On Silencing Blue Ivy's Critics and Teaching the Babies to Love Their Hair

Many of my most vivid memories from childhood involve my hair.  Most of those recollections are les...

Many of my most vivid memories from childhood involve my hair.  Most of those recollections are less than pleasant: floods of tears and insecurity. But I also remember strutting like a perfectly coiffed peacock  after spending hours situated between my mother's knees or leaving the beauty shop.

Mom, who embodied for me a sort of accessible glamour, made it clear that this is the discomfort that we endure in order to make ourselves presentable, and once a little Black girl had tamed the beast that rested upon her head, the world opened up for her.

A perpetual dissatisfaction with my appearance, more specifically my hair, marks my girlhood. For better or worse, those early lessons about the fundamentals of Black womanhood stick with me. They've embedded  a preoccupation with my hair -- one that is tied to a desire for respect and affection. And I am fighting an ongoing battle to disentangle myself from natural hair anguish. I am often losing, but even so I do want to make sure that through words and images we are fashioning a world that is different for the little Black girls who are in the process of creating themselves.

The flurry of commentary around Blue Ivy Carter's hair reveals how disturbing so many find the sight of "nappy" hair even when  it resides on the head of a toddler. To be clear, this isn't just about "Black" hair. This is about Blue's tight, kinky coils. If shiny, curly hair grew naturally from her head, no petitions would be launched. Hair of mine and Blue's variety is typically seen as unfeminine and in constant need of wrangling .

Because a two-and-a-half year old was spotted in public without a perfect twist-out, viewers extrapolate on her neglect and the fitness of her caretakers.

Blue experiences this scrutiny not simply because she is a celebrity child but because she is a little Black girl. Black people feel a sense of ownership of black children, and black girls in particular, and that sense of connection and ownership promotes an entitlement to picking apart their behavior and appearance.

These standards for "proper grooming" are generations old. At a conference on the politics of Black hair in 2013, Professor Tiffany Gill explained why so many connect messy Black hair with child neglect.

"That was a sign that you were a cared for child. That was a sign that someone loved you enough to sit you between their legs and snatch your hair." She went on to note that within the confines of white supremacy "there are real political consequences"  to an apparent lack of aesthetic discipline; thus, Blacks have embraced "performing respectability" through our hair.

The innumerable Black women and men who have disparaged Blue Ivy's hair are not concerned for her fundamental well-being. They are chastising Beyoncé for allowing her daughter to violate norms of Black girlhood. Critics demean B, specifically, because her mother was a hairstylist and any perceived misstep in the care of children is still laid at the feet of those who birthed them.

Because I do not know Beyoncé or Jay Z personally, to attempt to divine their motivations would be pointless. But I do admire that Beyonce, a woman who knows that she and her child will endure scrutiny each time they step outside and who, on a quest for stardom, entered the Matthew Knowles Finishing School for Performers while still a young child, refuses to deny her daughter a freedom that she does not and did not have. And that freedom certainly results from her wealth.

It is true that Blue benefits from the protection her parents can give her, and Blue's defenders readily employ classism to support the freedom of her follicles. But that logic also tells the rest of us that we must subdue our nappy, unruly locks.  If Blue were the child of a woman walking down the street, far too many would not extend the same understanding.

Even those of us without extreme class privilege have the opportunity to teach little Black girls new lessons about their hair. We can show them that it needn't be a source of shame. Even the least offensive measures of being "well groomed" are set by standards that posit black hair as a problem that must be solved. Black women should still take pride in our hair and engage in the culture that stems from caring for it without normalizing trauma that often accompanies Black hair care.

We owe it to the Black girls with whom we're entrusted, and to ourselves quite frankly, to do the work to extricate ourselves from our hair issues. And while we're in the trenches, let's resolve that this is a legacy that need not be passed down.

Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or

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