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Adoption Blog: Familia Means Family
I got brave the other day and decided to leave my six-year-old daughter's hair in a beautiful, natural afro. I had not allowed her to wear her hair "out" (not braided) in several years because it requires much more care and maintenance than keeping it in a protective style, like cornrows or braids.
However, about a year ago, I started following a couple of great adoptive momma bloggers who are gurus when it comes to African-American hair care: Keep Me Curly, and Chocolate Hair/Vanilla Care. With tips and encouragement from those communities, I decided to try a process called "shingling," in which you apply product to wet hair in layers, then let it air dry freely. The results are breathtaking, and Isabel looked so pretty with what she calls her "wild" hair.
At first, though, she was uncertain about her look. She had not seen herself with an afro since she was a baby, and she could not remember what it looked like. She felt it was too big. She worried she looked silly and she was concerned about going out to run errands with me. As I pinned a bow to her tresses I tried to encourage her, telling her how beautiful her hair is and how it is designed to be styled in afros or cornrows. I reminded her that my hair cannot effectively hold either style, so her hair was special and created just for her. Finally, I told her we would look around together and find other black people wearing afros, so she could see not only how pretty they look but also that other people enjoy their natural hair.
She was excited and we were lucky to find a woman in the first store we entered who was sporting a short, yet full, afro. Isabel pointed and smiled and I winked at her from across the aisle. But that was that. Sadly, we were unable to find anyone else. Everywhere we went, little girls had their hair in braids and older women had hair that had been chemically straightened. Moreover, we kept getting good wishes on detangling the hair later – and what seemed to be looks of pity or concern -- from black moms.
Isabel noticed a display of boxes of chemical straighteners and asked me why black women want to do that to their hair. I told her that many women feel that keeping their hair or their children's straight is easier because natural hair requires a lot of care (as she knows very well!). I explained that everyone has different beliefs, and some people feel like they are more attractive if their hair is straight. I told her that, while there is not a right or a wrong way to feel about hair, I would not straighten her hair for two reasons: because the chemicals can cause damage to the hair; and because I feel that her hair is a big part of who she is, part of her ethnic background, part of what makes her beautiful and unique, and I would not alter it until she was old and informed enough to make that decision herself.
In her excitement about shopping, Isabel, thankfully, forgot to look for other afros for the rest of our outing. I noticed, though, and was disappointed. While we did see plenty of children with styled natural hair out and about, we didn't see many adults with it, and we didn't see any hair "out." The next day at church, an older African-American friend of mine commented on how beautiful Isabel looked and how soft her hair felt. She told me she had never felt such a soft afro and asked what I put in it. She mentioned, off handedly, that for most women of her generation, seeing a child with an afro meant the mother did not know how to style the hair, but that she knew this was not the case with us. Then I began to understand our experience around town the day before.
Joining the two communities I mentioned before has turned me into an advocate for natural hair. The number of people who follow natural hair-care websites has grown exponentially since we adopted Isabel and I began styling her hair. Even more interesting, a number of those joining in are black moms of black children. I have at least two African-American friends who are making the transition from straighteners back to natural hair, and many others who are thinking about it seriously.
Knowing all this, I had expected to see many more afros in the stores than we saw. I'm not sure why exactly. I think, for me, that would have been a clear sign that times are changing. But I have to remember that I live in a small town in the South. Change happens in waves, and it seems to start in larger cities. It will trickle down to us. Who knows? Maybe our family can get something started.
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