FINDING BLACK GIRL MAGIC
She was four. She was in ‘Baby Ballet’, she loved it so much, she loved dressing up, she loved copying the teacher, she loved moving her body to the music. All of the little girls wearing the same baby pink leotard and tutu. The same delicate pink tights and the same silky pink shoes.
They stood in a line together. My daughter looked down at her arms. Then to the girl to her left, at her arms, her shoulders, and back to herself. To the right, her classmate’s shoulders, arms and back to her own. Then she leaned forward and looked down the line, taking a glance at every other girl in the class. Then back to herself. I knew what was going through my daughter’s little mind. She was realising she was the only brown girl. Making those comparative examinations, she was noticing she was different, and that they were all the same, as each other.
Soon distracted by the next set of instructions to this adorable little class, the moment passed and she was dancing again happily as I tried to keep control of my son, he just wanted to join in. I watched her with a heart so full of admiration I thought it might stop beating. Little did I know it was about to break.
After putting shoes on and a jacket we made our way back to the car. Both kids strapped in, I finally started to reverse out of the space. My attention on the mirrors and the spaces around me as you do,
“Mummy I want to be peach-like you”.
No. How could she feel that? Was this really happening? What had I done wrong? My baby. I can’t allow her to feel this way. I responded, “No you don’t babe, you are so beautiful. Brown skin is beautiful and guess what? Lots of people would love to be brown like you.”
I know my daughter had seen me applying tanning lotions and having spray tans. I wondered if I was to blame. I often use the term ‘Mum-guilt’. I know many of us find it all too easy to blame ourselves, for a moment, I did. I stopped myself in my tracks. This was something we had to deal with and do it right. We were raising our mixed-race children in a predominantly white area. I had to show her, her Black Girl Magic.
The struggle was still ongoing days later.
“Mummy I want flat hair like you”
My heart sank further and I felt the Mum-guilt creeping in. No. I wouldn’t allow this. “Baby you have the most beautiful hair I could ever dream of. You can have your hair in so many ways and in so many styles that my flat hair would never do”.I realised then as I engaged in the comparisons not only do I need to empower her to value herself and see her beauty, I must also demonstrate self-love for myself and my own boring flat hair, otherwise, it would be pointless.
“You can have your hair big and afro, in braids, twists, buns, curly, all sorts. “Can you make it flat? “ “It would be bad for your hair to make it flat” “I want it flat”.
I didn’t have a clue what to do, we had long discussions about hair and individual differences, that everyone is beautiful in their own way. How the world would be boring if we were all the same. We talked, and talked and talked some more, and eventually, I agreed that if she still wanted to have her hair straightened, just once, after another week, then I would do it.
A week passed and she still wanted her hair straightened, I do admit I was curious to see how it would look, but I was fearful of damaging her hair and that she would prefer it straight. After washing her hair in the bath I applied the coconut oil as I usually did, combed her hair through and then went to straighten it, section by section. It took a long time and we were both tired. I’d never straightened curly hair before. I’d only ever nurtured her natural hair and styled it in protective styles or naturally. When she woke up it was a big wavy bush, seeing it in the reflection she let go of the idea of flat hair.
I talked to my mother-in-law about Halle mentioning these things to me. There are many things I can demonstrate to my daughter, how to be a strong woman, how to be confident, how to ride a bike, how to be brave and I have learned since her birth to care for her afro hair and I teach her to do the same.
But I cannot demonstrate or tell her how to be a strong black woman, can I?
Fortunately, my mom-in-law is amazing and she most certainly is a strong black woman. A beautiful, intelligent one at that. She took the children along to Bristol on a weekend to spend time with her and her sisters. My daughter now surrounded by Black Girl Magic. I made the decision to then guide their attention to more positive black influences. Of course, they see their dad all the time and that’s great, especially for my son. But all of the staff at their school are white, they are two of three black children in their school. I think at some point all little girls want to be like their mummy. I needed her to want to be just like herself.
It took a while, constantly reminding her of her intelligence, skills and beauty, showing her real beautiful and intelligent black women. My daughter is possibly the most empowered I could imagine. She adores her brown skin and her big wild hair. We watch Black-ish on TV, we keep up with many smart, strong, gorgeous black females on in the public eye. She has even started modelling. She featured with her brother in the fashion campaign for Self Love Brings Beauty and her confidence has soared. A few weeks before the photo shoot I saw a picture of Nia Pettit, a blogger on Instagram and she had a big layered afro. I showed Halle the picture and she wanted the style. I was apprehensive, again I said think about it for a week and if you still want it done, you can. We waited, and she did. Her long curls were cut into bouncing layers, I think we were all a bit nervous.
Allowing her to make that decision, to think about it, to follow through was empowering for us. She was expressing herself. She was choosing her style. She was becoming. As we grow, together she is such an inspirational little girl and I am grateful I am by her side on this journey. I was raised by a single father. I know how important it is for a little girl to have a mummy by her side.
And some of that Brown Girl Magic seems to be rubbing off on all of us, no matter how peach Mummy is.
Ashley O’Brien is a mother of two, a Writer and Clinical Hypnotherapist.
Ashley blogs and vlogs about Motherhood, Hypnotherapy & Lifestyle on her blog and YouTube channel. Ashley helps women overcome anxiety, depression and build confidence with Hypnotherapy & NLP Coaching.
Follow the adventures of Ashley ‘Hypno Mama’ and her ‘HypnoKids’ on social media.