Watering the Flower: Helping My Daughter Embrace Her Beauty

I'm beyond excited that this chick is here today. Like...someone pinch me, excited! I loved her the minute I saw her badass shoes and fierce outfit. Here's my fellow...errrr...Social Good Fellow, Denene, queen of badassery! This is beautiful and soft and glides through the heart with the love that only a mother can weave into words.

Her pronouncement sent a chill through my spine—heavy and wintery and thick. “But I look… I look… I look like a boy!” my daughter insisted, doing a slow wall slide down onto the kitchen floor, dissolving into a heap of tears and tantrum, torn to pieces over, of all things, her hair. She wanted expensive extensions so that her locs could swing below her shoulders. I wanted her to love the hair growing out of her head, exactly as it is, because it is beautiful and unique and hers. My gentle “no” did not go over well.

Now, when I was 15 and worrying about what the popular girls looked like and who the boys found attractive and how I could overcome this dark skin and these thick thighs and this big ass and this kinky hair and all this straight-A, honors brain and the bargain store clothes, and actually get someone to, like, notice me, there were no tears. No fall-outs. Bettye, my mother, didn’t play that. School was for the learning. Work at the factory was exhausting. Ain’t nobody had time for a daughter’s whining over hair and boys.

Buck up. Ignore them. Focus on what is important.  That’s what my mother said. That’s that old school parenting right there. It worked for Bettye. The effect it had on her daughter? Untenable.

MyBrownBaby.com_black teen girl

MyBrownBaby.com_black teen girl

See, the thing about being 15 is that the hormones are raging and that independence is kicking in and comparing yourself to the knuckleheads around you is inevitable, and the more you look at your reflection in the mirror, the more things you find wrong with yourself. Especially if no one is pointing out all the things that are right. Left unattended, self-esteem can wither and wrinkle up like a sticky raisin in the sweltering summer sun.

I know this for sure. Spending half of a lifetime picking myself apart and thinking everything that falls between the top of my head and the soles of my feet were wholly inadequate gets you really clear on such things. I hated me. And I hid myself under baggy clothes and a bare face and sensible shoes, insisting that being pretty wasn’t important at all—that being the smart, do-it-all workhorse was the only thing that mattered. I was 40 years old before I effing figured out that wearing make-up, dressing in cute outfits that fit and flatter and taking pride in rocking an adorable hairstyle is not about impressing or competing with anyone else. It’s about me loving me. I would just as soon chop off my hands and sever my own tongue than knowingly let either of my daughters feel the way that I did all those years before I had that epiphany. To spend even one second thinking they are not enough.



So I make the conscious decision to water.

Some days, this is not an easy proposition. My child is 15 but still, she is my baby. Just a few more years and she will be off on her own adventure—college, a career, her own home, maybe marriage and a few babies, too. My time with her—these very specific, hands-on, face-to-face, heart-to-heart moments—soon will be no more.

So in a rush of emotion and brain throb and yes, a smidge of fear, I am thinking—always thinking—about what else needs to be taught. This is how you iron a skirt with pleats. This is how you shop for groceries on a budget. This Roy Ayers song is the backbone of Mary J. Blige’s “My Life,” one of the best songs about Black girl angst ever written. This is a good credit score, that guy is an example of a good dude, over there is a neighborhood in transition and that’s not necessarily a good thing. My baby listens. Sometimes she asks questions. Sometimes she’s annoyed by the lessons. I know that she tucks it away and recalls it when it counts. But the beauty stuff, that is new.

Luckily, girlpie is open to growing responsibly—to blossoming into her own at a reasonable pace. She’s stunning, really, with these gorgeous copper brown locs cascading all around her chocolate face, the perfect exclamation point to her Beyonce thick—all curves and hips and booty and Black girl goodness. Some days, I look up and I see her there and my heart skips a beat. My daughter is blossoming into a beautiful young woman. She just doesn’t know it yet. So I tell her so. This is important. Confidence—the ability to square the shoulders and hold your head up high and celebrate your own loveliness—is as exquisite and rich as a Ruby Woo lippie. Looking good helps you feel good about yourself. Feeling good about yourself makes you feel secure. Feeling secure makes you feel like you have super powers—allows you to get to the deeper business of feeling beautiful on the inside. This is important, too.

