“She’s all John. I mean, she looks like you, yeah, but she looks like John,” people would often say after my daughter was born. In my naïve way of thinking, they were simply saying she looks like both of us in the same way people often said I look like both of my parents. It took a minute for me to realize they were, in a very roundabout and polite way, expressing surprise that she looks white and not biracial. At that time, it bothered me when I figured it out, but now it’s sort of funny.
I confess, when she was born I waited for her skin to gain color and her hair to get kinkier, but it never happened. There she was, blue-eyed, ivory skin, dark, silky hair. In essence, she looks nothing like me, but she does have my face. I was fine with all of it, but I was admittedly disappointed her hair wasn’t like mine. I felt like I lost part of a cosmetic connection to my daughter; the one thing in her appearance that would solidly wipe out the awkward “Oh, are you her mother?” question; kinky-curly hair. I felt like we wouldn’t share the same hair experiences just about all black women share in their early years; not the impossible knots, not the gravity defying outward growth, not the long wash routines, not the hair that tests the strength of a comb, not the troubles with breakage, shrinkage, or even the frustrations of frizz. To me, there was a bond being lost in not having the same or similar hair; a bond I’d shared with my mother, who shared the same experiences with her mother, and so on and so forth. We all know the pains of detangling a particularly fierce knot, weathering shrinkage, taming the lion’s mane, and finally whipping it into a cute style. Those experiences couldn’t possibly be relatable topics between my daughter and I, not with hair so “easy” to maintain as hers. Little did I know…
At first her hair, like most babies, was jet black and straight. We washed it with Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo, but that always left her hair feeling stripped. My mother and I tried using a little oil in her hair, but that left it feeling waxy and looking wet. My mother tried to blow dry and brush her hair, but that made it frizz up like Tim Burton’s trademark unruly ‘do, to my surprise. This was new territory for me and John never did more to his wavier hair than give it a good rinse and an occasional shampoo so he was no help. The struggle to find the proper balance and stay within the product budget went on for quite some time.
The older she got, the longer her hair grew, the curlier her hair got, but it stopped at corkscrew curls the circumference of a cigar in the back and beach waves in the front. Her hair touched her shoulders when wet, but shrank up to her ears when dry. I tried a few products that work on my hair on her hair, but they were always too heavy and oily for her hair even in small amounts so I would go back to just washing with non-sulfate shampoo with added olive oil, but that just wasn’t enough. I would examine her half-dried curls and think how they rivaled Shirley Temple’s, yet just like my hair without the proper moisture and sealing, they disappear into a cloud of frizz once dry and when left loose become tangled, knotted, and matted like you wouldn’t believe. That’s when it occurred to me; I didn’t realize how ignorant I was of “white” curly hair problems in relation to “black” curly hair problems and how very similar they can be until actually handling it on a regular basis. Her hair was no different from mine at all. In reality, it’s just a different curl pattern and texture, but somehow I let it get into my head that it was foreign to me. This–for whatever reason belated–revelation began the search for natural ingredients and homemade product recipes we could both use and the formulation of a regimen tailored to her low maintenance curls based loosely off of my own regimen. I finally realized that curly hair is curly hair and requires roughly the same basics.
Now, much like my hair before the recent cut, her hair now reaches the middle of her back when wet and shrinks up to her shoulders when dry. My daughter and I share the same products, but different regimens centered around the CG Method. Hers is more simple and is done on an as-needed basis (or her scalp dries out) within minutes, mine is also simple but can take hours and must be done regularly (I use heavier products). Through trial and error, I have learned that despite her smoother, fine, silkier hair texture, her hair still encounters a range of common curly hair problems to be worked around and so must be handled with the same gentle hand I use on my own kinky curls. Her hair shrinks when dry, it gets tangles and knots that can only be removed with conditioner, it benefits from finger detangling, and requires product to tame frizz (even though she musses it within the hour). In the end, while our hair and experiences may not be mirror one another, my daughter is still natural and will indeed know the curly hair struggle. There is no bond lost, no defunct legacy of black hair care here; just an evolution of it and I am thrilled to be a part of that evolution. My daughter’s hair may not fit into the usual connotations of natural hair, but she is still by general definition natural. My natural is not her natural and that’s ok. Peace & Love