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.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

One Thing I Want My Daughter to Know: "Good and Bad Hair" Revisited

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.


  1. I wish people would realize how empty and meaningless words like "pretty" are, because it's a relative term, just like "good" and "bad." What is called "pretty" on one person might look terrible on someone else. The problem is people are always trying to conform to someone else's idea of pretty instead of figuring out what it means for them as an individual (or why/if it should even matter to them).

    I'm always trying to get my writing students to move away from using empty words like this--"weasel" words, as one of our anthologies puts it--but it's hard for them to understand why when they are faced with this language all the time and start believing these terms to be more concrete than they are. Perhaps I should track down this commercial to use an example...

  2. "Weasel" words--yes! This is a great example of a word that's always thrown around but doesn't have one meaning. I don't know if I'd call it meaningless, but it's definitely relative.

    I do think "pretty" is an important concept--not because it's something we should embrace but because it's a real entity for so many people. For females in general, I think it's important for us to believe we're "pretty" or "acceptable" or whatever you want to call it. The problem comes in, like you said, Lacy, when that quality is completely determined by "everyone else" instead of by ourselves. I think this goes back to the idea of models though, in every sense of the word.

    Were you able to click the link to the commercial (hyperlinked to the word _ad_ above)? If you can't, I'll send you the link. It's a good example to use in the classroom!

  3. Advertising agency creative teams (and in-house client-side copywriters) rely on stereotypes for a reason - they are easy, familiar, ready-made, and they work. Now, find a way to change the stereotypes and the advertisers will start relying on new images...this kind of quantum change requires a paradigm shift in society's expectations and what we find acceptable/unacceptable. And it takes more than one person or one neighborhood or one school district...to change a stereotype, a change in attitude has to happen broadly, across many spectra of society, almost simultaneously. Don't get me wrong, Mo, I agree wholeheartedly with you...but this is a problem with deep, broad roots firmly embedded in American society. How and when this stereotype of what men find "pretty" (because let's face it, that's what we're talking about) will change...you got me. - AMo

  4. "You're right, you're right. I know you're right." -Marie, from _When Harry Met Sally_