Baby Hair: For Gabby, Blue Ivy & Me

Blue Ivy, last week, post-play
Blue Ivy, last week, post-play

All blackgirls have a hairstory.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with my hair.  When I was little my mama called me tender headed when I shrieked at the harsh brush bristles pushing my hair and scalp together until it laid all the way down, or enough to keep the inevitable frizz at bay.  I grew used to people making mention and comments about my hair by comparing it to my sister’s.  My sister’s was “good” (I am sure then, you can imagine what was said about mine).  It was hard to love my hair when it was constantly described with negative descriptions: bad, knotty, kinky, wooly, nappy, messy.

I remember my hair as

stocking caps

blue pomade melting in my mama’s fingers

beads that hit against each other when I whipped my head

sounding like baby bracelets


pony tails


wrapped in rainbow colored plastic bows


banana combs

rubber bands

ribbons on Sundays sometimes

picture day at school when I secretly took my hair loose so it would be like the “white girls’,”

my mama’s disappointment and disdain when the pictures came back,

my first grade hair “all over my head” from playing on the playground

sweating out mama’s Saturday sacrifice

of hot combed kinks pulled out for Sunday service


The politics of hair reaches back much farther than I can tell it.  I remember my mama confessing that she was way more concerned about her hair than her complexion when she was growing up, especially because the same comparisons I heard about me and my sister’s hair, she got about hers.  The same chastisement I heard about my hair, she heard.  Those kinds of comparisons and judgments lead to blackgirl insecurities.  That is one blackgirl legacy we can do without.

Gabby Douglas, last year, after winning a gold medal
Gabby Douglas, last year, after winning a gold medal

When Gabby Douglas won gold at the 2012 Olympics I was shocked and confused when I read the rants of black folk who were more interested in talking about her hair style than her monumental accomplishments (I never look at black woman athletes while they are performing and expect their hair to be “layed”–I’m not sure what folk expected from her).  And last week I was again offput when pictures of little Blue Ivy surfaced on the internet to vitriolic comments because she dared be a blackbabygirl without bows and braids in her hair (and oh yeah, not be wearing pink or a dress).  Hmmmm.

I don’t know if it is internalized racism as much as it is internalized standards of beauty within black communities that makes this so commonplace.  Well that and an obsession with blackgirl hair that is tamed, in order, slicked down on the sides, wrapped around in braids or covered in curls.  We don’t seem to know what to do with blackgirls whose hair is left to do what it will, with baby hairs flying with wild abandon and little afros sticking out every which-a-way.  We want black women’s hair to be “fixed” in the same way we want them to be “fixed” (and “right”–whatever that means).  And blackgirls are no exception.  They are not protected from the harsh judgments about our hair that we oftentimes received ourselves.


We had Saturday morning hot comb rituals in my house and I succumbed to them.  But at some point, due to the peer pressure of long haired friends in the third grade, I begged for my first box perm, hoping it would both make me feel grown up (for whatever reason getting a perm was a pre-menstrual sign of womanhood) and supposedly make my hair more manageable.  It didn’t.  Years later, when my hair was damaged I was told that only a jheri curl (as soon as jheri curls went OUT of style) would make my hair grow again.  After transitioning back to “straight” hair from my “curl,” a woman-friend of my father’s gave me my first box braids.  As she wove the synthetic hair around mine she instructed me to prophesy when people did my hair, and to say “more hair” instead of “thank you” when they finished (it must have been a reverse curse because as a result of those braids my hair thinned out and fell out at the edges…”more hair” my ass).

A combination of worry and stress manifested in temporary alopecia and my hair fell out at the temples when I was in high school, again in college, and when I was working on my Ph.D.  Every other year I would have to disguise bald spots with  strategically covered bangs or dark gel to cover up the ‘problemed’ areas.  I felt lost without my hair and I worried about what people would think and/or say if they knew.   I imagined I would be accused of not looking right, of not properly taking care of my hair, of not knowing any better, using the wrong products, going to the wrong stylist…or my mama would be blamed.  To this day I get a sickening feeling when it’s time to trim my ends.


I never cried about the things people said about my hair in public.  I waited until I got home, securely behind closed doors, to stare at myself in the mirror and feel inferior.  I will never forget my aunt pulling her permed hair from a roller set in the mirror, combing out the curls and recovering them in a top swoosh with her fingers saying, “when your hair is done it makes your outfit look better.”  My insecurity about “looking better” meant I wrapped my hair every night, slept on a silk pillow cover, and kept oil sheen in bulk to help my up-do’s (of the 90s, hard gel style) last longer.  I had a standing appointment every two-weeks, drove over an hour to Durham to meet those appointments, and usually spent all day in the salon.  Appearance was everything.  I gladly traded my Saturdays for temporary pretty.

