And that’s the lesson that Black women — including little girls — have the final and only say over what happens to our bodies and how we choose to look. Spirit yes, that includes every hair on our heads — or lack thereof. Doja Cat is sending a message of bodily autonomy that our kids need to start learning from their earliest moments. So if celebrating my daughter’s Black hair includes celebrating her right to do with that hair what she wants, I’m here for it, bald head and all.
“Shaving my head made me feel really good because I know that everyone that liked me before my head was shaved and doesn’t like me now was never worth it,” said Doja Cat.
My own hair journey has been complicated. Growing up, my parents tried to get me to style my hair in a tight bun every day, dismissing my big curls as “wild,” which I now know is a thinly veiled racist classification of Black hair. They even spanked me once for cutting a few inches off my long curls with a rogue pair of scissors I found.
What I’m learning from Doja Cat, though, is that our relationship with our Black hair must go deeper than the strands on our heads. It has to center our freedom to do with our bodies what we choose.
I was in my mid thirties before I discovered hair picks and the crowning glory of my own afro. And now, y’all can’t tell me a thing about my afro — it’s my favorite feature, with a close second being my skin. So when my daughter was born three years ago, I was determined to surround her with love for her hair and skin from birth. Trust me when I tell you that I have a catalog of hairstyles waiting for her. What I’m learning from Doja Cat, though, is that our relationship with our Black hair must go deeper than the strands on our heads. It has to center our freedom to do with our bodies what we choose, even if that choice leads to our decision to forge an identity separate from our hair.
A recent study commissioned by Dove found that one in two Black children experience hair discrimination as early as 5 years old — and the impact can last a lifetime. “In the US, the law in many states does not currently afford protection for race-based hair discrimination, even if the hairstyle is inherent to racial identity,” write the study’s authors. “That means Black women can be denied opportunities for employment or professional advancement without consequence. It means Black children can be denied entry to school or educational opportunities because of their natural hair.”
The CROWN Coalition, a group of organizations and brands that seek to end race-based hair discrimination through the CROWN Act, is playing a key role in shifting legislation to dismantle these racist practices. Undoing the impact on Black people of these practices involves deeper work — because it isn’t just about hair. It’s also about self-esteem and self-confidence. And, as Doja Cat is showing us, celebrating Black hair is about celebrating Black identity and our right to do with our appearance whatever the hell we please.
Kids are learning lessons about their hair from the wider culture practically from birth. The good news is that when children as young as 3 see positive images of people like themselves in the media, community, and more, they can build healthy self-esteem.
One source of inspiration that my daughter and I have enjoyed since she was a little button is Hair Love. The book and short film celebrate Black hair, featuring a Black father who wears locs, and his daughter, Zuri, who wears an afro and other natural styles. In both the book and the short, Zuri teaches her dad a thing or two about her curls, and he learns the power of a little girl who falls in love with herself. The film also shows love for Zuri’s mother’s head, which is bald, driving home the point that “hair love” is about joy and acceptance and body autonomy, not just the literal hair on our heads.
“Narrow mainstream beauty ideals can negatively shape or limit kids’ beliefs about their beauty and body image,” Matthew A. Cherry, the creator of Hair Lovetold me when we connected recently.
When kids are taught to see their own uniqueness and beauty, they’re able to celebrate it. This can be challenging, though, because, as Dre Brown, a makeup artist and a Dove Self-Esteem Educator, puts it, “the overwhelming mainstream beauty narrative that’s born out of Eurocentric aesthetic idealism, which perpetuates an aspirational image that aligns more with White culture” is everywhere — in television shows, books, movies, apps, and so much more.
The film also shows love for Zuri’s mother’s head, which is bald, driving home the point that ‘hair love’ is about joy and acceptance and body autonomy, not just the literal hair on our heads.
Brown noted that the effects of this dominance on young Black kids “can include everything from resenting their hair texture, to judging and bullying others based on what’s widely promoted as ‘beautiful.'” This includes the persistent idea that long, luscious hair is the goal for girls, even if they really don’t want any hair at all.
More media like Hair Love is urgently needed so that parents and caregivers can show our children that children like them belong on television, in books, in hair care lines, and so much more. The good news is that Cherry is currently in production for a Hair Love spin-off series called Young Lovepremiering in 2023. He also recently collaborated with Dove on a line of haircare products that come complete with affirmations right on the packaging.
“[These] are powerful declarations that parents and kids can practice together in their hair care moments to help cultivate positive self-talk about what their hair and bodies can be and do,” Brown told me. She believes that affirmations like these can help give Black kids “loving and empowering language to use in talking about their bodies, and specifically their hair.” My favorite affirmations include descriptions like, “My curls are interesting and I love every spiral” and “My skin is powerful because it protects my body.”
“This is a great way to show them the power they individually have to shape beliefs and narratives they adopt about their hair’s beauty and belonging,” Cherry adds.
But perhaps even more important is the example that adults like Doja Cat and I see — whether it’s in our own homes, or on the global stage — when we love our own hair and embrace our own choices. “By embracing, honoring, and celebrating the natural nuances and qualities of their own Black hair, adults in the lives of impressionable Black youth have the daily opportunity to demonstrate beliefs that promote acceptance, appreciation, and care of our natural hair that these children can joyfully emulate,” Brown says.
In a time when our Black kids have to combat racism through discrimination and white dominance in the media, it’s heartening to see role models like Cherry blazing a path for parents. And it’s powerful to witness women like Doja Cat being her boldest, best, baldest self, letting our kids know that loving what’s on your head, even if it’s nothing at all, means loving all of who you are.
Raising Anti-Racist Kids is a column written by Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs focused on education and actionable steps for parents who are committed to raising anti-racist children and cultivating homes rooted in liberation for Black people. To reach Tabitha, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Instagram.
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