“Oohh Child! Nappy, nappy, nappy! We have to get you a perm! I can’t believe I have you out here on these streets with you walking around with all these kinks in your head! Just all out in the open. We’re going to have to nickname you Lil Nappy!” stated the young mother, yanking her child’s head in a too-tight ponytail.

Being what people might call “nosey,” I continued to watch the scene of the small 7 or 8-year-old girl being scorned by her loud mother. As in most cases, the young girl was not worried about her hair before her mother made those comments. Her attention was fully on her Cookie Monster doll as she sat on the bench, kicking a pebble in a circular motion. As soon as her mother was finished with her rant, the young girl began to touch her hair over and over again as if she was trying to hide it from the world. She put down the doll and asked, “What’s wrong with my hair?”

After taking mental notes of the entire situation, all I could do was shake my head and walk away. The simple fact that she kept calling her child “Lil Nappy,” and not saying it in a positive manner, made me almost choke on my cappuccino. But the true issue that stabbed me like a knife was that the mother was simply passing down her insecurities to her daughter. Her daughter was perfectly content, and not worried about how her hair looked, until her mother drew negative attention towards her natural curl. At that point, her childhood daydreams quickly turned to thoughts about her hair and how she could hide it.

As Black women, we know that hair is a touchy subject that we keep close to our hearts. From weave to natural to perm, we all have our personal opinion of why our style is the best to rock. Once we grow older, our opinions may change due to life experiences, the finding of ourselves, or simply a change of heart. Especially if you transitioned from relaxed to natural hair later in life, you may go through a mental transition of shedding a stereotypical perspective of beauty that you were taught in your early years.

It’s understandable that there is not a rule book for teaching and parenting a child. It’s a learning process, but one must realize that the parent is the most influential person in the life of a child. What a parent teaches and says to a child holds weight, and will always settle in her or his mind.

At the end of the day, children are beautifully untainted when it comes to the world. They either become more uplifted, or jaded, by what they are taught. Being a young Black girl is a tough road to travel, and it creates a heavier load when you learn that your natural self is not good enough at the tender age of 7. Whether you’re a mother who wears her hair natural, perm, or weave—allow your child to embrace her true self. Black women are constantly taught through media that we are not beautiful enough, and transforming is the key to opening the door to beauty. It’s our responsibility to stop the cycle.

- Ellisa Oyewo

  • Alexandra

    Sometimes adults dont realize the effect their words have on children. The word “nappy” is debatable, but it does have negative connotations.
    I can imagine the hair stages this girl will go through when she gets older.

  • Bianca

    The term “nappy” seriously gets under my skin. I have a friend that constantly uses it to describe an unkept child or adult. It’s disgusting; and she tries to taunt me into debates regarding natural hair. I refuse. I have no time to teach a grown a$$ woman about something she should have knowledge over. I’ve had to educate some people. “We’ve” (including all people of colour) have been brainwashed by the European standard of beauty. Don’t get me wrong; there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with weaves, relaxed hair, and everything else in between. But when I hear comments like the one described in this article, it makes me realize just how far we still have to go.

    • Bianca

      **please excuse the grammatical errors**

  • Cali

    I agree we need to stop the cycle, but the sad thing is as long as there are adults who think this way & pine for straight hair & light skin, there will always be children inheriting that self-hating message & ultimately keeping the ignorance going. :(

  • http://teachermrw.com teachermrw

    It must be kismet, because I was just talking with my mother about this very topic last evening. Generations of black women have been raised to straighten their hair in order to meet culturally acceptable white standards of beauty, and now a new generation of black women is learning how to care for their natural hair texture. Heck, many of us don’t even know how our natural hair texture looks and feels. Sad, isn’t it? Personally, every time I see a little black girl donning her natural hair, I give mad props to her parents. While I think the way in which a woman, and in this case, a black woman, wears her hair is a matter of self-determination, I like the fact that a new generation of black women is being created to have a different mindset about their hair.

