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13 / 30 books. 43% done!

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35 / 51 states. 69% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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29 / 50 books. 58% done!

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Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

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11 / 25 books. 44% done!

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30 / 100 books. 30% done!

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74 / 104 books. 71% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

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50 / 52 books. 96% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

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84 / 165 books. 51% done!
Saturday, May 02, 2009

It's All About The Hair, Part 1

One of the first questions people ask me upon spying my newly-adopted daughter is, "What on Earth are you going to do with her hair?" As rude as it may sound, this seems to be the natural first response of white women undaunted by their daughters' silky straight tresses, but completely perplexed at the sight of the thick, black curls my baby inherited from her African- American birthfather. As a card-carrying member of the clueless white woman club, I share their bewilderment. I've asked myself the same question a thousand times a day - "What am I going to do with her hair?" It doesn't help that my suburban city isn't exactly bursting with racial diversity or ethnic hair salons. My confidence also withers when I read how central a black woman's hair is to her sense of self-worth; or hear that my bi-racial nephew's been teased for having a "white boy's haircut;" or that "A black woman will judge you - often out loud - if you don't take proper care of your child's hair" (this from an African-American woman in an adoption class I attended).

So, with my (admittedly overactive) imagination flashing images of my impending public dressing-down, I have done what any self-respecting Internet addict would do - I trolled through cyberspace desperately clicking on any website that promised to teach me what to do with my daughter's hair. I did find some excellent information, including a Yahoo! group specifically for hair-challenged parents who have adopted transracially. This is all well and good, but I'm the kind of person who needs a simple, but obsessively-detailed and preferably fully illustrated Clueless White Woman's guide to bi-racial hair. So, finally, I'm doing what any self-respecting bookworm would do - checking out every book I can find on the subject. While most of you aren't dealing with this situation, maybe some of you are, so here, for your reading pleasure is my assessment of the hair guides I found at the library, bookstores and on the Internet. I'm going to dish about the volumes I found Very Helpful, Kinda Helpful and Downright Useless. Here we go:

While I learned a little bit from Wavy, Curly, Kinky by Deborah R. Lilly, I'm not going to be adding it to my personal library anytime soon. Lilly, who works as a beautician, obviously knows her stuff, but she also assumes that readers know theirs. Since I definitely don't, I'm putting this one in the "Kinda Helpful" category.

The book gives basic care information for hair at different stages of childhood, with specific instructions for wavy, curly and kinky hair, as the different hair types require different products and techniques. She also gives step-by-step directions for hair pressing, using relaxers, and even trimming hair. Most of the chapters focus on girls' hair, although there's a small section on boys' styles. Probably the most helpful part of the book is the Appendix, where pictures of products like rattail combs are clearly identified. Throughout the text, Lilly emphasizes nurturing the hair by using quality products, avoiding damaging practices and even eating a balanced diet. Overall, the tone is upbeat and encouraging.

Although Lilly explained some basic terms (finally, I know what locs are!), I really needed the entire book to work like the Appendix. Instead of describing "nappy" hair, I could have used a nice, clear picture. Or two. Or three. I think the book provides a fair overview of caring for African-American hair - it just didn't give me the details I needed. Others must have felt this way, too, because the book garnered pretty poor ratings on Amazon. Oh well. I checked this one out of the library, so no harm, no foul.

Grade: C

(Book Image from Target)

I enjoyed my second pick, It's All Good Hair by journalist Michele N-K Collison, a lot more than my first. For one thing, it offered some fascinating insight into exactly why hair is so important to African-American women, the old good hair/bad hair debate (which I don't think I'll ever understand, me being a white woman and all), and how to establish a hair routine that teaches young girls to feel confident about their hair, whether it's curly, kinky, nappy or straight. In fact, the book's title is taken from something one of Collison's friends said: "If there's hair growing on top of a person's head, that is good hair. Now if there's no hair growing, that's bad hair and we have a problem. Otherwise, all hair is good hair" (xx).

Collison, who says she's writing for an audience of African-American women who, like her, have no idea what to do with their daughters' tresses; white women who have adopted black or bi-racial children; and single African-American fathers who haven't a clue what to do with their girls' hair, keeps things pretty simple. She describes basic hair care from pregnancy through toddlerhood and into young womanhood. Again, the book focuses mostly on female hair, with only a small section on what to do for boys. The author gives plenty of ideas for girls' styles, complete with clear pictures and diagrams. I only wish It's All Good Hair came in a spiral-bound edition, since I have a feeling I'm going to be propping this one open on the bathroom counter while I practice with my daughter's hair. The book also includes information on pressing, relaxing, locing and using hair extensions.

While I still feel a little (okay, a lot) clueless, this book definitely helps. I love the step-by-step style instructions, the clear pictures and the chat about black hair in all its glory.

Grade: B+

(Book Image from Target)

While my next selection is not a how-to book, it's definitely a hair book. I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley (illustrated by E.B. Lewis) is the sweet story of Keyana, who hates having her thick, curly hair combed. Even though her Mama tries to be gentle, it still hurts. To soothe Keyana's hurts, Mama explains why she's lucky to have hair that can be woven into a "puffy bun;" braided into cornrows; fashioned into an empowering Afro; decorated with colorful beads; or enjoyed down, free and natural. As Mama explains each hairstyle, Keyana learns a little bit more about her heritage, her family, and herself. A luminous book, I Love My Hair! celebrates the importance of accepting yourself, thick hair and all.

Grade: B+

In short, I found some useful info, but I'm still on my quest for the perfect hair book. I'll keep you posted on my findings. In the meantime, does anyone have any suggestions - either for good hair books or just advice on how to handle a bi-racial baby's soft, but very curly hair? Help a clueless white woman out here, wouldja?


  1. I think that you need to call Eveline ASAP!

  2. Well, I don't have any help for you re the hair but about the middle book you wish was spiral bound. Just take it to Staples or Kinkos and ask them to chop off the spine and spiral bind it for you. It'll cost about $3-$5 depending on how thick the book is. I do it all the time with cookbooks, knitting books, etc.

    So don't let that stop you bying an otherwise good book.

  3. Oh darling Susan, how I love your sincerity, your commitment, your deep love and even your occasional self-depricating humor! Your daughter is so lucky to have you -- black-hair-challenged mom! May the force be with you! xoxoxo Robyn

  4. Laurel - I really do.

    Nicola - Thanks for the great tip. I never even thought of getting it bound myself. Perfect solution.

    Robyn - You're so sweet :) You always make me feel better about myself and my many, many limitations!

    BTW - I'm hoping to get to PV soon. My piles of review books are getting enormous - I'm reading as fast as I can, but I never seem to catch up!

  5. Susan - My daughter is bi-racial and I have yet to figure out her hair (she's almost 4) right now we keep it short, so that we can comb it without her pitching a fit. I'm not good with hair regardless of race so even if she had stick straight hair I'd have issues with it. We got her haircut for the first time when she was 18 months old. You'll figure it out. We all do. I opt for short hair until she's old enough to do it.

  6. This is SO good to read. My neice is bi-racial. I am going to share this link with my sister!!! Thanks Susan!

  7. Those sound like really helpful books, and a great solution to your problem! Best of luck with the hairstyling!

  8. Our hair loves moisture: sometimes water is enough. Stay away from mineral oil and petroleum based products.

    Less is more. Please be gentle: excessive combing is not our friend, use a big tooth comb, and start with the ends.

    Do two strand twists with a moisturizing product and everything should be fine.

    Washing with conditioners, SLS-free shampoo or no shampoo is a good start.


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