I help my daughter do the work.

That work started from the womb, you know—from the moment that cold, sloppy goop was slathered on my belly and the sonogram revealed her to be a girl child. I hung pictures of our family on the wall all around her crib, so that every day she opened her eyes and looked up she would know she is loved. I filled her library with books featuring characters that look like her, so that she could see herself in the imagination of others. I rocked her to sleep to the sounds of Stevie Wonder and India.Aire and Earth Wind & Fire and Lauryn Hill, so that she could feel love of self deep down in her soul. And every day—every single day—I told her how pretty her hair is, how I adore her face, how her skin is the same amazing color as “mahogany,” my favorite Crayola crayon, how strong and beautiful are her legs and her shoulders and her arms and her booty and back and feet.  

Still, she has her moments when she doesn’t like what she sees. We all do, of course. That’s human. But at 15, it’s especially challenging, particularly when you’re a Black girl with natural hair, being raised by parents who don’t allow the weaves, risqué clothes and make-up masks that seem to be the fashion and beauty choices of practically every other Black girl in our local public high school here in Atlanta. I will not be sending my kid to the 10th grade looking like an extra on the set of “Love & Hip Hop.”

This, of course, is what’s was behind the desperate quest for loc extensions. I get it. It’s not easy to be different in a sea of cultural clones. But rather than let her fall victim to trying to be like everyone else, I wiped her tears and held her in my arms and we made a plan for how she could look more like how she wanted to look. We worked first on ways to style her locs, Googling pictures and YouTube how-to videos for cute looks she could pull off on her own. Then we dove into her wardrobe, discussed her personal style and added key pieces that represent it. She is now allowed to wear eyeliner and lip gloss with a smidge of color. And when she walks out the door to school, this kid is totally badass—in a way that is age appropriate and a full reflection of her burgeoning personal style.

Of course, she is really clear that there is so much more to being a beautiful person than looking pretty and dressing fly. Being intelligent, outspoken, thoughtful, kind, hardworking, independent and more is a given. Each is a work in progress. She’s getting those in, too.

But being beautiful on the outside will, for sure, help her get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. And loving herself for her, and nobody else.

Denene with Locs

Denene with Locs

Denene Millner is the New York Times bestselling author of 22 books and the editor of the award-winning website MyBrownBaby.com, where she explores the intersection of parenting and race. Check her out on Twitter and Facebook

Check out the other posts in the series.

I'm Not a Damsel: Raising a Woman


Today, Yanira brings us her thoughts in the Raising a Badass Girl series. 

Every night before bed, my daughter asks for a story. She tells me to tell her one from “my mind”. I make up stories about two bunnies, almost every night. I use this time as a way to tell her things about life, like being kind, listening to your parents, never giving up, girl power and on several failed attempts, the importance of eating your fruits and veggies. She likes to add that the older bunny, whom we've named Matilda, loves to paint her nails and wear high heels just like her mom. Today, I have a different story for my daughter.

One week into our new home, our basement had a water leak. The next day, while my husband was at work, I threw on a summer dress and with my freshly painted nails drove to the hardware store to rent a dehumidifier. The young man at the rental checkout processed my paperwork, rolled the heavy equipment to me and sent me on my way, never once asking me if I needed help to my car. I had parked on the opposite side of the store and towards the back of the parking lot. It was a long way to go. I dragged it and all the while passing men physically capable of helping me to my car. Not one offered. I walked with ease but when I got outside I saw something that interesting. These men were helping all the other women to their cars, the difference was that they were carrying pretty little flowers. One even looked right at me as I stared at the back of my SUV, trying to determine how I would even manage to lift the thing to take it home. He was waiting for me to ask. It was expected of me. Instead, I anchored my body against the car, and after a deep breath, lifted with my legs. I may not have much upper body strength but these used to be the legs of a runner. He watched the whole time and looked very surprised that I made it seem so effortless. I flashed him a smile as I got into my SUV and drove off. I can do anything a boy can do, sometimes even in heels.

I didn't expect anyone to offer to help me that day because I, too, am physically capable of doing it myself. I have two legs and two arms just like the men in the store that day. Had someone asked, however, I would have thanked them and kindly declined. You see, it isn't about gender roles and a man's “job” to help the damsel in distress, it was more about being polite than anything. It is just common courtesy, like holding the door for the person walking into the store right behind you, but we no longer live in polite society. I want to teach my daughter the difference between expectance and courtesy.

