Recently I got into an unexpected discussion with two coworkers. Both are older men, and I get along with them quite well, even though one of them once asked me if I was married, then called me a clotheshorse. That was a little odd.
Anyway, we wound up having a very successful conversation about the politics of black women’s natural hair. One of them had just seen Chris Rock’s documentary, “Good Hair,” and was blown away by the cost of the weaves that some black women get. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve read enough on blogs and about public figures like Gabby Douglas and Viola Davis to have a basic understanding of the conflict.
Documentary Watcher was flabbergasted to learn that the black women he saw so often on TV were not wearing their natural hair. Other Coworker was mostly alarmed by the price, and couldn’t understand why or how anyone could afford to go through something like that. They were both shocked that these women would pay exorbitant amounts for hair treatments that then meant no one could touch their hair, they couldn’t go swimming, etc. (according to the documentary).
I jumped in and explained, as well as I could for a white girl, that there is a stigma attached to natural black hair, and women who don’t opt for weaves or straightening treatments are perceived as unprofessional.
“But my daughter told me some of the white newscasters wear wigs, too,” OC said.
“The current trend is for long, soft waves,” I told him. “Even if their hair doesn’t grow like that, that’s how it’s expected to look.”
The conversation, at that point, ran the risk of mutating into a full debate on women in the media, racism, the Western obsession with female youth, and who knew what else, and we had to get back to work with much that I wanted to say left unsaid. I felt good about what we’d talked about, but also a little overwhelmed by how much more could have been explained. And I realized at that point, once again, that many of the truths I take for granted, and that I try to express in this blog, still need to be reiterated.
So here they are:
Women are held to an unreasonable physical standard. Tina Fey sums it up well: “Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.”
Women are expected to be visually pleasing to the male gaze. Women obsess over their weight, how they look in clothes, how their makeup looks, and how their hair falls in order to fit into this particular standard.
We don’t need to.
We are more than our weight on the scale. We’re more than our hair. We’re more than what we wear. We’re more than how we look, period.
People make judgments and assumptions based on appearances, though, and how we dress and adorn ourselves conveys a message whether we want it to or not.
If we want to get to a place where Viola Davis or Esperanza Spaulding or Michelle Obama can wear her hair however she wants without everyone making a fuss –
If we want reporters to ask talented women like Jennifer Lawrence about her work instead of her dress, and if we want misogynist crap like Seth MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” song to never happen again –
If we want to see female news anchors age and soften just like their male counterparts , instead of being swapped out for the younger, thinner model –
If we want to see models of all shapes and sizes, representative of more, real, women, in the media we consume –
If we want our beloved friends and sisters to finally feel worthy and not condemned by a media machine that doesn’t acknowledge them, we need to demand it.
We need to speak out when we hear insults. We need to educate when we hear questions. We need to speak up against racism and sexism, no matter how unpopular it is. We who come from a place of privilege have a responsibility to speak for those who don’t, and those who might be underprivileged need to speak for themselves as well. As women, as people, let’s help each other remember these truths, and spread them to those who haven’t heard.