Bad Hair Does Not Exist/Pelo Malo No Existe – Review
Bad Hair Does Not Exist/ Pelo Malo No Existe! – By Sulma Arzu-Brown
Reviewed by Nadine Graham
When my daughter was born, I put a lot of thought into her hair. With a white, wavy-haired father and with me being black (and from Jamaica), I knew it was going to be at least curly. The only question was how curly. Her coils were relatively loose when she was a baby, but as she got older they got tighter. Her mane was gorgeous: full and thick with curly brown spirals. I made it my mission to raise my child with full appreciation for her hair.
I went on YouTube, got books, bought products, and set out to educate myself on biracial locks. Somewhere in there, I started to realize: I was constantly telling my daughter how pretty curls were, but I wore my hair straight. I’d had a relaxer in since I was 10 years old, because, as some in my family might say: “No one wants to deal with the naps.” I decided to grow out my own hair. It’s been a journey, as I’ve basically had to re-learn everything I knew about my hair.
But there’s a natural hair revolution going on, and I decided to get on board.”Bad Hair Does Not Exist/ Pelo Malo No Existe! ” is part of that movement. A book for young girls that shows that all hair, curly, frizzy, dreadlocked or straight, is good. The simple and cheerful illustrations (by artist Isidra Sabio) and intentionally repetitive text shows various girls going about their daily activities, telling the reader what kind of hair they have and driving home their affirmative message. My daughter enjoyed reading the book with her dad. She memorized it easily and asked for it multiple times over the next few days. She also loved completing the activity pages in the back of the book.
One of the most interesting things about the book is that it’s bilingual, for both Spanish and English speakers. We’re an English-speaking household, and as such the term “bad hair” didn’t quite have the history and impact of “pelo malo,” even though they mean the same thing. “Pelo malo” is a term with a lot of weight behind it for Afro-Latinos and I may not have been the target audience for that particular phrase. In my experience, someone like my daughter might have been said to have “good hair,” but I don’t remember many people using the term bad hair. (It could be because Jamaica is a majority black country, so while straightened hair was definitely the norm for my family, everyone basically had the same hair underneath.)
Arzu-Brown was inspired to write the book when her three year old daughter’s babysitter straightened her daughter’s hair without consulting her, saying that she had “pelo malo.” This kind of attitude is what Arzu-Brown is trying to fight. If there’s a child who needs to hear the message that all hair is good, this earnest, thoughtful book is a good place to start.