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A Google Image search of Blue Ivy, the daughter of Beyonce and Jay-Z, will yield pictures of a young black girl with a head of natural hair. Sometimes her hair is in plaits, other times she sports a mini afro. However, from comment sections of blogs to tweets, people can be seen voicing their disdain for Blue Ivy’s hair. Ever the public first saw pictures of her, there have been remarks made for someone, anyone, to “comb her hair” or “get her hair done.” Words like nappy and unkempt have been thrown around. There are others who state that she looks like a boy.
This is not just a minor attack on a celebrity’s child. This is not just something that is done for jokes and laughs. It is problematic and dangerous. It stops being just about Blue Ivy and starts being about how people are conditioned to reject anything that may present a challenge to the socially acceptable mainstream culture at an early age. It is about the institutions and people who help uphold Eurocentric beauty standards. It is about the people of color who internalize these ideals and project their own self hatred onto themselves and others in their community.
When I think of the attack on identity when it relates to natural hair and children, I am brought back to Beasts of the Southern Wild. During most of the movie, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) has a curly afro that defies conventional expectations of what little black girls should wear as far as hair. In one scene in particular, one of the most haunting frames in the entire movie, Hushpuppy is taken away from her community and is shown with a hairstyle that has been “tamed” and deemed as socially acceptable. Much like Blue Ivy, as a young black girl Hushpuppy’s hair is seen as unruly and unkempt. In a society that rejects otherness, especially as it relates to blackness, young people who fight against this are seen as particularly dangerous. Youth who reject societal ideals, whether it be on their own terms or with assistance from family and/or their community, are seen as structurally damaging oppressive ideological framework. It is why people attack Blue Ivy or other black women and girls who wear their hair natural as nappy or unfeminine. By working to dismantle the idea of what blackness and femininity is, black girls and women are setting the foundation for the present and next generation to define beauty on their own terms.
Communities of color often are blamed for their own internalization as far as oppressive beauty standards. And while accountability needs to happen for people who are complicit in the degradation of others in their own community, it is important to have dialogue on why these standards exist. In a society that rewards social mobility by how well you can assimilate, a rejection of natural hair, especially for young girls, is about making sure youth will have some measure of success in the future. It is why some black parents pay careful attention to the types of names they give their children in order to ensure better job prospects for the future. While self hatred reflects the legacies of imperialism and colonialism, it also reflects the need to adapt to a society that does not reward people who desire to challenge certain ideals about how people should look and act. From the media to the Consumerist Industrial Complex, the market is not flooded with cartoons with characters with natural hair or dolls with afros. While there are women of color actively working to change this image, young girls still do not see a variety of people with hair textures and skin tones that reflect themselves.
All children, especially young black girls, need to be told that they are valued and loved. The politics of natural hair does not revolve around adulthood. It is directly tied to young people and how we recognize the importance and value of culture. A desire to understand and respect the beauty of our experiences and an identity is an intentional process and one that will take work. It is important to make sure that our whole community, youth included, are present in this discussion as well.