Backhanded Complements or Do They Not Know Better?
Since embracing my natural hair 3 ½ years ago I have noticed many “For A” comments. What is a “For A” comment you may ask? “You look pretty FOR A lady with natural hair!” Another frequent comment that I hear is “You still can look professional FOR A person with natural hair. In the beginning I just shrugged the comments of assuming that I was hypersensitive or overreacting. But when I began to hear these backhanded comments more often I began to get offended. You either give a complement or don’t!
At the beginning of my natural hair journey I struggled on how to handle these situations. Occasionally I will question the person about the “FOR A” part of the complement to hear their rationale and to make them aware of the offensiveness of their comments. The comments can be awkward and annoying but they did not bother me as much until my daughter began dealing with the comments. Once my eyes were opened to the comments I started noticing more and more backhanded complements that are used often that are effecting children’s self-esteems’.
Backhanded Hair Comments
I had Aja’s hair straightened for a Father–Daughter dance. Several of her classmates told her that she was pretty when her hair was long and she should always wear it like that. One particular classmate told Aja that she would be pretty all of the time if she would get a perm and stop wearing her hair in nappy, baby puffs. At the dance Aja received many complements from many of the mother ( yes, several mothers, myself included went to the beginning of the dance to take pictures) continued to say things like “ I had no idea that you had so much hair” or “ your so pretty with straight hair”. One mother went as far as to say “please tell me that you finally got her a perm!” I don’t know whose head whipped around first. Aja politely and matter of factly told her classmates mother that “my hair was straightened not permed. I don’t ever plan to put all of those chemicals in my hair”. Then she toped it off with an upber sweet “thank you” and went on her way. The mother walked away in a huff and I then realized that Aja could defiantly handle any child that came her way.
I thought that was the end of the backhanded complements. But I was so wrong. Later the next week Aja had her hair in a straight ponytail with the ends curled under (I still felt she was too young to wear her hair “out” unless it was for a special occasion). We were in Publix and we bumped into a classmate and her mother. This mother said that Aja looks pretty with her hair straight but she and her daughter love Aja’s 4 puffballs. The mother goes on to say that she never thought someone with their “natural” hair could be cute. It got worse… she also stated that Aja has “good” hair and such a pretty face that she could “get away with it!” The mother and her friend both said that Aja is the only “pretty natural girl” that they know and the rest of the girls at the school just look crazy without perms!
I am sorry, I was misinformed… when did natural hair became a crime that you could “get away with?” Aja and this classmate were good friends so I could tell Aja was pleading with her eyes for me to not have “A Good Hair talk” with this mother. I was in a rush so I didn’t respond to the backhanded complement that was aimed at my daughter or any of the other natural girls at the school.
In the car on the way home we discussed what her friend’s mother said. Aja said that she did not really know why her friend’s mother always talks about her hair but the comments did not bother her. She said that the mother is always telling her daughter that her long, straight and pretty hair is what she needs to “catch a good man” so she should never cut it. This little girl has her hair professionally “done” weekly, wears weave and extensions regularly. I am not knocking the way that anyone chooses to raise their children or spend their money but I place emphasis on other things and “getting a good man” in the 5th grade is definitely not one of them. I decided not to discuss the comments or the backhanded complements. I simply found a way to get my daughter interested in other classmates whose parents have similar views to ours. Eventually Aja and the classmate drifted apart.
Backhanded Complexion Comments
One of the most hurtful FOR A comments that I have ever heard was from a dear friend of mine. Her daughter was told by another African American that “she was pretty FOR A dark skinned child!” What does that mean? Is there a color category for children now? If your complexion is this light or this dark do you have to go into different “pretty category”? Luckily my friend is a great mother and she had a “talk” with her daughter about the comment. She is a very bright, beautiful well adjusted child. I am just worried about children who hear these types of comments and internalize them without having a strong parent that will have a “talk” with them.
I also had an associate who only dated mixed race or Caucasian females. I was curious so I asked why he does not date African American women since he is an African American male. He said that he loves African American women and use to date them in high school and in college but he wants to procreate with another race to make sure his children are NOT dark and have “good hair”. He went on to say he saw how bad his sisters were treated because they were very dark skinned and he did not want his child to be treated that way. Again, I was/am confused is this 2012 or 1912?
Backhanded Weight Comments
At work I heard a teacher tell a student “she has a pretty face for being such a big girl”. This particular child was being teased by other classmates and the teacher thought she was saying something nice to boost the student’s self-esteem. But I heard and saw something else transpire. Later that day I went to the cafeteria to have lunch with this student. I talked to her and she too was offended by the comment about her weight. She directly asked me “why do people always say I have a pretty face and tell other girls that they are pretty?” I was honest with her about the “world’s standards of beauty” and why some do not feel that she fits into it. (background information… I called the child’s mother whom I have a pretty good relationship with first to make sure I could have an honest conversation with the student first”). We then discussed why those “standards of beauty” are not realistic and are very exclusive to anyone who is not tall, blond and blue eyed. Long story short the student left our lunch with a better sense of her worth and her beauty.
I am still in shock over the fact that it is 2012 and African Americans are still falling victim to the Jim Crow/Slavery/Brown paper bag/ Barbie Beauty nonsense. What bothers me the most is that adults are pushing this self-defeating garbage onto another generation of children! Can you imagine how any of these backhanded complements can damage a childs self-esteem or open dialogue that is over a child’s head? An innocent 8 year old child who is simply a pretty girl, not based on her complexion, hair type, curl patters, weight, height, ECT.
Please be mindful of your words when you are giving a “so called complement”. It goes back to the old saying …. If you don’t have anything (completely) nice to say… SHUT UP!