Why you should NEVER tell your daughter she has "pelo malo"

It took me years to appreciate my naturally curly hair. Growing up in a Dominican home where curly hair is considered "pelo malo," can really affect you. I don't blame my mother or abuela because this mentality is so instilled in the culture. If I ever have a daughter, I will do things differently. Telling your little girl she has "bad hair" hits harder than you might realize. 

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"It goes without saying that telling a little girl that she has bad hair will definitely damage her self-esteem and severely," says Dawnn Karen, a fashion psychologist. 

We spoke to Karen to help us break down the impact of telling your daughter she has "bad hair" and provide tips for what you can do to help her feel like her most beautiful, confident self.

It drives harder when it comes from family: There are so many messages out there that already tell young girls that straighter hair is "better." We see it in beauty advertisements, we see it in magazines, in films, even in dolls. "These messages that are being conveyed are engraved in the psyche but really drives home when it comes from your mom because of the family bond," says Karen. The bond between a daughter and a mother is an important one. She is your first life contact. So if the person in your life that you first formed a bond with is telling you that you have "bad hair," that's something that's very difficult to overcome. It penetrates so deeply."

It can deeply affect her self-esteem: "Something like this can deeply impact a child because they don't always have the ability to express what they are really feeling," says Karen. "This could result in the young girl acting out in the home or even in school where she looks to her left or her right and sees other girls with long, straight hair that's she learned to believe is "good hair." The acting out many times is a result of the child not liking themselves and the negative messages being told to her on a regular basis.

It can lead to her becoming a bully: "If a young girl is being told at home that she has "ugly hair," she's either going to walk with her head down in school or torment every girl in school who does have long, straight hair," says Karen. "We're quick to call kids bullies without looking at the root of the problem. There's always a root. Just that instead of crying she's acting out."

Tell her she has beautiful hair:  One of the ways to help your daughter embrace and love her curls, is by letting her know how beautiful her hair is. "It's very important to send her those positive messages regarding her hair daily," says Karen. "Whether it's when you're washing her hair over a basin, detangling or styling, run your fingers gently and actually tell her those words. It will help counteract all the images that she sees, whether it's in school on television or even with her Barbie dolls, that are telling her she has bad hair.

This is especially important for brown or black girls: "We've constantly been given these messages whether it's in stores, on TV, or magazines that we're not beautiful enough," says Karen. "So for moms with brown or black daughters with curly hair, it's especially important that you tell her she's beautiful and she has beautiful hair just as often as you tell her you love her." 

Image via iStock


Topics: hair  curly hair