noticed how special it made her feel. In that moment, I began to understand why it was so important for me to wear natural hair as a child like this little girl – to be accepted and adored for the real me.
That little girl’s compliment helped restore my confidence in my hair and my ability to maintain it. She taught me that beauty is subjective and can be realized even during seemingly ugly times. She also reminded me that for the confidence of both Black women and children that it is important for us to boldly love and wear our natural hair. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with my hair, I used it as a conversation starter with other girls at the summer camp. I began to compliment and pay attention to the ones who’d smile at me because our hair looked similar. Connecting with them over hair made us all feel good and important. Though small in gesture, this reinforced the critical role we play in shaping the way children care for, love and perceive themselves and their peers.
As I loved on my hair with a light co-wash and scalp massage one evening, I smiled thinking about the girls I interacted with at summer camp. My hope is that when they experience bad hair days or encounters, they remember the smiling mom from camp with similar hair. I hope they accept themselves (and their hair) for who they are despite any obstacles. I hope they’re kind enough to lift up a child who may be insecure or lacking self-esteem. Most importantly, I hope they believe in themselves and can always find their underlying beauty.