What It's Like Growing Up With a Mom Who Doesn't Have Natural Hair

Updated 09/28/17

The beauty of hair lies is in its versatility. The way our hair transforms and evolves over time is an inevitable part of growth. Just like any other part of ourselves, we have to learn to love our hair, and that takes time. Especially if you grow up in an environment where no one else's hair looks like yours, your hair journey is even more special.

Real women got candid with us and shared what it's like to grow up with completely different hair textures than their moms. Their beautiful and unique hair stories that capture their discovery of self prove how important it is to love every single coil and kink just the way it is. Read on and be inspired by their curly hair stories.

Serena Morris

Serena Morris

BYRDIE: Was there a distinct moment growing up when you first understood your hair texture?

SERENA MORRIS: Well, to be honest, I'm not really sure if I even fully understand my hair texture now as a 23-year-old. As a little girl, I never paid much attention to the differences in my mother's and my own hair texture, other than the fact that curly was my normal and straight was hers. I think my mom did that on purpose by making sure that I was constantly surrounded by things that I could relate to in our household, like black dolls, black art, etc. My mom got remarried to a white guy when I was 9 years old and that’s when my brother was born. He literally came out with the brightest blonde hair and the bluest eyes—we couldn't have looked further opposite.

"It was never an issue because my mom always taught us that although we all may look different in terms of our skin color and hair texture, our blended family was perfectly normal and everyone's unique traits are what make us beautiful."

BYRDIE: Did anyone make you feel different because of your hair?  

SM: I give a lot of praise to my mom for never making me feel like my hair was a burden for her to learn how to manage. She didn’t even make my hair seem unusual in comparison to her own because I genuinely think she loved to do it and loved learning how to take care of it. What used to upset me was when I was in high school and would go to white salons with friends and deal with stylists react to my hair as if it was foreign. They didn't want to bother doing it because they were intimidated. I would always think like, What defines hair as 'normal' and if you're a professional hair stylist, shouldn't you be trained in styling all types of hair? Does my mom need to come in here and teach you all a thing or two?"

Serena Morris pictured with her mom and brother

BYRDIE: How’d you learn how to take care of your curls?

SM: Luckily my mom did have help from my dad and my grandmother who are both black. My grandmother and I are extremely close, so I went to her house often. Every time I visited, she would brush my hair in 100 strokes. It was a weird tradition her mom used to do with her hair too. My mom is super free-spirited and sometimes I didn't want her to do my hair so she let it do its own thing. However, when I would go over to my grandma's, I would sometimes have insane tangles and get teary-eyed when she brushed it 100 times. She was also obsessed with keeping my "flyaways" down and making sure my hair wasn't frizzy. So she would literally coat the top of my hair with olive oil­—I hated the way it smelled.

When I was a pre-teen, my father was married to a woman who was of African American and Euro-Brazilian descent. She had a similar hair texture as mine and taught me a lot about deep conditioning and how to detangle my hair properly. This was super helpful because the longer my hair got as I got older, the more of a struggle it was to maintain. Luckily, Brazil has an extremely large black population, so her family used to send us the most amazing natural haircare products with incredible ingredients that you could never find here. Looking back, it's kind of cool seeing that a lot of people in my family, from all different backgrounds, helped contribute to my hair journey. I guess the saying is true that "it takes a village."

BYRDIE: What was your biggest hair challenge growing up?

SM: Middle school and high school got a little rocky when it came to my hair—especially because I was always one of few black girls in school. I'll never forget when I was in the eighth grade and I was getting ready at one of my white friend’s houses for a dance, and her mom, who was then a makeup artist and hairstylist, suggested that she straighten my hair. "It'll be so long, silky, and pretty!" she said. I remember being confused and thinking, Well, isn't it always like that?

Anyways, I let her do it and when I got to the dance, everyone treated me like I had the makeover of a lifetime. Boys were flirting with me, giving me ignorant and cliché comments like I looked "exotic." Girls were telling me that I should wear my straight hair more often because I looked so much prettier. It was so annoying and bizarre. Especially because I didn't feel like myself at all and I always liked my hair the way it naturally was.

When I got home, my stepmom was livid. She grabbed me and pulled me into her and my dad's room and yelled: "Duane! You see what happens when she goes to these girl’s houses? They try and make her look white!" I literally ran into my room and cried because I was so confused and hurt. I know it's cliché to say that as a bi-racial girl I had identity issues, but that was definitely a moment I felt like others were trying to label and define me by the texture of my hair and the "proper" way it should look. 

Serena pictured with her grandmother

BYRDIE: Have you always loved your hair?

