I Hated My Natural Hair Until My Son Said He Hated His

Courtesy of Nia Allen; Photo Illustration: Aly Lim
Courtesy of Nia Allen; Photo Illustration: Aly Lim

I was 5 years old the first time my hair broke a comb. I was horrified, and so was the person doing my hair. From that day on, I hated my hair. Breaking that comb stayed with me; even as a young girl, I would apologize to anyone doing my hair because I knew it was "difficult."

It didn't help that when I was with my mom, who is lighter skinned and whose hair is straighter than mine, no one ever let me forget that we were different. They would say, "You must take after your father," so I began to associate my kinky hair with negativity. My 4C hair, coupled with my darker skin, took a toll on my self-confidence all throughout childhood. Some days, I wouldn't even look in the mirror because I did not like what I saw.

That was reinforced when, as I got older, I began to notice that people only ever complimented my hair when it was braided or straightened. For a long time, even as an adult, I didn't think I was beautiful if my hair wasn't straightened or covered up — so I hid my hair and its natural texture.

To be fair, all of this hatred of my hair didn't come from just me. Society as a whole told me my 4C texture was not the standard of beauty. I remember seeing relaxers just for Black children that promised to keep our hair straight and provide "manageability." Even in some states, braids, Afros, locs, and other natural hairstyles were banned in schools and the workplace because they were deemed "unprofessional." In some ways, straightening my hair became a form of protection from society's perception and fear of what my natural hair could mean.

After a lifetime of hating my own hair, my son's complaints were a revelation for me.

Almost eight years ago, when I found out I was pregnant with a boy, I was relieved. I assumed my son and I would never have to have conversations about hair like I did with my mom. The thought of having a girl terrified me; I would have to do her hair and protect her from how society might view her. I wondered whether I would teach her to hate her hair, too.

When my son was born, people told me he was perfect. He had straight, silky, sandy brown hair and light skin. No one ever thought I was his mom because of these features; they always asked, "Is he mixed with something?" But as with many babies, everything changes with their skin and hair in the first few years. My son's skin stayed fair, but his hair became the same 4C texture mine is. I remember wondering if people would no longer see him as so perfect.

When my son was in the first grade, he came home from school one day and said that he hated his hair because it didn't look like the other kids'. He compared his hair to a Chia Pet and complained that it was hard to comb through and that he was frustrated with it.

I was mortified, and wondered if I'd let it slip in front of him that I hated my hair. Did I destroy his image of himself? The short answer is no, because I never taught him to hate his hair. But I never told him to love it, either. Just like when I was his age, he came to believe his hair would be easier to deal with if it were straight.

And honestly, he learned that from me. Even if he never heard me say I hated my hair, that is what I showed him. Looking back at that moment, I realized that I never wore my own hair in its natural state for special occasions or even out of the house. Instead, I had to wear it straightened or get a weave to deem myself presentable. Instinctively, I did the same thing with him, taking him to get his hair cut for special occasions and never really teaching him to love his own natural hair texture.

After a lifetime of hating my own hair, my son's complaints were a revelation for me. I realized that, for me, the dislike hadn't come from the hair itself, but rather how others viewed my hair and, by extension, me. How could I tell him to love his hair when it was clear I did not love mine? From that moment on, I knew it was my responsibility to change how he felt about his hair, about himself.

And I did.

Every morning on the way to school, we began saying daily affirmations that reminded him he was handsome. We read books about his crown; they explained that his hair was so special it defied gravity in its natural state. I reminded him that his beautiful sandy brown hair sticks up and out because it is pointing toward the heavens and the sun. I told him the history that the coils of his hair connect to, and the stories that his hair tells with each kink. I told him that his hair is his crown and he must wear it proudly like the prince he is.

I told him this every day. And he believed me. But I believed me, too.

Now at 7 years old, he is proud of his sandy-brown locs. He walks with confidence and makes sure everyone knows that his hair is his crown.

He always tells me, "Mom! I look good! The girls love my hair!"

I didn't expect it, but teaching my son to love his hair and all of its kinkiness and coiliness taught me to love my hair — and myself.

Nia Allen is a freelance writer who writes about fashion and sometimes tells her life stories. She received her BA from Clark Atlanta University, a master's of communication from Loyola University, and a master's of fashion industry studies from Kent State University. She serves as a Diversity Dissertation Fellow at Middle Tennessee State University, teaching fashion branding and fashion buying.