Me, circa 1980-ish
Me, circa 1980-ish


These days I have plenty of hair, but it is usually tucked beneath a weave, head scarf, kangol, or some combination of all three.  I get extensions regularly for convenience but I am not preoccupied with my hair the way I was when I was a little girl and/or in my twenties.  And I don’t think Gabby should have to, or baby Blue Ivy.

I am grateful that there was no such thing as the internet when I was young.  And I am grateful that folk don’t just follow me around taking pictures all willy nilly (cause truth be told, a sista doesn’t doll up to run to the grocery store).  Perhaps then blackgirls could go outside and play, or perform their sport without worrying about what they look like doing it.


I wonder if Gabby Douglas has a love-hate relationship with her hair.  I wonder how she felt, 16 and beautifully brown, when she read twitter taunts about her split ends.  I wonder if Beyonce can teach her babygirl what beauty looks like… that all 1 year old little blackgirls are gorgeous, whether they have a head full of hair or none at all.

I wonder what would happen if we praised blackgirls for their beauty instead of looking at them through a lens of criticism.

I wonder what would happen if instead of focusing on Gabby’s hairstyle, people paid attention to her gorgeous eyes and smile.

I wonder what would happen if instead of demanding feminine conformity people saw Blue Ivy’s beautiful curious eyes and pouty lips, looking like a spitting image of her daddy and momma put together.

I wonder what my self-esteem would have been like if my hair length, style, and texture didn’t matter when I was a little girl.

I wonder what would have happened if blackgirl pretty wasn’t culturally defined by hair length/color/texture.

For our sake, I hope we figure it out sooner rather than later.


21 thoughts on “Baby Hair: For Gabby, Blue Ivy & Me

  1. As the mother of a curly headed baby, I completely understand. I loved my girl’s curls. I didn’t push, pull or twist them. Just let them be. A Ribbon headband on special occasions was doing hair at my house.

    Is Blue happy and healthy? That’s all anybody should care about. She’ll have plenty of time for hair-dos and don’t’s. We have so much stress and emotion over hair.

    My daughter’s 4th grade teacher asked me once about “hair drama” that was infecting her class. She was a white woman – she didn’t get it. When I tried to explain she looked at me seriously and said “But what about the revolution?”

    She was old school and remembered the days of the afro and being Black and proud. More people need to remember that.

  2. I think it’s more that Blue’s hair looks unkempt. Here you have these multi-millionaire parents who one can assume are hands on and the child’s hair looks like it hasn’t been combed in months. As parents we all slack from time to time, but she could have put a hat on her head till she found the time to comb it. Also one can assume that she didn’t think that she would be photographed either. But being Beyonce she should have known better about that

    1. That baby’s hair does not look as if “it hasn’t been combed in months.” She looks like a one year old that ran off when her momma pulled out the brush and has been running since. And that’s running for the fun of it NOT running from getting her hair brushed.

  3. I had what was considered “good hair”. What a joke that is. Good hair is hair that does what you want it to do. I had kinks and naps that had to be pulled, combed and brushed to lay tight in a pony tail.

    My hair was soft and curly and people wondered how had had an afro with my “type of hair”. People are always i awe when I tell I perm my hair. Because to me my hair isn’t good hair except on the days it lays the way I want it to.

    Growing up hearing people say, ‘oh you have good hair’ felt like a smack in the face because it was like saying I wasn’t black enough. I grew up in the 70’s when there was discrimination between dark and light skin people.

    Yes we are all beautiful and I think as long as we as a people love ourselves and express it to each other. then others will learn to accept and appreciate us too.

  4. This stupidity about hair needs to stop in the black community in this country. It’s overdue and imperative that we as black people get something of worth inside our heads instead of worrying about what’s on top of our heads. Really we’re at a Neanderthal level at this point and just ridiculous. We must decide to get the shackles off our minds. We’re our own worse enemy. Worrying about such garbage as hair texture and color was the case when I was a child. I’m 51 now… My father was shocked to hear that a lot of us black folks still talk about “good hair.” He’s 73. God created our hair. A lot of us run to church all the time, but we never seem to reflect on the fact that what we hate about ourselves was how God wanted us created. It’s a kind of blasphemy in the way we think when you concern what church-going folk we are. I really hope we can evolve to a higher level of thinking, but seeing what I have over the years, all of this self-destruction and self-hatred is still here, and I just don’t have much hope for us. We focus too much on the meaningless, trivial, and what will leave us empty and destroyed in the end. Sorry for the rant, but I would like to see a little improvement with us as a people, but really we go from bad to worse. I would like to see before I die… We are VERY VERY VERY cruel to our own. 🙁 This is a spiritual and mental sickness that we must overcome. Every single one of us must look at ourselves instead of everyone else, including white people. Individually we have to solve our own warped and crippled mentality.