  • ANONYMOUS

    MY DAUGHTER IS 3 YRS OLD, I PUT A “SOFTENER” IN HER HAIR. LIKE A DUMB ASS THINKING IT WASN’T THE SAME AS A RELAXER. THE FIRST TIME, THE PROCESS WAS BEAUTIFUL, IT MADE HER HAIR MANAGEABLE. THE SECOND TIME IS STRETCHED OUT LONGER AND IT WAS PRETTY MUCH EVEN. THE 3RD TIME, MY POOR BABY HAD SCABS AND BURNS ALL IN HER HEAD JUST LIKE IT WOULD IF SHE HAD A RELAXER. I FEEL SO BAD B/C MY BABY’S HAIR WOULD’VE BEEN JUST FINE IF I WOULD HAVE LEFT IT ALONE AND LET IT GROW ON IT’S OWN. IT WAS ME THAT WAS BEING SO DAMN IMPATIEN, NOT WANTING TO TAKE THAT EXTRA TIME IN THE MORNING TO COMB HER HAIR. I TALK TO MY BEAUTICIAN SHE STATED ONCE YOU START THE PROCESS, YOU CAN’T STOP B/C IT COULD DEGRESS THE GROWTH PROCESS. I SAID ALL OF THIS TO SAY I WISH LIKE HELL I WOULD’VE LEFT MY BABY’S HAIR NATURAL. PLEASE DON’T PROCESS THIS KIDS’ HAIR, MAMAS.

    • http://kiki072895.tripod.com/blog BrooklynShoeBabe

      Please don’t feel bad now. You’ve learned your lesson. Now, you just have to work on getting your baby’s hair healthy again. Forgive yourself and thank you for giving mothers (and fathers and grandothers) a warning.

  • http://kiki072895.tripod.com/blog BrooklynShoeBabe

    Since my daughters were infants, I’ve always called their hair beautiful. I’ll brush their hair and say, “Oh Mommy wishes her hair was as thick and pretty as yours.” (My hair thinned during pregnancy and I wear it very short.)I’ll never say that their hair is “nappy,” but “detangled” when it is sometimes hard to comb. No “peasy” or no “nappy” ever. If they grow up and want to get a perm or a weave or what-have-you, I’m not going to complain because that’ll be their perogative and not something they fell they have to do because their natural hair was thought to be ugly by their father and me.

  • Anissa

    My 9 year old sister’s hair started breaking off from relaxers and she was devastated. So instead of wearing her hair naturally, she begs my mom to straighten her hair or she wears micros or weave ponytails because she doesn’t want her hair to be “nappy.” When I have kids, I’m going to make sure to take care of their hair and tell them how beautiful it is so they wont have to have the fear of their hair being “nappy” or feel like it has to be straight to be pretty.

    • nayla

      Sorry to hear about your sisters hair experiences. Why wait till you have your own children. Start with your sister, as her older, wiser big sister you are in prime position to teach her. One day, she may even thank you for it.

      N

  • Bahiabeauty

    I LOVED reading this very important article and I agree with all of the comments! As women of color, we really need to embrace each other more, compliment each other more and build each other up. Then, we will be able to see beauty in our children, and compliment them instead of putting them down! The mother in this article dislikes her childs hair, because she dislikes her own hair. The cycle of natural hair hatred has slowed down, but I truly hope and pray it finally dies… As for me, I LOVE LOVE LOVE my natural hair! Took me 25 years to find it, get to know it, and wow, I am in love… I will teach my future children to love what God has blessed them with. We must stop being afraid Ladies…we are so very beautiful, we just dont know it…

  • binks

    I hate the term nappy with a passion. I prefer to use the word kinky. But I agree, I know it is a touchy subject because this means we have to open up and view how we were taught and raised when it comes to our hair of the previous generations. Because the first time we do have an valid opinion about our hair it is mostly along the lines of how our parents, mainly mothers view it since it was them doing it most of the time. Hell, before I decided to go natural my mom was admanent that I shouldn’t and gave me x, y and z reasons not because she was ignorant but the fact that it is a pattern in behavior of how we were raised and how we view our natural hair as something negative instead of something positive, but thank god it is changing and now my mom love the fact of my natural hair. I think whatever you tell your child in regards of appearance you should use positive words of encouragement to describe them instead of being unknowningly negative because our hair isn’t something we should hate about ourselves. But I love the fact that a lot of new mothers are waiting before they put a perm in their daughter’s hair.

  • Mia

    I thank you so much for this article. I am 22 with a 20 month old. Before having her I wore my hair permed which was mid shoulder length, sometimes throwing a track or two in. About a year ago, I decided to go natural, not because of a trend or even understanding the healthy part of it, but I needed a fresh new me. Off with the acrylics, the weaves, and I did the Big Chop. I love the fact that I did it because I am able to show my daughter that hair doesn’t make you. Its important to understand that we as women have inner beauty, regardless of how tight the curl is…my mom who has had her hair permed for decades often comments on my natural hair and often says, ” I hope you put a perm in that baby’s head”. And I merely laugh and reply “No”. I want to stress to my daughter she can wear her hair out in curls or straightened like her friends, but to enjoy life as a child. No child should be made to think that they are to look a certain way to be accepted nor to have their family members degrade them.

