Of Hair and Acceptance
Occasionally on WordPress I check out the “freshly pressed” section on the homepage, where some of the “best” blog posts of the day are featured. (Some I have to wonder, why is this here?–but that’s me.) Came across one a few days ago that was fairly awesome:
And it has in it an amazingly cool video from Sesame Street:
This video has apparently, in the few weeks it’s been around, gone absolutely viral and been seen by tons of women and girls (and probably boys and men too) all over the net, and it’s fabulous. And it got me to thinking. (**DANGER** Jenn is thinking again, Jenn is thinking, **DANGER WILL ROBINSON**)
I am a Euro-American woman, and I have very fine stick-straight hair. All my life I have wanted thick, curly hair. I was like Ramona in those Beverly Cleary books, who saw that girl Susan with the “boing-boing” curls and just envied and loved and wanted from afar. I slept on rollers, I sprayed goop into my hair, and I went through that period in the eighties wherein I got really bad eighties perms as often as I could, and still couldn’t get the thickness and wave I wanted. (I’m serious, my hair is so straight it wouldn’t even take perms most of the time, and even those would fall completely straight within a few weeks.) I had a friend in junior high, an African American girl with long hair that she could play with and braid and she didn’t even have to put fasteners at the bottom to make the braids stay in; in boring geography classes (which were most of them; Mr. Roark, bless his heart, was a really nice man but he didn’t stir one to passionate yearnings for deeper knowledge) she would fiddle with it and braid and un-braid it over and over–oh, I loved her hair, I envied her hair, I so wished I had her hair…
(Er…okay, I read those last few sentences and want to clarify, it wasn’t some psycho stalker thing, it was a seventh grade girl with a whole set of negative body-and-hair image issues admiring a friend’s hair.)
Even as an adult, it’s been quite a journey. The turning point for me was when I was sitting next to my friend Heidi in a rehearsal one day–Heidi basically has the Exact Hair I Have Always Longed for, thick and long and curly and absolutely beautiful. Like Jean Rowena Whatserface the ingenue high school girl in Mr. Holland’s Opus–anyway, I had that day tried to do something to my hair, I forget what–curled it, braided it to get wave in it, I forget what, and it had been actually fairly successful, though my hair was still mostly very straight. And Heidi had hit hers with a fully straight blowout. Every bit of that gorgeous wave gone. In effect, she had gone to a whole lot of time and effort and possibly cost to make her hair do exactly what mine always does without any effort at all, and I had gone to as much time and effort to make mine look like hers.
The insanity of that hit me that day, and since that day I have embraced the stick-straightness of my hair. I embrace the sort of medium-boring-brown color (although I occasionally hit it with reddish temp stuff when I feel I need some color in my life), I even embrace the threads of white at the temple that threaten to explode one day into a full-blown Bride Of Frankenstein stripe. My hair is what it is, I love it, and I don’t need to change it to look like anyone else’s hair. (Also, just to clarify: Heidi is a beautiful woman. She is beautiful with a blow-out, she is beautiful with her hair waving the way it normally waves, and Heidi can wear her hair any damn way she wants to and she’s just plain gorgeous period. Her hair, her choice–but realizing that she would choose exactly what I was always trying to get away from was a big deal for me. :-))
Now to be clear here–I don’t in any way mean to equate or even compare my probably very typical little hair-image struggles with what the African-American community (or any communitiy of color, really) has had to deal with and continues to deal with in terms of constant cultural pressure that blond-and-pale=beautiful, and the degree to which one matches that beauty standard=how beautiful one is, and the farther from that standard one is=how un-beautiful one is. It’s just sick, and it’s why videos like this are so important for little girls–of all colors, IMO–to see. So are movies like Chris Rock’s “Good Hair”–a really interesting and eye-opening look at African-American hair culture, inspired by Rock’s daughter one day asking him the question, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?”
See this movie, seriously. (And if any part of you just went, “I’m white, why would I need to see this movie? It doesn’t apply to me, does it?” I’d say, definitely, you need to see this movie.)
Another story: about a year ago, I was watching the opening scene of Rent with my kids for the first time, the Live from Broadway version filmed in the theater. (Okay, this is the part where my husband goes, “oh HONEY, did you have to tell the whole blogging world that our son likes Rent??” Sorry, sweetie–he loves the song, it’s loud and it has screaming electric guitars and drums and lots of words and he just digs it. And it’s not his fault, or yours, that his mom is a Rent-head.)
(By the way, Rent features actress Tracie Thoms, who is also featured in Chris Rock’s “Good Hair.” Maybe it’s just me, but I think she’s sort of a goddess. In a non-psycho-stalker kind of way.)
I’m not going to re-hash the plot and characters here, but suffice it to say that Roger and Mimi are the sort of central love interest, and Mimi in this production is played by a gorgeous actress with brown skin and thick, black, curly hair and pipes that just don’t quit. We’d listened to the recordings in the car often enough that my kids know most of the songs (don’t worry, I skip “La Vie Boheme” when they are in the car), and they knew the kid-friendly version of the story pretty well.
The cast is very multi-ethnic, and there is exactly one blond-hair-pale-skin actress in the chorus who plays a number of small roles. As we watched that opening scene, the blond actress flashed onscreen for just a moment, and my daughter automatically pointed and said, “Look! There’s Mimi!” As in, after being Disney-Princessified, my daughter assumed that any heroine love interest character in any movie would be blond and pale. She saw the blond, and just knew this had to be Mimi, because that’s what Mimi should look like. It sort of blew me away; it was like Heidi’s blowout in terms of flipping on an internal lightswitch and making me go, WHOA. This Changes Here. So I flipped to another scene in the movie (don’t worry, not the pole dancing scene) and let her see the real Mimi and watch her interact with Roger and hear her sing and see how beautiful she is. And started buying non-blond Barbies.
So does this have anything to do with greenness of any kind? Well, maybe. Because the thing is, how much of what we–especially women–consume and buy and put on our hair and faces and into our bodies is nothing more than some feeling inside our selves that we need to do this if we are going to be attractive? I have never heard a woman who wears makeup every time she leaves the house say, “Oh, I know I look just fine without it, I just like to wear it.” But I have heard many times, “OMG, I can’t let people see me without my ____ on!” (foundation, mascara, lips, whatever.) How much do we do, how much time do we spend, how much do we pay other people to change our natural appearance so we can be more “beautiful”? And, the question to which there is as yet no empirical answer–what is it costing us in our health and that of our environment?
I’m not judging–believe me, I am so not judging. I’m the last person to question anyone’s motives about anything–for one thing, as much as I spout about naturalness and beauty, ultimately my lack of extra beauty regimen has more to do with laziness than anything else, and I have plenty of quirky little insecuritiesand behaviors myself. And I do have several friends who do do some of the funky hair stuff just because they like it, and I’m totally all over “do what makes you feel good about yourself” and all that. I guess I’m just saying…I don’t know what I’m saying. Maybe I’m saying that each of us is the only one with the answer to the question, “Am I doing this because I want to, or because I’m afraid other people won’t like what they see if I don’t?” And even knowing the answer to that question isn’t enough–because sometimes people not liking what they see when they look at us can cost us, say, a job…so again, no judging.
Just asking the questions.
—Jenn, who is over 40, sorta-almost-plus-sized, has greying hair, wears no makeup, and is a beautiful woman.