Hair, Beauty, Attraction, Messaging, and Everything in Between

Today I am having a bomb hair day–more so in the styling than the hair itself.

This morning, I woke up and decided, “Look–it is too cold to have my hair out here like this. I’m rocking the headscarf.” Any kinky-haired woman can tell you that the arrival of winter-like weather brings a level of nightmarish panic. Every day, I just sense my hair feeling drier, looking duller, and just straight suffering from the harsh, brisk winds. So, as Friday morning descended upon me, I could not take it anymore and wrapped my hair up, leaving out my front curl-bangs for flair and cuteness.

As I did this, another thought popped in my head: “Ugh…I cannot leave this house looking like Mammy. I better make this as cute as possible.”

For those unfamiliar with the “Mammy” stereotype, she embodies the domestic slave that is overly loyal to her white slave-masters. She runs the household and is a big role in the upbringing of both black and white children, but she often places the white children ahead of her own children. She is usually very unattractive by society’s standards; her skin color is very dark, she is overweight, and her hair is very unruly, which is why she wears a headscarf.

To be honest, it really sucks that I have to keep these things in mind as I get ready in the morning. I remember in high school, my church had a joint lock-in with another youth ministry who is predominately white, and we were creating a documentary about our experiences as we journey down the road to racial reconciliation. It was late in the night and the cameraman asked for volunteers to be interviewed. My friend and I decided to do it, and as we are waiting to be interviewed, our Sunday School teacher noticed we had our hair wrapped up because we were about to go to sleep. She immediately scolded us, telling us to take our hair down (granted, my hair still looked jacked up because I had no comb or brush). It took me three years to understand why she did that; it was not until yesterday, when we delved into these stereotypes in my African-American history class that it all clicked. Something as simple as our hair speaks volumes.

Wednesday night, I attended a hair talk hosted by the Pan-AfriKan Women and Brotherhood of Successful Scholars groups at Augsburg College, and I noticed something both interesting and disappointing. There was much talk about dating and attraction in the circle, and how that pertains to hair, with many questions like “What do you look for in ___?” or “How do you feel about facial hair?”. It got to the point where I felt the questions were becoming too subjective and were bound to solicit responses that were too specific and exclusive to speak to everyone in the room, who were all people of color.

I had an epiphany in my seat: our beauty is not conventional nor is it popular. So if you search through other people for the standard, you will always be disappointed.

If you were to visit Google Images, the premier search engine for visual images, and search “beauty”, you would see this: Now, none of those women look like me, and that holds true for countless women around the world. Yet, that is the standard. You can say searching “beauty” can refer to make-up ads or what have you, but in my mind, that is even worse!

Media is tricky. These constructions we submit to speak so much to our understanding of beauty. It affects a woman’s life more than most things that are actually important. I have to think about whether my clothing choices or hair choices or jewelry choices evoke a Jezebel figure or a lesbian or a Mammy figure because of the media’s standard of beauty. I have mini identity crises all the time whenever I change my hairstyle because of how other people react to it and where those notions originate. That is simply messed up, but it is something I have to deal with to achieve my happiness and embrace my unconventional beauty. I recognize quite well that I am not the type of woman that will have men continually approaching me based on a first glance. I am quite fine falling into the “ugly friend” category when going out with my friends, not because I believe I am ugly, but because my beauty (which is beautiful) is simply not popular, and I am perfectly content with this (mainly because it fends off a great deal of unnecessary attention from men. haha!)

You must do that for yourself. The media is not for us, women. Even for women who are not of color, there are so many differences within this community that are not represented favorably in the media. For some of us, our beauty is simply just not the favored. For others, our beauty is actually considered ugly, unclean, impure, and savage. For others, our beauty is considered beautiful, but there is an extra level of pressure to keep that up. Wherever you fall in the spectrum, just remember that anything that thrives off the disenfranchisement of others is something you do not want to partake in, even something as simple as the way you style your hair in the morning.

So call me a Mammy all you want–at least I know I’m one of the most beautiful ones you will ever encounter, not because my hair defines my beauty, but my heart. 😉

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