Even from an early age, I knew I didn't fit society's standards of beauty. As a child I had tight brown curls that were always frizzy because my Cuban mother, who had straight hair, didn't know how to properly maintain them. And though she eventually grew to love my locks, they never stopped being a challenge for her. So, as soon as I was old enough to straighten my hair, I went for it. Thankfully, as I matured and became more comfortable in my own skin, I learned to accept and embrace my tresses as part of my identity. Now, as the mother of a mixed-race 5-year-old daughter with tight, spiral curls, I strive to celebrate her natural texture on a daily basis in the hope that she'll always be proud of her hair (and every other part of who she is). Here's how you, too, can celebrate your girl's hair:
Curly hair requires moisturizing products and a routine that doesn't strip it of its natural oils. Taking the time to master curly hair care teaches your girl to cherish her natural hair. My daughter, Alina, and I reserve Sunday nights for curl care. I clean her hair gently with a moisturizing shampoo and use conditioner that is easy to comb through so that I can get out all the knots, then I work a deep conditioner through her locks, so that every bit of hair gets moisturized and we minimize breakage. You can read more about my routine here.
Resist the temptation to approach hair maintenance impatiently or with frustration, as those emotions will only translate to your daughter's perception of herself. Instead, create hair traditions that double as quality time for you and her. While conditioning her hair, share stories about your family history or watch a movie. If you make your girl's hair routine about togetherness, caring for her locks won't become a battle.
As Latina women, you've likely heard the conversation about pelo bueno versus pelo malo (or good hair versus bad hair) from your mama and tías. Well, we need to stop treating curly hair as something undesirable. Instead, use positive language when talking about your daughter's hair. Curls are not "hard to manage," they just need to be cared for differently than straight hair to ensure healthy locks that are unique to each girl. And by all means, don't use negative phrases like "crazy hair" or "wild hair" to describe your daughter's mane; you'll only make her self-conscious.
No two curls are alike and Latinas possess the entire spectrum of hair textures—from tight coils to soft waves. Teach your daughter about different types of curls, as well as the common ethnicities and cultures behind them. Help her understand that the tighter the curl, the more delicate the hair. You can talk about braiding and other protective hairstyles that help retain moisture and shield hair from damage.
Kids just want to fit in, so make sure your daughter sees other curly-haired chicas in the books she reads, the dolls she plays with, and the media she's exposed to. Alina's favorite characters include Tip from the animated movie Home and Emma from Dora and Friends. Both girls have dark brown curly hair and are super stylish to boot. Not only can Alina see herself in them, but their adventures also provide a launch pad for her own experiences.
Vanessa Bell blogs about raising mixed race children at De Su Mama.