I was never the little girl with long hair. Having long hair made you cuter and more acceptable to everyone around- or so it seemed to me. I longed for hair down my back. I sashayed down the hallway of our apartment in Brooklyn with the neck of a t-shirt fit tightly to my head and the rest of it hanging so I could get the feeling of what it would be like to have long hair. Sometimes I’d even find a way to make pony tails with the sleeves and get in the mirror and swing them back and forth. Oh, I wanted hair and lots of it. My mother would often tell me, “Ebonie it’s not what’s on top of your head, it’s what’s inside that matters.” For a child hearing those words, it was nothing more than a mother saying ‘motherly things’. But the more she said it and the older I got, I realized what she was doing. My mother was teaching me to have self-esteem. To love myself no matter what because hair- it’s only hair. What matters most is who you are on the inside.
As I look around at our little girls today, I notice that for the most part they keep a do’ that is laid. Laid in ways my southern-bred mother would never have allowed. They rock puffs, twist outs, double strand twists, waves (and weaves) and braided hair styles I get completely cross-eyed trying to follow. On one hand I’m proud that our natural hair has become a statement of beauty. Our girls can be happy to be nappy. But on the other hand, I also recognize hair does not replace the reinforcement of esteem our girls are missing.
Our girls are overly consumed with the media’s interpretation of beauty. If there isn’t a strong voice to remind them they are beautiful no matter what, then what do they have? They have the opportunity to seek gratification in other ways- ways that may not be healthy. And we know the rest of that story. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be that voice.
From positive expressions of our sexuality, to reminders that education is key to spiritual uplift, our girls can learn what it means to love themselves inside and out. Organizations like She Is Me Program, ProjectBOSS, GirlsQuest, girls write now and Purple W.I.N.G.S need women like you to become mentors to young ladies in need of positive role models. You owe it to our girls to be their inspiration.
While times have changed, I still catch a little girl every once in a while who reminds me of myself. I wonder if she desires the same things I did. If her hair makes her or breaks her. Or if she has someone in her life remind her that it’s not what’s on top of her head that matters but what’s on the inside that counts the most.
How are you involved in a young girl’s life? What mentoring programs can you recommend?
Ebonie Johnson Cooper is a writer and blogger with a passion for community engagement and giving. Her energy can be read weekly on Friends of Ebonie, the digital platform aimed to educate and motivate 20 & 30 somethings to give back. Ebonie enjoys roaming the aisles of Trader Joe’s and Target, gchatting and finding a way to revive the musical careers of Guy and Aaron Hall. She currently resides in Washington, DC but home is Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on @EbsTheWay.