  5. Wow. I too was a “tender-headed’ child who spent Saturdays in the hot kitchen with Blue Magic and burnt ears :-). I felt my prettiest when my hair was freshly pressed, and I would toss it around like Jane Kennedy lol. To be honest, my Mama still can’t totally embrace the “nappy” look on herself (or me) – a generation’s infatuation with creamy crack, I guess. But, I’m now proud to stand upon the afros of beautiful black women before me, who paved the way for natural to be, well… naturally good and beautiful.

  6. That’s the exact reason my husband and I wrote/illustrated our first children’s book: Miya’s Hair Day! The point of which is: You Are Beautiful Just As You Are and all those “extras” are unnecessary. I am natural, and would have done so in high school, if we had the products and information that we have now. I didn’t know what to do with “natural” hair and neither did anyone else, except “press it”!

    Having alopecia in high school, not stress or chemically induced, but genetic and possibly permanent, cured me of my hair obsession. I gave up my all day Saturday hair rituals at home and the salon. I wore weave until my hair grew back, and I accepted the fact that it might not, and when and if that occurred I was ready to shave my head, which I debated doing anyway, because I hated the weave!

    Perms were only used once every 3 or 6 months, if not longer, until finally enough was enough and I did the big chop, had big natural hair crushes that motivated me to just let my hair be whatever it is. I’m well on my way to my ultimate hair crush. I love my hair, but more importantly, I love me! Natural hair, for me, fits how I feel on the inside. It’s not political or radical! It’s just me.

    We all need to learn permed, straight, kinky, coily, curly, knotty, nappy: It’s all Good. It’s all Beautiful. Change the definition and standards for ourselves, instead of attempting to emulate others.

  7. As sad as it is, we put cultural and social value on hair. The irony is that her mother was trying to help her the best way she knows how to be pretty and accepted most likely to shuffle her from the frays of what she might face if she did not. The sad thing is that the same thing her mother was trying teach is the same thing that’s hurting her. Black women have come under attack for having “unmanageable” hair. The trick is that it’s only unmanageable when you’re trying to manage it in someone else’s standard and image. Beauty politics among black women must change to suit their body not their body trying to suit their beauty politics. This crosses into ones economic, emotions and social life. This “upkeep” keeps black women’s self-esteem conditional. If a black girl cannot feel secure with her hair how it is, how could she ever travel spaces that test her complexion or culture and maintain them. If we deny the uniqueness of our bodies then we ultimately move into spaces that deny our differentness. If we cannot accept who we are then we cannot accept when other people don’t accept us. This is the struggle of differentness that has always attempted to make the one who is different feel inferior to those who are not. The irony is that we are attempting to deny ourselves by attempting to conform to a politic of beauty that we did not create. We then adhere to processes that attempt to eliminate ourselves whether it is skin bleach, perms or plastic surgery to gain entry to the privileges of those who have. It is easy for those who closely fit the aesthetic to move easily through spaces that dictate beauty in their favor. Thus the ones that do not tend to go through processes of self-hate to eliminate the very adjuncts that hinder their safe passage in those spaces. That’s why the creation of space and narrative is important. Because when we create space for us to love ourselves we do not then feel the need (or as much) to change the way we are. Praise goes to figures like India Arie and Jill Scott who fight for these spaces that aid to the black liberation of beauty politics that have unfortunately trickled down to our children.

  8. I stumbled across this cute ebook that addresses the natural hair identity. I read it to my daughter (on my smartphone) and she loved it. It’s available on Amazon for open share
    As of late it’s hard to find outlets to celebrate our diversity, especially when we are wanting it to shine through our children; specifically our black daughters. This ebook book helped me have that convo with my daughter.

  9. It seems every time I leave a hair shop I get online and see a hair story. Lovely read. All black girls do have hair stories! I’m in that unlucky middle with good hair in the front and crown of my head, and not so good hair surrounding it. I’m sitting here in slight discomfort which is better than full-blown pain which is the usual for up-dos. I chopped off my hair, all of it, a year ago. As it’s been growing back I’ve decided to start locs for the third time. Today I decided I needed the locs to hurry up and grow and also to not be I went for loc extensions. Right now I’m shaking my head. Will we ever arrive at that place where we can just love the hair for what it is. love all of it? Is it possible to rid our psyches (and that of subsequent generations) of this policing?

  10. Teach our children to love themselves. The moment they say, ‘I want my hair to lay down like..’, teach why theirs is beautiful, textured, curly,kinky, works of art.. Like no one else’s.

