As a child, I’m pretty sure the first time that my mother covered up my freshly-done hair with a stocking cap was when she knew for sure that my head was “hard enough” to tolerate it. The nighttime ritual of preparing one’s hair for bed is a rite of passage for many young Black girls and boys — whether that be with an unused pair of pantyhose, oversized silk scarf or Du-rag from the neighborhood beauty supply store.
As Black people, we take great pride in caring for our crowns. This sense of self-respect and self-worth is imparted upon us at a very young age. So one can only imagine how degrading it is to exist in a society where our curls, locs and braids — or however we choose to style our strands — are often labeled as “unprofessional,” “unkempt” or “unworthy” of celebration unless it’s worn on the heads of America’s favorite reality TV family.
While the natural hair movement and recent legislation known as the CROWN Act has helped to eradicate discrimination against Black natural hair, there is still much work to be done so that my own son and others do not endure the implicit bias many of us have faced. That’s why I strongly believe that New York Times bestselling author Nancy Redd’s new book “Bedtime Bonnet” is exactly what this generation needs.
The brightly-colored children’s book captures the symbolism of the bonnet. Told through the lens of a multi-generational Black family beautifully illustrated by Nneka Myers, young readers are taken on a fascinating journey as a young girl readies her hair for bed.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy about the inspiration for her latest work of literature, as well as how she believes it plays a pivotal role in the larger conversation on Black hair.
Beauty for Breakfast: What was your relationship with your hair like as a young girl?
Nancy Redd: Simultaneously beautiful and painful! I’m very tender-headed, and my mom did not take this seriously growing up. Every night, I’d scootch between her legs and she’d bust out the Vitapoint and Dax and a hair brush that felt like it was harder than a grill brush! After getting all the knots and tangles out from my day of play, the fun party began: she’d massage my scalp and fix my braids and we would chat during TV commercials. From the time I was 5 years old, my mom was (and still is) a single mom and a business owner, so she was super busy. Often, our hair braiding time was our only “us” time. I loved it and hated it at the same time, ha. I still love it when she combs and brushes my hair, but she still is pretty rough with that brush!
Beauty for Breakfast: Do you recall when you started wearing bonnets to bedtime?
Nancy: When I was growing up, I would wear an old scarf or sometimes even a cotton bandana (and occasionally, pantyhose). Options were limited in the 1980s! I don’t remember exactly when a formal bonnet was incorporated into my routine, but I do know that in my 38 years, there are probably fewer than 50 nights I’ve gone to bed without something on my head (and every time I didn’t wear something on my head, I regretted it the next day).
“Black people aren’t a monolith and I wanted as many kids to be able to see themselves and their families in this book as possible!”
Beauty for Breakfast: In “Bedtime Bonnet,” we see a multitude of Black hairstyles. Why was this important to depict in a children’s book?
Nancy: First off, aren’t Nneka Myers’ illustrations gorgeous? I was lucky to have a lot of input, and I was adamant that every family member in the book be a different shade of brown and have a different hairstyle and hair type, because Black people aren’t a monolith and I wanted as many kids to be able to see themselves and their families in this book as possible!
Beauty for Breakfast: I also enjoy the visualizations of a multi-generational Black family and how they love and celebrate their hair, especially at bedtime. What do you want young children and their families to take away from this experience?
Nancy: I want children and their families to take away the fact that all Black is beautiful, all hair is beautiful, all family is beautiful and that home is where the heart is. And if you want length and edges, and lint-free hair, you need to put something on your head at night, ha.
Beauty for Breakfast: We’ve seen Black children and adults mocked, ridiculed and discriminated against because of their hair. In your opinion, how does “Bedtime Bonnet” contribute to the larger conversation on Black hair in the media and beyond?
Nancy: As I told British Vogue for the RiRi Du-rag cover, our hair and head coverings are facets of our culture that have often been either ignored or unfairly denigrated by mainstream stereotypes. As the old saying goes, history is written by the winners — and many Black people with media privilege, myself included, are choosing to use it to rewrite our stories in more accurate and favorable lights. Bonnets (and wave caps, Du-rags, scarves, etc.) aren’t just protective styles but beautiful symbols of Blackness. The more we shine positive lights on ourselves, the more positivity will follow. We’ve seen it with Hair Love and the CROWN Act, and I think “Bedtime Bonnet” fits right in there on this path, too.
“Bonnets (and wave caps, Du-rags, scarves, etc.) aren’t just protective styles but beautiful symbols of Blackness.”
Beauty for Breakfast: How do you communicate with your own children and husband the rituals of nighttime hair care?
The book came about when about three years ago, my sweet hubby didn’t know what to do with my daughter’s hair when I went on a work trip, so it was a hot mess when I returned. It was so tangled up, that I had to fly with her from Los Angeles to my mom’s house in Virginia for her to handle it, and my mom was like, “This child needs a bonnet.” When I couldn’t find a bedtime book about bonnets to celebrate this fun aspect of our lives, “Bedtime Bonnet” was born. Now her bonnet is as integral to her nighttime routine as her toothbrush, and she can’t imagine her life without it, just like me! And my hubby has gotten a little better at doing her hair.
Shop “Bedtime Bonnet” on Amazon!
Hey Beauties: What was your relationship like with your hair as a child? Let’s talk about it! Leave a comment.