Thursday, August 9, 2007

Who knew what a 'do' could do?

My daughter and I love this book-I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley. The ability to say "I love my hair" may be just about the most powerful statement of self-acceptance there is. Of course, most of us don't like our hair.

It is too curly, too straight, too coarse, too gray, too short, too long-the list of complaints is seemingly endless. Women-mostly-try and fix their hair. We straighten it (my sister used to iron her curly hair when we were kids), we curl it, we color it, we cut it, we grow bangs then grow them out, we try new 'dos and after a few weeks or months we are back to where we started from.

Hair isn't called our crowning glory for nothing. It is the one thing that we can change easily and often. And hair matters in all cultures. It is an expression of individuality, of style, of desire and beauty.

But who sets the standards of beauty?

The traditional standards of beauty are pegged against Western European (Caucasian) people. This means that the vast majority of women in the world are aspiring to standards that set by other people who don't share similar physical attributes. I don't look forward to the day, that my beautiful daughter who has silky raven hair wants a permenant because curly hair is back in style. With her pin straight, fine hair no perm in the world is going to give her the look she wants.

Black women report that their hair is a political statement a window into her self-esteem and identity. It is clearly more than a 'feel good'. It is a visual representation of pride in heritage and self-respect.

That's why we love "I Love My Hair". First of all, the story is set against the backdrop of a time-honed mother/daughter bond-hair brushing. Secondly, when the young girl complains that the it hurts, her mother begins to show her how beautiful her hair is and how her hair is tied into her heritage and identity. It is a wonderful way to get a child to connect and be proud of her heritage-without holding herself to arbitrary Western European standards of beauty.

When we acknowlege that other people's physical charactertics-the ones that are different than ours-are beautiful and we can show our children that there is no one way to be beautiful then we have taken a step to ending biases and helping our children create a world that celebrates and respects people rather than denigrates those that are different from us.

So, the next time you are reading, watching TV or movies with your child you can start by pointing out the beauty in all of the people they see: Corbin Bleu-of High School Musical fame-has fantastic hair. London Tipton, played by Brenda Song a young Asian woman, has gorgeous skin and beautiful hair and let's not forget Vanessa Ann Hutchin's eyes-they are great. Acknowledging that these kids are all beautiful doesn't mean that the All-American kids aren't beautiful as well. But there is no better way to demonstrate to your kids that you don't have to look the same to be beautiful.

We can really show them that there are lots of ways to be beautiful-and that's power.

With respect,

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