Pretty.My step-daughter, Ava, just turned 14. When I met her at nine, she rocked a gorgeous, voluminous Afro. Back then, her dad deep conditioned and picked through Ava's curls once as week in front of the television.
As she got older, Trey tried to get Ava to take over some of the work of caring for her hair, but Ava said she'd rather have someone else do it (wouldn't we all). Enter stepmom in training. Once in a while, Trey would ask me to condition and blow dry Ava's hair. But anyone who knows me understands I'm not much of a hairstylist. I am a white woman with tangled, wavy hair that is getting less blonde each day. I get haircuts and highlights 3-4 times a year if I can afford it.
Still, Trey said, "Come on, you know about this girl stuff."
Ava only wears her hair free on the weekends. To go to school, she insists on a tight bun with a headband. Trey claims she doesn't take pride in her natural curls because her hair is so different than her friends who are mostly white and Asian.
Trey and his ex-wife were opposed to using chemical treatments to straighten Ava's hair. But when she started junior high school, we got her a blow out. For a few days (until she washed it) her hair was straight, sleek and shiny, and she posed smiling in front of her mirror and wore it down her back to school.
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For one year, we got her a series of Brazilian Blowouts, usually via Groupon, about every three months (as long as they would last). The stylists gave Ava tips about combing and conditioning her hair at home, and we worked on teaching her to blow dry the sides while we did the back. But Ava had no interest in working on her hair. She'd wear it down as long as the treatment lasted and then when the curls returned, she'd smooth it back into a bun.
This year when back to school rolled around, Trey and I argued about what to do with Ava's hair. Trey wanted to get it straightened for the first day of school. He didn't want her wearing it tied back, which he saw as a sign she was self-conscious and hiding a part of herself that was so beautiful. Ava said she didn't care one way or another.
To me, a blowout doesn't actually improve self esteem. The few times I've had a salon blowout, I will admit sneaking a few twirls and hair flips when passing mirrors, but it's temporary. I still wear a ponytail most days.
Money was tight with all the back-to-school expenses, so we decided to wait on Ava's blowout. But Trey and I argued again after the first week of school, because he was upset that Ava was wearing her hair in a bun, which he said looked frizzy.
"People look at her differently. She's a black woman. You just don't understand," Trey said.
After that, anything I say is invalid. I remember watching Oprah (pre-Trey) when her debt expert, Jean Chatsky, suggested that a black guest cut back on her salon expenses. Oprah immediately chimed in to say that she (Jean) didn't understand black women and their hair. Shut down. This is how I felt trying to weigh in about Ava's hair.
I have no idea what it's like to be a black woman. But I do know what it's like to be a 14-year-old girl. After I got through the stage of curling and cementing my bangs, I stuck with a ponytail most days. In fact, every morning my mother warned that my hairline would start to recede if I kept wearing it back. But a ponytail was easy and didn't attract attention.
I won't let myself be excluded from the conversation about Ava's hair because I think I have an important and valid point of view. I've also tried to drag Trey's sister into the fray because she shares my opinion.
If Ava is not preoccupied about her hair, we shouldn't be obsessing about it. I think Ava is rightly worried about other things like her schoolwork, trying out for the track team, deciding which member of One Direction she should marry and buying the right skinny jeans to go with her Uggs.