My daughter wants long hair like Elsa, and like the Frozen queen, I’ve had to let it go. It’s not a fight that I care about or have energy for. I will buy her a blond wig and a blue dress and call it a day while she builds imaginary snowmen in the living room and sings the songs I’ve come to love.
Blond hair isn’t our enemy. The popularity of this mark of sunlight deficiency is a testament to the absurdity and phoniness of beauty, so I’m actually grateful for it. Like Toni Morrison, I believe that beauty is best understood as something that is “put on” according to one’s culture. Growing up in Louisville, KY, beauty was a meticulously crafted roller wrap. It was hours pushing hair around plastic rollers and sitting under a hood of compressed air. It was Isoplus hairspray and a stiff brush. Beauty was also a dark brown lip liner with clear gloss. It was available to most and it was the effort that garnered compliments because there was nothing “natural” about a roller wrap. It was (and still is) a production.
One problem with beauty is that it is understood as natural. There are always people who won’t have, by nature, the ingredients for their culture’s beauty ideal: skin color, hair texture, facial symmetry, body type, height…The trick of any beauty industry is to make the subjective (beauty) seem like an objective truth. Then access to that truth can be sold, bought, and pined for. But there comes a point when the attainment of “natural” beauty slips over into the absurd and the whole nature of beast is exposed.
Take violet eyes, for example. When Clueless came out and Stacey Dash’s clear-faced, light eyes seemed like unattainable beauty. Although there were a few rumors about the “pretty light-skinned girl” in high school whose blue eyes weren’t real, we usually just worshipped or dissed her from the sidelines while she was fielding prom requests. Fast forward one year and blue contacts are sold behind the cash register at the hair store. Attainable “beauty” becomes absurd and blue contacts are listed in Hype Hair’s “Fashion No No’s” section.
Long hair is the new frontier of the attainable/ absurd and I’m grateful. Its reign over Black girls lasted far too long. Too many girls’ long pontytails were cut off and too many girls lived in shame for not having hair that grew past their ears. But now, the Kim Kardashian-esque, barrel-curled style is available to anyone with access to a hair store and at relative degrees of expense. The lace front wig is the short-haired Black girl’s “AND what???” heard around the world. In a couple years, when traction alopecia has hurt us as much as the perm burn, we’ll find a way to move toward the beauty industry’s next edge.
One of the beautiful inconveniences of parenting is being forced to re-evaluate stances that have become second-nature. Before my daughter, I might have argued that long weave and blue contacts were a symptom of self-hatred, the loathing of Blackness, whatever that may be. Although my argument would be more nuanced than that, it would miss the “and what???”-ness of Black girl style that I’ve now come to appreciate. Show us the unattainable and we’ll get it until getting it goes out of style. When I tell my daughter that her hair won’t naturally go long and blond without a lot of manipulation inappropriate for three year-olds, she will not want blond hair any less. In fact, she’ll want it more if I tell her that it’s something she just can’t have. I have faith that this, like her fascination with Elmo, is a thing that will pass if I don’t make a big deal about it. So I’m buying her a child-sized, platinum blond Frozen wig. And what?
Asha French is a writer and mother living in Atlanta. Tweet her: @afrenchwriter
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