“Why Was I Trying To Deny That?” Beauty, Confidence And Growing Up In A Biracial Or Multiracial Family.
Beauty, confidence and growing up in a biracial or multiracial family.
In many families, figuring out a beauty routine that makes you feel good can be deeply informed by your mother. What works for her tends to trickle down and can boost your self-esteem. But what does that experience look like in biracial or multiracial families for daughters who don’t share the same skin tone or hair texture with mom? It’s complicated.
Refinery29 partnered with Dove to speak with three biracial and multiracial Canadian women about their experience navigating beauty and self-esteem. The Dove Self-Esteem Project aims to empower girls by strengthening their body confidence and self-esteem, no matter their background or identity. The women in this article opened up about their own hardships and victories of finding confidence in their appearances, on their own terms.
The daughter of an African-Nova Scotian father and Caucasian mother, Alexandra MacLean’s pride in her flowing curls was a work-in-progress for many years. After a hurtful group chat incident in junior high school (boys called her hair ugly and compared it to seaweed), she thought altering her natural texture was the only solution to fit in. But seeking out a supportive community, while being inspired by her family, proved to be the 21 year old’s confidence-boosting identity fix.
“From a young age, watching my mom do her hair in the morning, I was always frustrated that she could comb it in, like, ten seconds. After the group chat incident, I definitely took a hit to my self-esteem. I just wanted to straighten my hair [with a flat iron] even more. It would take two hours and my mom would have to do it. I felt I looked ‘better’ when my hair was straight, that started early.”
“My mom never wanted my sister or I to get rid of, or ruin, our curls. She wanted us to be happy and comfortable with the features that we had. My acceptance started with my sister. She wore her hair curly. I also switched to a different high school and by graduation I was not straightening my hair anymore. By being around African-Nova Scotian individuals whose hair was either the same texture as mine or curlier, and they were pulling it off, I thought I can, too. Also, when I straightened my hair it was a big deal to me that I looked more Caucasian and eventually I didn’t want that. I want to look like my dad, my family, and represent who I actually am. I want people to know that I’m not just White.”
Help Line Bling
“If you do come across somebody who understands, hear them out. I’d visit my aunts on my father’s side, they’d say my hair was crunchy because I wasn’t using the right product, and I used to get upset. I was a little too prideful because I was embarrassed. I should have just listened. Also, watch videos! If you don’t have anyone to talk to who would understand the internet is full of people who would."
Raised by her adoptive parents and growing up as an Indigenous person in the predominantly Caucasian neighbourhood of Stonewall, MB, Crystal Magian, 29, experienced racism early on in her life that shattered her sense of worth. By getting clear on what she wanted for herself, and led by an optimistic spirit and incredible resilience, she’s become a young woman who fully embraces her unique Ojibway beauty, ancestry and culture.
Sticks & Stones
“I had children in school make ignorant comments to me. My mom has told me I used to come home from kindergarten, cry and try to scratch the colour off my skin because I didn’t want to be different. I was always really ashamed of my skin colour my entire life. I felt like I had to overcompensate, to prove that I was a good person, because I did get discriminated against a lot because I am Indigenous.”
“My parents were extremely understanding and supportive but growing up was really complicated. My mom is extremely fair and has naturally curly hair. I always felt a little down on myself because my mom and sister had something they could relate over, their hair colour and everything was all so similar, and I was always the complete opposite. They could share the same foundation if they wanted to, and I couldn’t.”
Lost, Then Found
“Where I’m from, being Indigenous is looked down upon. In my eyes who I was felt very negative. One day I sat down and asked myself what I wanted, and the top thing was self-love. I was tired of hiding who I am and being ashamed of where I come from. My ancestors fought, they went through the fire and back to prove that Indigenous people are beautiful and strong. Why was I trying to deny that? I decided that I had had enough, that I needed to start being proud of my almost black hair, extremely dark eyes and my brown skin. Being proud of my culture.”
Note to Self
“You might be different, but that’s something that you should be celebrating. Different is beautiful.”
Raised by a single parent in Toronto, 29 year old Keesha Stevenson shares a lot with her mom – except the isolating experience of growing up as a mixed kid with voluminous curly hair displaying a fiery colour. Today, after putting an end to years of bullying and with tireless support from mom, Keesha has finally found a routine that makes her feel good about her distinguishing feature. Life-saving hairdresser included.
A Different World
“I remember thinking my mom’s hair was perfect, wavy and always so long. I’d lay on the couch, running my fingers through it, thinking this is ideal. This is what I should have! At school, kids would have a contest to see who could put the most eraser shavings, staples, or bits of straws in my hair and I’d have no idea because it was so thick. I would come home in tears, picking crap out of my hair and begging her: please, please straighten my hair or cut it off!”
“I was so outgoing and unapologetically myself as a kid. When the bullying started to get really bad I retreated so far into myself that even now I don’t know if I’ve fully come back. I just wanted to hide. In Grade 7, I had to be wearing a hoody up or a hat and refused to take either off that entire year. I was seventeen when I started standing up for myself.”
“When I was 14 years old my mom finally let me relax my hair. But I didn’t know you also had to flat iron it! It was mostly poufy, so I was still kind of ashamed of it. At seventeen, I started flat ironing it which gave me a bit of confidence. Later that year my mom found a hairdresser who I still see and love, and the power shifted back to me. It was my hairdresser giving me control. Learning how to take care of my relaxed hair better made me feel better about it. I started embracing myself. It’s how I feel about myself that matters, what other people say doesn’t. All that matters is me.”
A Lil’ Advice
“The thing I’d want to tell my younger self, or if I have a daughter with hair like mine, is don’t let other people get in your head. And I think it’s really important to have a hair role model, which is what I found in Debra, my hairdresser.”