  • Dee

    I was blessed with a mother that did not straighten my hair and did not use negative words regarding my hair. While as an adult I did have a perm from time to time, I stopped that practice years ago I always felt like a fake with a relaxer and I missed the feel of my own hair. I would never perm or straighten a child’s hair. What a negative message that sends and I won’t even start with how unsafe it is to have a child exposed to all the chemicals in a relaxer. I am out of the conversation when Black women start to talk about their hair. In all honesty, if a Black women uses the term good hair, good grade of hair and nappy, I tend to think about them in a certain way. Just as if they start talking about the Native American and white in their family. It just lets me know how they feel about being African American and where their head is at. I hate seeing Black girls with relaxed and straighted hair as well as hair that is pulled to tight to make it straight. It is any wonder why the hair combing process is not a pleasant experience for Black girls. Even too tights braids and cornrows are not a good thing. My goodness the hair is connected to the scalp that has nerve endings!!!

  • http://www.wandesworld.com Wande

    I’m 23 living with my mother. I decided to stop relaxing my hair two years ago, and anytime I take my hair out of my weave, my mum always says, Come let to help you retouch it for you.

    When I say no there’s an argument, ridiculous right? hence why I stated my age at the beginning.

    If I wasn’t encourage by people around me with such passion about natural hair, I woul still be a victim of the creamy crack today.

    All this pressure just because last generation didnt really take the time out to study hair, and opt in for the “easier” option. The relaxer

  • http://www.theartofdeath.tumblr.com Cocoa Honey

    My mom would say the same things, so did my Grandma. I have been natural for the past 9 years now I remember turning 16 and doing my big chop. Everybody tried to talk me out of it, but I rocked my afro and braids for 3yrs before locking my hair. I think I went through different hair stages, and then I realized that its JUST hair. Straight hair, kinky hair,coily hair, nappy hair. I love my locks, and now my cousin has gone naural and two really good friend all inspiried by me. And my mom (yes the lady that called my hair nappy) is doing her big chop in Jan 2011.

  • oknow

    don’t like the term nappy.. it’s not our word.. it was a word given to us and it wasn’t a positive one.. i don’t call my babies hair nappy or peasy and i don’t allow anyone else to either..

    i tell her ppl wish they had hair like ours because we can wear it in so many different ways.. i make sure she always knows that this is the hair God gave her and that she should be proud of it. i braid her hair in all kinds of intricate styles to make sure she feels beautiful..

    • http://www.wix.com/organicstateofmind/youarethenow Mafdet Shewhoseesclearly

      @Oknow: Couldn’t have said it better myself.
      @Everyone else: So… obviously I’m a natural- I’m 27 and my mom always told my sister and I we had the advantage. Out hair was like a crown that we could shape anyway we wanted to. She embraces the natural hair even has locks herself. What I want to really say here is that we are the original people we have been here since the beginning and we will be here in the end- it was designed by the Neters to be that way- why we continue to be troubled on how to handel our supreme #9 is beyond me. It’s like having a pot of gold and complaining that you can’t carry it- But it’s Gold. We have to continue to raise the awarness of this “gold we have not in from of our faces but upon our heads. I am so glad to see a site where we can discuss, learn, and encourage on another and I pray that in my lifetime I will see us restored to our honorable place. Restored by the power of our own souls acting as one and not just because someone “natural” is accepted by the mainstream. Hotep sistas and may we find our wat together soon.

    • http://www.wix.com/organicstateofmind/youarethenow Mafdet Shewhoseesclearly

      Sorry for the typos ladies- I was just really passionate and typing fast.

  • http://www.thebestreddress.com Janna

    Hopefully one day we all will realize just how beautiful our true hair is. Anyone can wear flat hair, but it takes a certain type of people to have a glorious mane of coils and curls that can’t be matched.

  • Interested

    There needs to be a healing process. Black women were told for far too long by various sources that their hair was not attractive. It was learned behavior, hence the situation we have today. We must never forget that. Well hopefully with the natural hair movement taking off, a new generation of Black girls can be raised to love their natural hair from newly-natural mothers, aunts, big sisters, cousins, & grandmothers who have discovered the awesome beauty of their natural, kinky Black female hair.

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