Today the day finally came. I’d been dreading it.
I was about to do her hair, and A asked me for “two braids, like Anna in Frozen.” I knew what she was really asking. She wanted me to give her long, straight hair. White girl hair. All the books I’d read and the seminars I’d attended had led me to this moment. And the truth is I wish I’d handled it differently.
“Well, that’s a little tricky baby, because Anna has a different kind of hair than you do.”
“You can have this braid on this side of my head, over here. And this braid over here on this side. Like that, okay?”
“And Anna has hair that’s brown and also hair that is white. I want you to make me look like that.”
“But baby that’s not possible. Anna has straight hair and yours is curly, coily, cotton candy hair.”
I was quoting a book title. I thought about the hundreds of times I’d read her that book and the other books like it, written to boost black girl self-esteem. The message is always that natural curls are versatile, natural curls are a lot of work, and there is no such thing as bad hair, no matter the curl pattern. I make sure her books and toys are filled with kids who look like her, I make sure she has loving relationships lots of people with hair like hers. I looked down at her sweet, hopeful face and wondered if any of these messages had sunk in. This was the VERY first time my daughter had ever requested a particular hairstyle, and she asked for the hair of a Scandinavian princess. A looked at me blankly, unable to understand why I was being so obstinate, so I said:
“It’s very difficult to make one kind of hair look like another. That would be like if Anna tried to have curls like yours. Can you imagine? I bet she’d dream of having curls like yours. But I just don’t think it would be possible, do you?”
She didn’t respond, so I said:
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Then I parted her hair down the middle, and covered her head with small, two-strand rope twists. Then starting above her forehead and holding the twists as though they were clumps of hair, I braided a large French braid on each side.
To be honest, I love the way the ‘Anna in Frozen” braids turned out. It was by far the most ambitious style I’ve ever done and I had no idea what to expect but it came out even better than I’d imagined. [Edited to add: it had no structural integrity and fell apart in less than 24 hours.] But those braids were two lovingly crafted cop-outs too, a missed opportunity to remind A about how many compliments she gets on her hair. I didn’t insist that she’s extraordinarily beautiful (which she is) or tell her that it crushes my heart a little that she wants to look like anyone else. Something told me not to discourage her from looking like Princess Anna of Arendelle, at least not today. My worry was that any pushback might cause her to dig in her heels. Instead, I tried my best to deliver on her request. And maybe when I did, it seemed like I thought Anna in Frozen had the most beautiful hair, too.
When I showed her the photograph above, she smiled politely. I asked if she liked them and she said she did, but she wanted hair that went “down to here” – she pointed below her shoulders. There are limits to what Mommy can do.