After the craze of Frozen died down my daughter then went crazy for MLP (My Little Pony) and even now it’s all she ever watches on TV or youtube. You will notice that even though they are basically cute little horses, they are clearly based on ‘white standards of beauty’. Blue and green eyes and mostly long straight manes.
When it comes to the dolls that she wants to play with these days, it is the Equestria girls, the ‘human’ versions of MLP below who despite their blue, orange and purple skin tones are clearly based on white girls.
Now I could complain that our kids are not being represented in poplar media which is true in many respects. I mean it wouldn’t take much for them to add a brown Equestria girl doll with curly hair to their lineup above would it? I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure that most horses are brown anyway aren’t they? AREN’T THEY??
Yet as a business woman I understand that when creating a product you want it to appeal to the large majority of the population and for us who live in the US or the UK, that majority is white. By extension, products targeted to us are afterthoughts and not a major part of their marketing flow. I mean how long did it take Disney to finally get a black princess in their lineup?
We now have dolls that look like our little girls
Recently when Barbie brought out the line of ‘Fashionista’ dolls including curvier dolls and proper black girls with curly hair I was ecstatic to see them on Amazon and immediately purchased two. A game changer I thought, but my excitement was soon proved to be unfounded when Jasmine quickly relegated them to the toy box within the first week. I expect that they will be keeping ‘black’ Barbie’s arms company in a landfill somewhere in the near future. #sigh
Back to hair, as a mom, I don’t like to be too stringent with my daughter’s hair care. For school, which is the great majority of the average year, I give Jasmine the choice of wearing her hair twisted into plaits, pigtails, mini twists or braids and cornrows, you know, typical little girl hairstyles. During the school holidays I may let her wear her hair loose a couple of times but for the most part, she gets hair straightened twice a year. On her birthday and for the end of year school disco just before Christmas. It’s the easiest way that I find to deal with our two heads of natural hair while still trying to show her that her hair is, in fact, versatile and fun.
With my own haircare, I’m a typical mom myself. I go through periods of keeping my hair straight for a few weeks at a time but for the most part, I wear it curly and I only wear hair extensions* infrequently. I am constantly aware of the scrutiny that I get from Jasmine anytime I do anything different with my hair and she has no qualms about letting me know if she doesn’t like my new hairstyle 🙂 Still for her sake I try to keep it natural and curly most of the time to set a good example and to show her that I do in fact love curls.
Forming her own opinions
Yet a point comes when mommy’s opinion slips down the list behind her friends and her own perhaps fuelled by her view of the world. Her hair would probably be considered long being past BSL when straight. And certainly it’s the longest of the other black girls in her class but there came a time when even that was not enough. Recently she said to me “Mommy I know curly hair is the best but I still like straight hair better”.
Honestly, my heart sank when I heard her say that and I didn’t respond for a while because I genuinely didn’t know what to say. Here was my little baby girl with whom I had tried to instill confidence and a love for her natural hair but it hadn’t worked? Because I didn’t respond to her comment, I guess that she thought that she had must have said the wrong thing and quickly repeated our mantra “But I know that curly hair is the best mommy” and carried on playing.
We’ve had so many fun wash days where she has helped me wash, detangle and style her hair, she has requested twist outs and wash and go’s (although she knows better than to ask me for straight hair because she already knows that straight is reserved for birthdays and Christmas). I have even seen her watch youtube hairstyle tutorials on her iPad and recreate cute little buns and ponytail hairstyles with her mini twists and show off like she just discovered electricity. So I couldn’t understand why she would still prefer straight hair. Had I broken my baby? Was there something I was missing in her hair routine? Had I missed a step? Was it her entertainment material? Her upbringing?? Basically was I doing something wrong….
I remember watching this fly on the wall documentary of life in an African village called The Tribe with her a while ago. It was a fascinating show but I will never forget the look of surprise on her face watching the scene of this little African village with, according to her, ‘weird’ people. Well, I suppose to a child who’s view of the world is the western one, the hairstyle, and dress of the people in that Ethiopian village would definitely seem ‘weird’ at first. It occurred to me at the time that Jasmine was not aware that there are parts of the world where a majority of the population is black and she is still forming a view of her world based on her own experiences.
Acceptance takes time
As time has gone one I have come to understand that the truth is that if you are bringing up a child in a country where the majority population is not the same race that you are, they will still struggle with some degree of racial identity which for black kids includes loving their natural hair. In the United States and here in the UK the media that we watch is created to appeal to the majority white population which although we may complain about, intellectually we are aware that it is unlikely to change drastically in the near future while the population remains mostly white. We may want to see more people of color on TV but the reality is that right now our kids see more white faces than black faces in real life and on television.
No amount of self-help kids books, songs or parenting will make race and by extension hair a non-issue to black kids growing up in the west. I’m not painting a great picture am I? The point I’m trying to make is that what we are doing with the natural hair movement is fantastic and it has done a lot to help many women of color to accept themselves naturally which will make things easier for the next generation of little girls and boys. It definitely helps ease the path to self-acceptance for our children but it is not a magic cure-all for the complicated process of self-acceptance that all children of color living in the western world must go through. As parents, all we can do is lead by example and easy the path for our little ones to truly accept themselves as they are.
BTW I’m sorry if you didn’t watch The Tribe, it may have only aired in the UK and it was easily the best thing on TV at the time. It had flirting, scandals, drunken parties and wedding negotiations including goats. What could be better?!