The photo you see above will upset a lot of women of color. We are known for our elaborate hairstyles. Even as a child, I begged my mother to allow me to straighten my hair because all the other girls in school had either hot combed or chemically straightened hair and I felt left out and alone. The trigger for this article is my viewing of a video by Lucid Living TV on YouTube, about a little black girl who was a part of an ad for children for the brand H&M. This article is not about the brand but about the reaction of many black women about a black model’s hair who was pulled back into a ponytail, a ponytail that looked natural and un-straightened, free of chemicals or the touch of a burning hot comb. Her hair “crawled at the edges” like most little black girls especially after a day of play or school, which was representative of the ad. There was a mixture of ethnic backgrounds within this ad and every child’s hair was styled in a messy, unkempt way, the way children look at the end of the day. I know when I went to school, my mother took a brush with hair grease on it and water to straighten my hair enough to put it into the perfect ponytail and by the end of my day, “my edges had crawled and gotten nappy”, something that happens to hair that has a tight curl pattern. It isn’t meant to be straight, therefore it begins to take on its natural texture, kinky.
What has outraged me about the comments on social media is that most of the negativity came from black women who were upset because, “how dare her mother allow her to appear in her natural state!” These comments bring up for me, the self-hatred many black women have for who they naturally are. I have no problem with ethnic women who choose weaves and wigs, so why is there a problem with those of us who choose not to do so? It is almost as if we are embarrassing the community or shaming the black culture, by simply being natural. My outrage also increased because this is a child who was probably very proud of herself for being chosen for this ad. What a remarkable feat for a young dark skinned black girl to have achieved. Yet instead of praising her, black women took to social media and ridiculed her for her nappy hair. I think everyone needs to know that all the children in the ad had intentionally messy hair, but none of their parents were questioned about it. This is because there is still so much shame in our community over how we look.
Black people come in all shades with various hair textures and I wonder, though I already know the answer, that if this child was bi-racial or light-skinned with so called, “good hair”, meaning a looser curl pattern, would there be so much to say about the styling of her hair. The answer is no. No one would have felt the need to ridicule this model because she would have fit into the European idea of beauty, which unfortunately is still what many black women attain to. In 2019, almost 2020, we still have this disdain for our unique beauty and especially when it is displayed to the world. It’s as if our beauty needs to be kept secret, just between us, unless of course we have the “right look”. Straight hair, and hair texture in general has always been an issue within the black community and there will be black women who will dislike me for sharing that, but I’m not worried about that fact. Obviously.
When are we going to begin practicing what we preach, black women? We preach empowerment and unity and love for ourselves but when it comes down to it, the truth of the matter is that we still have a long road to travel. Behind the scenes, black women speak about how much they respect the natural hair community and kudos to us who choose to wear our hair chemical-free or with dreadlocs, like mine. However, when faced with the real world, many black women still want to hide who they, who we, really are and what we look like naturally. What does one think about this child model who sees this criticism of her hair when no other child was criticized for their messy hairdos? With these social media comments, we have set her back decades in the self love department and I am sure, as kids do, she will remember what was said about her. She will feel that she is less than the others, not as beautiful, not as desired. And this theme will play out in her life for years to come. Just as it has played out in the lives of the women who choose to ridicule her, rather than congratulate her.
In my lifetime, at 52, I don’t see this changing. And I hate to say that and believe it, but I feel it’s a true statement. I believe we have too far to go in the self-love area of our lives as black women. There will be black women who will say, “she didn’t need to put that ugly picture of herself in this article.” But I needed to do just that. Because it is beautiful in my eyes and my eyes matter the most. I chose to loc my hair for more than trendy reasons. I was tired of playing the chemical game, though I was never one for weaves, I certainly have no issue with others who choose that option. It just isn’t for me. I wanted to embrace my African/Caribbean culture in some way and I chose to grow spiritually through the styling of my hair by learning to let go and allow it to do what it wanted to do. And this process has taught me to let go in a lot of ways and areas of my life. So my locs are beloved to me for these reasons. Let us allow our children to first of all, be children, be messy, but to also love who they naturally are, especially until they are old enough to make their own decisions about life and about their hair.