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  • May 6, 2011

Sesame Street Helps Women Love Their Hair

by Andrés T. Tapia

She’s a little brown Muppet in a pink dress with a big message. “Don’t need a trip to the beauty shop, ‘cause I love what I got on top. It’s curly and it’s brown and its right up there!…You know what I love? That’s right, my hair!” she belts out while bouncing about and dancing. Check it out here.

 

And with that uplifting message backed by a torrent of women sharing it across the Internet, this Sesame Street puppet has cut right to core of issues surrounding self-identity, self-esteem, and self acceptance. For many African American women, it’s a message that’s both affirming and empowering. But it hasn’t always been that way. I spoke with several African American women, who had viewed the video. “Why didn’t we have this when I was growing up?” asked Loren Simmons, an executive at the YWCA Metro Chicago who wears dread locks, which are also called locs. “The video made me feel good and it’s about time we celebrate our hair,” she said.

Most of the time, mainstream culture does not celebrate the natural state of African American hair and many black women bear the brunt of that disdain. “While hair for black women could be their crowing glory, for some, depending on the family they grow up in and the self esteem they have, it can be such a sad and sore spot in people’s lives,” said Dr. Philipia Hillman, a consultant in Washington D.C. who also wears locs.

The common standard of beauty says to be considered beautiful, a woman’s crowing glory has to be long, straight, bouncy and…blond. The exact opposite of what most African American hair looks like. Yet even black women who have tresses that come close to that description can experience their own issues around the subject. Kimberly Crooms, a communications consultant whose hair is naturally straight, remembers, “Growing up there were always lots of comments about my hair.” The downside to that admiration, according to Crooms, was that others were more attached to her hair than she was. “When I cut my hair, which I’ve done many times, the people around me would just have fits. They felt that my hair belonged to them,” she said.

That mainstream cultural message continues to affect some young girls and their families. You can spot its impact when two little African American girls ask their Dads why they don’t have long, silky, and straight hair.

The fathers’ responses? If you’re Joey Mazzarino, head writer for Sesame Street, co-author of the song “I Love My Hair” and father of Segi who was born in Ethiopia, then you create a Muppet and write a song that celebrates your daughter’s hair. And if you’re actor/comedian Chris Rock, you produce a documentary, “Good Hair,” that takes a look at the multi-billion-dollar hair care industry to find answers for your daughter, Lola.

What both efforts discovered is how strong cultural messages are. And cultural messages, like those reflected by the hair care industry, are big business. While this singing Muppet has touched many with her message, she has also helped to accelerate cultural change. And maybe, just maybe,  broadend the definition of beauty.

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