All right, I'm gonna talk about hair again, and then I'll leave it alone (until I get moved to talk about it again. That's right. I said it.).
I was watching a rerun of The Game on BET—don’t judge me—when an ad for Motions Silkening Shine Relaxer came on. I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard “Get pretty.” Then my ears perked up. The line continued, “…with shiny, make-them-stare hair.” Then it hit me hard: this is why little girls grow up thinking the hair they were born with needs to be fixed. Otherwise, it’s not “pretty.”
This ad reminded me of a recent conversation I had with my pastor, when he told me that we partly form our identities based on the models before us—that is, both fashion models and everyday examples. Little girls, for instance, grow up knowing what’s “pretty” without having to have it blatantly stated (although this ad is pretty blatant). We have Barbie dolls, TV, magazines and movies to tell us.
The thing is: the “popular” models, as opposed to the everyday ones, get more pull as kids grow up. We know this. And if we’re talking about models of “pretty” hair, the view is pretty one-dimensional. For black girls growing up today, their models are the likes of Beyoncé, Queen Latifah, and the model in this Motions ad: beautiful, influential women who relax their hair. I imagine the message for a little girl is that “shiny” hair like this model’s is the only way to “make them stare.” This type of hair is necessary to be considered beautiful.
I’m aware that these are arguably trite ideas--we all know that trying to be Barbie has screwed with quite a few minds--yet these ideas about "pretty" keep being recycled. In spite of all the conversations about multivalent versions of “pretty,” we’re still getting “pretty hair=straight and shiny” coming through the tube. To a little girl, who may have few, if any, models of naturally textured hair that is “pretty,” this ad provides the key to “pretty”! Shiny, blow-in-the-wind hair that correlates with all the other models out there.
I think we’d see a lot less negativity surrounding nappy hair if black females in their girlhood, where ideas about “pretty” firmly take root, can actually see more than one type of “pretty” hair. If they can see hair that looks like theirs as “pretty,” not just at home or in the neighborhood but on TV and in magazines, then maybe we can add a few more dimensions to the idea.
I’m not naïve, however. I know that part of kinky hair’s lack of visibility has to do with its paltry level of acceptability in the fashion, TV, and film industries. But we’ve seen kinky hair featured in the worlds of fashion and entertainment, as in this photo of Beyoncé. (Granted, I don't believe this is her hair, but the point is that the afro is getting some play!) World famous model Alek Wek is also an example of kinky hair in the fashion world. Kim Myles, of HGTV’s Myles of Style wears her hair in its natural texture. Jazz, blues, and folk icon Cassandra Wilson has been wearing locs for decades, and soul singer Leela James has a very prominent afro.
There are models of black women with naturally textured hair out there, but they’re nowhere near as prominent as models of straightened and relaxed hair. Where are the Carol’s Daughter, Miss Jessie’s, and Kinky-Curly TV ads? Maybe they’re on their way. They’re fairly new companies, after all.
With all this in mind, if I ever have a daughter, I’d want her to know that she’d be pretty no matter what she did to her hair, that there’s more than one type of “pretty” and that she wouldn’t have to change the texture of her hair in order to get it. But she could if she wanted to. It's one option and not the only one.
About this Blog
The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.