So like most of us, I watched Beyoncé's visual album Lemonade on Saturday. I thought it was a stunning work of artistry from all the imagery and the poetic words of Warsan Shire to the touching remembrance of our young black men who have lost their lives. I was completely engaged and captivated the whole hour.
However, at the end of Lemonade, I felt changed but not in the way most would think. I, like many others, was thinking of "Becky, with the good hair." Not because I wanted to know who she was, that was beside the point, but because "Becky, with the good hair" became the most talked about aspect of the beautifully thoughtful elevated musical journey Beyoncé took us on. "Becky, with the good hair" was immediately trending and tweeted about nonstop, however the words alone mean so much more to me.
Becky, with the good hair...Are we really still talking about good hair in 2016? Why are we still using this term? Is that still something that makes you better? So you mean to tell me that Beyoncé can rise to superstar status and become who she is and accomplish what she has, yet still revert back to deep seated demoralizing beauty standards that are limiting to the beauty of the Black women? Are we still so insecure in our own beauty that we defer to European beauty standards that are in direct conflict with black girl features. The same beauty belief that makes even Beyoncé, not good enough? What if he cheated with Keisha with the 4c hair, would that make it better?
As a black woman with natural hair who has seen this all before and now has a pretty brown daughter with natural hair, I am offended and saddened. What does this impossible good hair standard mean for my daughter who wears her tightly coiled hair in an Afro puff most days? What do we tell all the little black girls who have kinky, curly and coily hair? Should we tell them their hair isn't good unless it's straightened. Should we tell them the point is to change what they have and adopt another beauty standard? That they have to modify themselves because on their own, what they have isn't good enough? That they should get in formation because blond, long or straight hair is the ultimate hair goal? Well, ya’ll keep getting in formation, while at the same time, rejecting the things that make you beautiful.
I resent the message that "good hair" is better, and that if you don't have it, there's something about you that can be improved upon. We all know what it means and what's implied when the words "good hair" are spoken. It's like colorism, but with hair. Texturism? Could there be such a thing? My daughter has always worn Afro puffs which weren't an issue for her until she started school. After a few weeks, she started coming home and telling me she wanted a "slide" in her hair. I had no clue what she was speaking of and asked her to tell me again. As a 5 year old, she could not express herself properly, so she demonstrated with her hands the action of someone sliding down a slide. "Ooh, a slide, as in straight" I said. Initially I chuckled at the analogy, but then the weight of what she was saying immediately worried me. I thought "oh no, here we go..." I asked her why does she want a slide and she said no one in her class has the same hair she does so she wants her hair to look like theirs. As the weeks progressed it turned into frustration because her classmates were squeezing her puffs, or patting them, then sadness because her new classmates were making fun of her. Finally, she got to the point where she began to hate her hair. She began asking if I could style her hair in new styles, usually styles of little girls that looked nothing like her. She was constantly pausing the TV to show me an example of what she was taking about. All of these styles required me to physically alter her hair with either heat or chemicals and at 5 years old, it just wasn't an option.
My daughter is now 8 and has grown to love her hair with a lot of positive reinforcement and the inclusion of little brown girls with natural hair who look like her on television. Whenever we go out, with pride, she points out other curly girls and that feeling never gets old. The first time my daughter told me she wanted to wear her hair in a twist out, I felt a wave of emotions. I was grateful, thankful and relieved that she accepted herself. I didn't have to worry about her not feeling good enough because of her 4c hair. As a parent, I am relieved that she is no longer questioning her beauty by comparing her hair to others and that she knows there is no extra value in another's hair based on the texture, length or color. My daughter knows that her natural hair requires special care. Twisting and moisturizing at night doesn't deter her and wash day is not a big deal.
With the power to reach and influence an audience of black girls and women, being mindful of the words you speak is a responsibility. Good hair isn't a texture, grade or type. Good hair is healthy hair - hair that is treated well, hair that you are proud of. How can we expect black women and our daughters to embrace their natural hair when we don't change the narrative and continue to use terms like “good hair”?
My daughter has taken the curly girl promise to and I hope other curly, kinky coily girls do too.