“Mom, what happened to your hair?,” I exclaimed. She stood before me, and I assumed she had gotten a perm or some sort of hair treatment, but the truth was…I had never seen my mother’s natural hair texture until the end of my twenties!
We often will see a video of a black little girl pointing out the white baby or doll as being the most beautiful. But what factors, inside or outside the culture, contributed to that negative self-image? My obsession with black beauty began when I realized I couldn’t rely on white bloggers and vloggers for hair product reviews and advice, given my hair texture. I began to hear their stories of people feeling “uncomfortable” around natural or “nappy” hair. We can all recall Chris Rock’s Good Hair, or have heard doctors discuss the harmful effects of relaxers or reverse-perms. I remember feeling so terrible, sad, angry, when realizing these women were weaving their hair, wearing wigs, chemically changing their hair texture, or bleaching their skin because society had influenced them into believing that their natural qualities were not beautiful.
When people started pointing out my hair- which was already flat ironed and blown out- was frizzy, I would become embarrassed, run to a mirror, wet it, put product in it- put it up in a man-bun.
The realization hit me- I too had been straightening my hair all of my adult life! I had been made to apologize for and hide my natural hair texture! My own mother hid her hair texture for her entire life! That is such a horribly evil thing, to twist someone’s, or an entire culture’s self image and worth!
The sad thing is that the pressure affects the culture it targets, and a sort of internal-policing occurs. My family had always made fun of my hair, “nappy headed boy,” they’d call me. I’d often reply that it was genetically their fault, or would call out their own hair texture if it was similar. My mother and aunt would often recount stories of their embarrassment as their hair texture was pointed out in their childhood or adolescence, my grandmother screaming at them to put Vaseline in their hair in front of company. It’s funny but I didn’t realize that kids often told me to wet my hair in school- they were trying to teach me to hide the frizz. I began using a Conair steam iron…this was before the flat iron people! I learned to use a round-brush and do a blow-out, then eventually started flat-ironing my hair and using a plethora of products in my teens…most of them Bed Head- Control Freak, Headrush, After Party, Manipulator, Masterpiece, and Hard Head hairspray and gel.
The roots of our current beauty dilemma stem from two different sources in this discussion in particular. African Americans have been discriminated against historically in a similar fashion to the Jews and my culture, the Gypsies (Gitans, Gitanos, Ciganos, Travelers), often being depicted as caricatures of stereotypes- big noses or lips, and having misinformation spread through propaganda that has been perpetuated to this day. “Gypsies, tramps and thieves,” a popular Cher song, exemplifies this. While black lives matter has been a huge topic in the states, the climate remains the same for all of these ethnicities within and without the country. Gypsies and Jews were targeted in France’s “War on Delinquency” under Sarkozy and Hollande, and Jews fled the country en masse following increased anti-semitism. Jews and Gypsies were targeted during WWII, and it’s well known that those who could pass for white bleached their hair or did what they could to survive. The idea that the Anglo-saxton or the Aryan appearance and bone-structure, due to the ethnocentricity of Germans, was impressed upon the cultures it sought to exterminate.
Nose jobs, double-eyelid surgery, butt and lip injections, breast implants, permanent and dangerous color contact implants to change eye-color (regardless of what you’re told), cheek implants…even surgeries specifically intended to change one’s racial appearance have only begun to increase in recent years. Cosmetic surgeries and procedures have particularly exploded in the male market.
Cake Soap is a trend that picked up popularity in the Islands- in the documentary Cake Soap…Skin Bleaching in Jamaica, the influence of rap and pop culture has increased the popularity of skin-bleaching agents. They will speak of the skin becoming thin and weak, and that their veins become more prominent. Light skin is highly desirable among women and men in Jamaica, but it’s apparent that it may be skewed and more of a male preference. It’s interesting, because we often hear the same being said of African-American men. There is a theory in psychology that’s called exotic becomes erotic, so we could argue that it’s the mere differentiation, however, even still we’d have to observe the rippling effect it’s had on creating a desirable trait, possibly stigmatizing those which are undesirable, and leading to a culture taking measures to effectively alter those traits to change its appearance to fit the mold.
I think it’s important to respect all cultures, to love your own cultural heritage and ethnic background, and to find beauty within those traits that tell your story. We must impart that self love and love of others onto the next generation- that they don’t see us altering ourselves, hating our reflections, and imposing that unhealthy self-loathing onto their young impressionable minds.