I learned from my own mother to be independent financially, to never depend on a man but she is also the same woman who insists I wear attractive underwear for my husband so he doesn't stray. My father was an unfaithful man, imagine her struggles with what she was trying to teach and the structure she was trying to hold onto. I admire her strength and her willingness to try but I was happier when she finally let go. I, thankfully, married a man who is unaware of gender roles, who provides simply because he can, not because it is expected. In fact, he likes that I bring home a check while he gets to save on daycare. He is a savvy man not one drenched in machismo. This is also the same man who will sit back and watch as another man talks down to his wife, not because he doesn't care but because according to him “I can handle my own.” My bark is scarier than his bite. Some women would be offended, I am not because my husband, through tough love, has made me realize that me being a woman does not make me weaker, it doesn't make me a victim, and it doesn't make me the damsel in distress. I can defend myself, I can take care of myself, and I can drag heavy machinery and load it into my car all by myself. I want my daughter to know she is not weaker and she is not what society decides for her. She is a woman, a strong woman and she can do it all in heels if she wants. I'm not just raising a bad ass girl, I am raising a woman.

GarzaYanira is a Chicago native, a wife and a mother to a part-time racer girl/part-time ballerina and full-time trouble, Analiese as well as a recent small bundle of joy, Elijah. She is stylist and a makeup artist and has been for over 10 years.  She can color your day with blush,  or her opinion. Wrap you up in fine threads or in fine knowledge. If you're lucky, you'll get both. She currently writes for several media outlets on beauty, style and being a mom as well as on her own site. You can also find her on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.


Raising a Badass Girl

The title of this post hit me a couple of months ago. More as a question than an answer. For a lot of different reasons. I see how hard I have to fight society to instill certain essentials into my girl, even at this age. I can only imagine it gets worse from this point forth. I wrote a post last year about getting my girl into football and her general competitiveness (that I still say she doesn't get from me!). Then recently, I've started hearing her say things like I can't play that video game or I don't know how. And it didn't sit well with me because it was almost like she had this idea that she couldn't race cars on the TV because she's a girl. And it scared me because it made me wonder what I had said to get her to think that.

As I started to pay attention to some of the things she said, I'd find her apologizing at times when I would correct a behavior or offer up advice even though there was no reason to. 

Then I read an article that got me thinking about the words we say ourselves that our children naturally absorb. Ten Simple Words Every Girl Should Learn got thrown into my "things to teach the kid" box (mental note: run out and grab a box to put important stuff in).

I'm a fan of asking for help. Which is what I did. I asked some of my favorite bloggers to give me their thoughts on raising a badass girl. Badassery looks different for everyone so, here's my definition:

I want to raise a girl that won't apologize for who she is. Who understands that she is just as strong and just as smart as any other person on this earth. I want a girl that will try again even after she skins her knee. A chick that can do math and read the classics and love them both. A preteen that will still love to cuddle with me and that might one day dance on stage with her mother. A girl that will scream at the television when her team fumbles the ball. I want a gal that won't be afraid of technology and that owns some comic books. A woman whose shoe collection is only rivaled by her stacks of books. A soul deeply grounded in faith and clear in her purpose.

A person well versed in politics and penmanship. A female that's kind, loving, nurturing and compassionate that will take shit from no one.

I don't want her to have hangups about the weight of her body or her brain. I want to expose her to all that life has to offer so that she understands her place is wherever she decides it will be.

No, I don't have the answer of how to do that. Yet. I'm not even sure if that's the end of my list.

I hope to learn from those that came before me and glean some thoughts from the spirit of my own mother and what she did with me. Because I'll let you in on a little secret: I'm kind of a badass in my own right. But I want her to be more. Oh, so much more for my girl.

Did you see this video making the rounds?

What about this one?

I hope to bring you some great thoughts and instructions on this topic. Mostly not from me. Stay tuned next week and see who comes next!

What advice can you give me on raising a badass girl?

If you'd like to offer up your own advice as a guest blogger, please reach out to me at sili(at)themamihood(dot)com.