SM: My family always assured and reinforced self-love and appreciation in me, so that’s something I’ve always carried with me when it came to my hair. My mom let me explore all my curiosities with color, haircuts, and hairstyles. Looking back, I cringe at a few of the outcomes, but I appreciate her for letting me have a lot of freedom. Eventually, this led me to decide how I feel most beautiful and what works best for me.

What really advanced my relationship with my hair was being surrounded by so many amazing black women when I went to college. I didn't have very many black friends in high school or middle school to share haircare secrets with. When I went to Howard University, I gained so much insight, knowledge, and perspectives from black women from around the world—not even just with hair, but all things beauty, like makeup and skincare.

"Never look at your hair as a challenge, but as a treasure."

BYRDIE: What’s your advice to girls growing up with similar curly hair experiences as you?

SM: I always felt like my hair spoke to my personality: wild, untamed, and full of life. Growing up an in an area where a lot of girls didn't look like me, my parents ingrained the idea that I should be proud of being different and not looking like everyone else. I think every girl, not only girls with curly hair, should feel that way. It's so easy to feel pressured to look like everyone else—why not embrace what makes you unique and own it? 

My advice to girls with white moms and blended families like mine is to not be afraid of speaking out on your confusion and ask people in your community questions to help you. If YouTube tutorials and beauty bloggers were a thing when I was younger, I'm sure my mom would've loved to watch with me—not only as a tool to gain insight but something fun for us to experience and share together during my journey of discovering my hair.

Serena Morris pictured with her dad

Lindsey Brown

Tenneal McNair

BYRDIE: Was there a distinct moment growing up when you first understood your hair texture?

LINDSEY BROWN: I remember always asking my mum when she would wash my hair, “Mum, can my hair be straight like yours this time?” She would look at me and say, “Maybe this time it will dry that way.” Of course, it would not dry straight. I noticed, but would go on about my day with no care in the world. I have two older brothers, so, beauty and hair drying techniques were not a common topic in my home. However, whenever it was bath time, I would ask my mum the same question and she would give me the same response. After a while, I realized that my hair was different and that it wouldn’t just “dry straight.”

BYRDIE: Did anyone make you feel different because of your hair?  

LB: My mum is from Germany, my paps is from Costa Rica, and I am from the UK. I have two older brothers, so as you can imagine, a little girl with a head full of natural hair was a mystery. My mum has always loved my wild and carefree curls. She would tell me wanted hair like mine. However, she was not a fan when I began to use relaxers and bleach in my hair. I think she allowed me to experiment to find myself. When I stopped bleaching my hair and straightening it, she said, “I like this look, you look more like yourself.” My mum always loved my hair, so I wasn’t really aware that she didn’t know how to handle it because of the texture but more so because I have a ton of hair.

With that being said, detangling my hair was the biggest procedure ever. My hair was typically either in pigtails, a French braid, ponytail, or out as free as it could be. My paps, on the other hand, was a different story—he had no clue what he was doing. He would sit me down and rack through my dry hair with a comb and attempt to comb through my hair and put it in a ponytail. I’m surprised I don’t have bald spots in my scalp from those horrifying sit-downs.

Lindsey pictured with her mom

BYRDIE: How’d you learn how to take care of your curls?

LB: I didn’t start doing my own hair until we moved to the United States. By then, I was already influenced that straight hair equaled pretty hair. I taught myself how to maintain my straight hair in between my relaxers by watching hairstylists in the salon. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school when I realized paying my stylist to give me “soft curls” was stupid. I was paying someone to give me curls when my hair is naturally curly.

That was when I began to transition my hair back to its natural curl pattern. That was such a learning process because there weren’t many brands catering to natural hair, and no one at that time was wearing their natural hair out. I had to teach myself what worked and what didn’t. I credit my hairdresser, Jessica Fitzpatrick, at Soho’s DevaCurl Devachan Salon in New York, for truly teaching me how to take care of my curls.

BYRDIE: What was your biggest hair challenge growing up?

LB: Detangling my hair, hands down. There was always some giant knot that would form and at the time there was no YouTube or Instagram Influencer to say, “Wet your hair again, add some deep conditioner, and that knot will come right out.” Instead, I battled with this knot and risked pulling out some of my hair every time.

Lindsey pictured with her Dad

BYRDIE: Have you always loved your hair?

LB: When I was young and living in England, my hair wasn’t pointed out as being different in a bad way. Even though I wanted my hair to dry straight like my mum’s, I didn’t have hatred toward my hair. When we moved to the United States, hearing comments like “Oh, what are we going to do with this hair!” and “You need to relax this so it’s more manageable,” made me think something was wrong with my hair and straightening it would be more acceptable. 

