Raised in a predominately Spanish community in the Bronx, I encountered a series of events in which the term “pelo malo” (meaning bad hair) was used too loosely and irresponsibly to describe the natural (not chemically treated) hair of Black girls and girls of Afro decent without thinking about the damage it inflicts on their self-esteem.
When I became a mom, it was important for me to instill in my daughters the values of love, beauty, intelligence, empowerment and consideration for the feelings of others. I became indignant with the term “pelo malo” because it was now being used against my daughters, contrary to all the values I taught at home. A caregiver went so far as to use a flat iron on my one-year-old daughters hair and in the process burning her ear. Another caregiver was blow-drying my daughter’s hair and additionally suggested I chemically treat her hair to straighten it because it was “pelo malo.” Bella-Victoria was just three years old when this happened. I told the caregiver that, “BAD HAIR DOES NOT EXIST” and respectfully provided alternative terminology to describe the various types of hair. Additionally, I requested she not use the term “bad hair” in front of my daughter or any child for that matter.
These incidents and many more, forced me to teach my eldest daughter, Suleni Tisani, ways to describe her hair so that she would learn to stand up for herself, her sister and respectfully educate others in the process. I also made the decision to share these tools with you dear reader and all girls so they too would be equipped to educate and protect one other.