  11. As an adult I really like engaging into this topic. I found and still find that yes a lot of my sistahs still have a hard time talking about it. They think my natural is awesome and often say things like “I wish I could do that to my hair.” My response is always, ” you can…and not that my opinion counts or not…I think you’d be beautiful.” First I get a side look, then a frown…I’m not flirting just being real. Own your hair!!!

    Anyway, I remember the hot comb, the scorching feeling of perms too. My momma use to tell me to brush 50 times each side of my head, keeps the kinks out and it would lie down a lot longer. I think that my hair issue came later when I was in middle school, before then I dont remember much about what people said or thought. But in middle school I missed quite a few days because time ran out for me to get permed before the following week. I remember once crying so deeply intense that I managed to make myself sick. I also think not soon after is when it started to dawn on me how ridiculous it was that not only had I made myself so sick I couldnt eat, but I was placing all of who I was in the hands of what everyone else thought. I then thought it would be easier to merge into natural-ity by getting “dookie braids”. I wore them even knowing the extra hair in my head wasnt mine nor real, but my nappy hair was there, well part nappy. A couple weeks in after a perm. Years passed, when I started my twenties I went natural, first few years of cornrolls and an afro, to bed head, back to cornrolls. I was determined to allow my hair to do its thing. Beginning of 2007 I said, “DREAD ME!”. 7 years of dreadhead and I AM UTTERLY IN LOVE WITH MY KNOTTYNAPPY HAIR!!!

    Thank you for bringing this up again. I think this topic should always be discussed, because it is still happening. My niece spent $115 a few months ago for some real hair, not hers. I had a talk to her about it, and yes its her choice as well as her money, I just am consistent with letting her know that she has beautiful hair and its still beautiful whether its weaved up, permed down, or whatever else we think as black folks would only make us presentable and acceptable to others. I know its taken a lot of growth and self love to be all of who I am today, I’m about as natural as I can get. 100% dreaded-modern day-hippie!! It is ALL my roots!!!

  12. Being 66 I’ve experienced it all…my mama straightened my hair with hot Combs, sent me to hair dressers, permed it, jheri curled it, wigged it, braided it and I’ve had extensions (but they hurt so bad I never did it again!)
    By the time the 60’s rolled in and I pledged a sorority my “big sisters” couldn’t talk about my hair ’cause I was the first to have an Afro and convinced all my line sisters to do the same even those with “good hair”. Now I have two grown daughters who do what they want with their hair…one wears anything and everything in and on her hair while the other goes au natural. My grand daughters are of mixed heritage and one plays sports with her hair in a “pony tail” with curly tendrils everywhere and the other is a “Diva” (no pants or sports) and styles her curls before ever walking out the door…..though once outside and she’s playing…all bets are off! LOL! Me…I no longer give a damn. I wear my hair short and let the silver stripes show!

  13. Good article, leave them babies heads alone. I think a sad part of social media is just about being judgmental and mean.

  14. Yes, Yes, Yes, what a piece, and sooner, much sooner than later, to dismantle all of this destructive shit made to destroy instead of raise up.

  15. Gabby’s Hair By Carolyn June (written August 8, 2012)

    Dedicated to Gabby Douglas, Olympic Gold Medal Winning Gymnast

    My hair is a gift from the Nile
    Not that long, flowing Euro style
    It’s not wispy, silky or flowing
    But healthy, natural and growing

    My Black hair does not define me
    Though you speak of it wickedly
    I struggled too hard and too long
    For you to say my hair is all wrong

    My hair does not dictate my strength
    Unlike Samson, I don’t need the length
    What I need is for folks to embrace
    The mere fact that I finished the race

    I won’t take this time to chastise
    I just want you to all recognize
    That my hair is my crowning glory
    It’s God’s gift; end of story!

  16. Baby Hair
    By Carolyn June
    June 25, 2013

    Why so many Black folks obsessed with baby hair?
    They pamper and revere it; why do so many care?
    Strands that don’t convert to natural, kinky stuff
    Grow out at the hairline and soft as newborn fluff

    When pasting down that baby hair, don’t be in a rush
    What you need is styling gel and an old tooth brush
    Style is really popular with both boys and girls
    Takes a lot of patience to perfect that sticky swirl

    Pay attention to the edges, and smooth them all way round
    Water and some styling gel will help you hold them down
    Part it off the hairline, like it’s no big thang
    Carry too much forward, looks more like a bang

    No matter what the age group, a grown-up or a child
    Showing off that baby hair won’t go out of style
    Whether you are from the hood or a R&B star88
    Many take their baby hair just a tad too far

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