Not only was I a young girl who wanted to be accepted, I was also experiencing a complete culture shock of moving to a new country. I began to relax my hair to fit in and for a while, I felt beautiful. It was around my second year in high school when I began to feel self-conscious again. It was made clear from classmates that my hair wasn’t “white enough or black enough,” and those are the years where most girls just want to fit in. I realized it was stupid to waste money on a stylist to give me soft curls and that I could care less about fitting in with a crowd—so I decided then that I would wear my hair natural. I’ve loved my hair ever since I made that decision.

"My motto: The bigger my hair, the better my day will be—wear your natural hair as big as you want to and live your best life."

BYRDIE: What’s your advice to girls growing up with similar curly hair experiences as you?

LB: Beauty comes from the inside and outwardly radiates from within. Don’t let others dictate the way you love yourself or your hair. Don’t feel like you have to wear your hair in a certain way to fit in.

Kelsy Alston

Kelsy Alston

BYRDIE: Was there a distinct moment growing up when you first understood your hair texture?

KELSY ALSTON: I have this memory of walking up the stairs and looking at my shadow that reflected my afro, at 3 years old, and I remember waddling left to right as if my hair was weighing me down. I remember looking at that shadow in frustration that my hair seemed so poofy and large. This was the moment I first became aware of my hair texture. From this point forward, I loved taking baths because it’s the only time my hair would lie flat.

BYRDIE: Did anyone make you feel different because of your hair?  

KA:  My mom, who is white, and her family used to compliment my curls. They would say how fun they were or compare my curly hair to theirs. Although they didn’t say anything negative about my hair, it made me feel alone because they didn't understand how different my hair texture made me feel. I would overhear my mom talking about how unmanageable it was and how she couldn’t find anything to make it stop frizzing up. Growing up with an immediate family that didn’t know how to handle my hair texture made me feel alone and quite frankly ugly. I felt like the black sheep, not just because of my skin, but because my hair texture was so different and never “tamed.” My hair was frizzy 24/7, and it made me very self-conscious. 

Kelsy Alston

BYRDIE: How’d you learn how to take care of your curls?

KA: I had one black friend, and her mother taught me how to straighten my hair. I would straighten my hair every time after I showered—my mom tried once but it didn't turn out well. I didn’t learn how to do curly hair until much later in life. I had to teach myself. I started with mousse and gel, which was a suggestion from my mother in hopes of making my curls stay down. It wasn’t until I was 19 years old when I started experimenting with curly hair products.

BYRDIE: What was your biggest hair challenge growing up?

KA: Honestly it was trying to manage frizz. No matter what I did, how tight I slicked it back, or how many times I ran the flat iron over it, it was so poofy. I discovered ORS Olive Oil Nourishing Sheen Spray ($5) around 13 years old, and I started drenching my hair with it. I'm sure I looked like a total grease ball, but it stayed down and that's all that mattered to me then.

Kelsy Alston

BYRDIE: Have you always loved your hair?

KA: I hated my hair for a long time. I hated that it was big, curly, and frizzy. I used to pray every night that God would make a miracle, and I would wake up with straight, silky hair. I hated my hair so much that I hated myself for having it. I thought I was so ugly growing up—I never thought I would find beauty in myself. In the black community, I have what used to labeled as “good hair.” Where I grew up, that’s not what they called it. Growing up, boys never liked me. When I lived in Japan, they liked girls with bone-straight black hair. When I moved back to America, they liked girls with silky blonde curls. 

Every time I straightened my hair I got compliments, but it was difficult for me to flat iron my hair so often at a young age. My go-to hairstyle was a bun—it was quick and easy, and I was able to make it look slicked-back. I despised my hair for 13 years of my life. When I was 13, I found a stylist who told me to stop getting perms. That’s when my hair started to grow longer, and I fell in love with it. I started getting it to lie flat with less oil, and it would still look silky.  

When I got pregnant, it got even longer and that made me love it so much more. When I tried to transition to curls, I started hating it all over again. My curls were gone from years of heat damage. I had long hair, but it wasn't healthy or versatile. My curl pattern is so mix-match and finding the right product is still something I struggle with. I still don’t have curly hair goals but I’m on my way and I’ve started taking great care of it, finally. It only took me 23 years.  

"Curly hair is beautiful, magical, and versatile. Find confidence in your curls and wear them like the crown that they are."

BYRDIE: What’s your advice to girls growing up with similar curly hair experiences as you?

KA: Utilize social media—we live in a day and age where the onternet has made us closer, especially women of color. It has become a tool for finding things that work for us. Find a curly hair Instagram and YouTube channel and utilize their product suggestions. Find friends who have similar hair textures and exchange ideas and experiences.

Do you have any profound childhood curly hair memories? Share with us in the comments below.

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