It always perturbs me that in the 21st Century in the Caribbean many women are still negatively criticised about their hair. I am particularly astounded by the way people treat women who have tight curly hair that is not chemically straightened.
Some women have been told that natural hair is not professional. Some have been told that they do not have "good hair," and some forms of hairstyles have been outright banned in institutions.
While I cannot recall a recent reported incident in Trinidad of women being shamed for their natural hair, there was an incident last year in Barbados which made regional news of a school that forbid natural hairstyles and told a senior student that her hairstyle was too "unsettling and flamboyant" for school.
The constant policing of women's natural hair has become such a point of concern that I wonder why women are taught to hate the hair that they are born with. However, one author is attempting to celebrate women's natural hair by linking natural hair to the majestic beauty of trees.
When I first picked up Tamika Phillip's book My Hair Grows Like a Tree, I was truly excited. Finally, I thought, a book that aims to empower young girls to love their hair.
My Hair Grows Like a Tree is a workbook-styled children's book that helps teach young girls how to love their natural hair. In her note to the readers, Phillip says the book series is "for young girls and women to learn about themselves and the Earth."
The book is printed back to front, and I suspect it is her attempt to invert the way natural hair is perceived in society. Each page has a picture of a young girl with her hair growing like a tree.
One picture shows a girl depicted as a tree, comparing the girl's body to the different properties of a tree.
It reads, "Like the pipelines of a tree trunk my cells feed energy from my body to my hair. The Earth in and around you, the outer layer of a trunk is to a tree as your skin is to your body."
The body positive perspective of Phillip's book is very admirable as she deals with both the many different types of hair and ancestral heritage many women with naturally curly hair come from.
One picture shows a girl whose hair is depicted as Africa and inside of the continent there are pictures of different women, both sculptures of women and women from different tribes.
Phillip asks the readers what they have in common with the women in the picture in an attempt to get girls to appreciate their cultural and historical ancestry. "Like trees, our hair grows from our roots."
However, while Phillip's ideas around body positive imagery were brilliant, her execution left much to be desired. The workbook literally felt like an essay-type question on each page, and I wonder if children look forward to extra work after they come home from school? As a child the last thing I would want is more homework in my leisure reading.
I also wonder if young girls are able to appreciate her work. While the layout of the book may appeal to young children, the level of questions and metaphors in the book may be too advanced for children and some young adults.
I also do not think Phillip gave much thought into her readership and the impact her book would have on them. In the preamble of the book, Phillip said the book was written with mothers and daughters in mind so that the adults could help young girls learn about themselves and the Earth.
While it is great to have a book that helps mothers encourage their daughters to love their hair, I think she neglects to acknowledge that some of these women may have gone through decades of self-loathing towards their own hair and thus found it difficult to help their daughters along. I hope parents, particularly mothers, pick up the book and together discover the love of their own hair, but we do live in a society where older women frequently tell younger women to maintain the status quo when it comes to their hair.
Despite the shortcomings, I hope people read and appreciate My Hair Grows Like a Tree. I grew up on books that depicted only white girls with blue or purple eyes who have straight hair that was either red or blond. I never saw myself in a literary character as a child, and still rarely see the representation of women with different shades and hair textures as an adult, especially in pop literature. Representation matters and I hope that more authors follow Phillip's example and write more stories celebrating the natural beauty of all different types of women.
My Hair Grows Like a Tree is available in Trinidad at all Cher-Mere locations, Body Beautiful on Ariapita Avenue and RIK Bookstores from April.