Losing Recipes: What Does ‘Dressing Grown’ Mean in the Black Community?

Let social media tell it, Millennials and Gen-Zers don’t usually find common ground. But, when it comes to calling out and critiquing how unspoken— and verbalized— traditions within the Black community are wielded against youth, they’re on the same page.

Many young Black girls have long experienced comments from grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, older cousins, and family friends about them looking too “grown” for wearing certain clothing or styling their hair in specific ways.

Young Black girls frequently face harsh cultural and societal pressures regarding their appearance, particularly with hairstyles and clothing. Unlike their peers from other racial backgrounds, they are often criticized for choices deemed “too grown,” such as straightening or dyeing their hair and wearing certain fashion items. This scrutiny is rooted in historical prejudices and stereotypes that hyper-sexualize and adultify Black girls from a young age, impacting their self-expression and confidence. A hairstyle change or trendy outfit might be seen as cute or fashionable on other girls, but the same choices can attract negative attention for Black girls, imposing an unfair burden on them to moderate their behavior and appearance. Attention parent’s, stop telling young Black girls what they can and can’t wear around certain male family members and friends. Instead, keep them away from those grown men if you can’t trust their wandering eyes.

Addressing this disparity requires challenging deep-seated stereotypes and advocating for equity in how children express themselves. Schools, communities, and parents play pivotal roles by fostering environments where all children can explore their identities without fear of judgment or labels. Education about cultural diversity and sensitivity training can help dismantle the biases that lead to such disparities. Celebrating Black beauty and fashion within mainstream media as not just adult but appropriately youthful can shift public perceptions. By acknowledging and actively resisting these biases, society can better support Black girls in embracing their personal style and cultural heritage without criticism or fear of being seen as too mature for their age.

EBONY is diving into addressing traditions that we want to pass down and others that should be laid to rest, all while preserving our legacy. Are we “losing recipes?” Or are we simply evaluating if they carry heavy detriments that need to be passed down to begin with? Is this how we preserve our community’s legacy? Below, EBONY tapped a few women to get their take on the topic and how it manifested in their respective lives.

Kayla A. Greaves, Beauty Writer and Expert

“I think it comes back to this whole subconscious notion of girls preserving their ‘innocence’ and remaining ‘virgin-like’ so they don’t start attracting men in a sexual manner, which is such a flawed mindset. A girl showing interest in developing her personal style—whatever that journey may look like—does not make her responsible for the actions and behavior of men. Just like how a girl being mature for her age in the intellectual sense does not make her responsible for the actions of men.

Both girls and women should not have to put themselves in a cage in order to ward off unwanted sexual advances—we should have the autonomy to live our lives freely, explore our bodies freely, and embrace style freely. In order to change this, we have to examine the ways in which we are raising boys and ensure we are teaching them to respect the girls around them. An 8-year-old girl, for example, wearing a spaghetti strap tank top or a skirt above her knees does not give anyone the right to make advances, harass her, or make her feel uncomfortable. We need to stop blaming girls and start doing a better job of teaching both boys and men that they have zero entitlement to a woman’s time, attention, or body.”

Blake Newby, Beauty and Style Expert

“As cliche as it may seem, so much of why Black women are perceived the way they are comes from slavery. The source of so many things that hold us back as a community. Therefore, our ideals with roots in both patriarchy and a complex racial history almost always result in Black women getting the brunt of it. It’s my hope that in 2024 people evaluate if their opinions around how a woman presents are rooted in toxic views instilled in childhood. That’s not to say appropriateness of time and place is not important — however, most of what is referred to when speaking about “dressing grown” isn’t that.”

Taylor Green, Publicist

“Black women have specifically been historically hyper-sexualized at a young age. It’s unfair that Black girls can’t simply exist as they are without unwarranted opinions on how they dress, how they act, or how they show up. To challenge this narrative, we must create safe spaces for Black girls to express themselves as they are.

Also, social media plays a role into how this generation shapes their body image and what they define as ‘beauty.’  While I may have grown up in a different time, children now look to social media for what they should be. Unlike how it was when I grew up, they are bombarded with older internet personalities that set unrealistic standards. It’s unfortunate that this generation feels the need to live up to this.”

Updated: May 21, 2024 — 3:02 pm