Author: Dr. LaShawnda Lindsay-Dennis
Blue Ivy, the daughter of hip-hop power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z, has received a lot of negative attention on media outlets over the last year. The majority of the uproar and attention has focused on Blue Ivy’s “unkempt” hair. About three months ago, over 5,000 people supported an online petition calling for Beyoncé and Jay-Z to comb Blue Ivy’s hair. The petition states,
In July, the guest host, Karrueche Tran, on BET’s 106 and Park made a negative remark about Blue Ivy after she appeared on the MTV’s Video Music Awards show with her parents. Tran said, “I really did wake up like this because my parents never comb my hair.” The airing of this commentary resulted in the suspension of a BET producer. Just recently, pictures of Blue Ivy sporting an Afro flooded Facebook. While many people criticize Blue’s parents for allowing their daughter to wear her hair in its natural state; others commend Bey and Jay on their willingness to embrace little Blue Ivy’s natural hair.
The attention on and support of the Blue Ivy’s hair petition has raised many questions in my mind. Why are people concerned about her hair? What message does this send to Blue Ivy and other little black girls? How will these messages impact the self-esteem of young girls as they evolve into Black women? Each of these questions that emerged stemmed from my own personal hair dilemmas and experiences in psychology and counseling.
The politics of hair within African American communities is not a new issue. Black women and girls’ hair texture and preferred hairstyle have been under attack for many centuries. Mothers are judged by the upkeep of their daughter’s hair. As the case with Beyoncé, the lack of acceptable care of her daughter’s hair has been overwhelmingly viewed as poor parenting and translated as a lack of love and care for the actual child. This perceived lack of caring is believed to result in poor mother-daughter relationships and damaged self-esteem for girls.
Psychological studies have reported that African American girls and young women’s sense of self is directly related to the messages that they receive from their families and members of their communities. More specifically, negative messages about a young girl’s hair can negatively impact how she feels about herself. Feelings about one’s self are often based on the feedback that she receives from her family, friends, associates, and the media. Usage of negative words such as nappy headed, bad hair, and bald-headed can result in feelings of inadequacy, negative feelings about one’s physical appearance and overall value to others. As a result, many of us internalize messages about the care of and style of our hair as a measure of our physical attractiveness and a critical aspect of our self-esteem. The message that we receive about our hair has a positive and negative impact on our self-esteem. For instance, reflect on your feelings about your hair. Can you recall your earliest memory about your hair? When your mother and/or caregiver groomed your hair, what did she say to you doing this process? How did you feel after getting your hair “done”?
The earliest memory revolving around my hair was being hoisted over the kitchen, bent over while my mother washed my hair. While I don’t recall the exact moment in time, my age, or any other specific details, I do remember the feelings of discomfort from the awkward positioning over the kitchen sink. I remember my mother ignoring my cries in order to get the task done. Other significant memories involve sitting on a milk crate in my Aunt’s kitchen as she straightened my hair with the sizzling hot comb. I can vividly recall the heat of the comb, the crackling sound of the melting grease, and the pain from the fiery hot comb on my ears when I didn’t sit still. Although I didn’t like getting my hair washed and pressed, I loved how I looked when the process was finished. The attention that I received from my family and friends was worth it all.
These experiences taught me very important lessons about the importance of hair grooming and established a connection between my hair and self-esteem. I learned several important lessons: 1) hair grooming is often an integral part of life, 2) hair can be a source of pride and pain, and 3) the ends (the grooming process) justify the means (finished “look”). As an adult woman that made a conscious choice to “be natural” and later decided to allow my hair to “loc”, these lessons and experiences have been reinforced throughout life and have significant impact on my feelings about my hair and my overall self-esteem.
My hope is to create a spaces where Black girls and women can deconstruct the negative connotations attached to our hair, deal with the pain it has caused, and develop a sense of self and pride that is independent of how one chooses to wear their hair. This hope has inspired me to devote my intellectual life and creative energies to enhancing the lives of Black women and girls. By launching Black Girls Matter, Inc., a non-profit organization, I have designated a space and platform for shedding light on the social determinants, racial injustices, and cultural biases that burden the progression and viability of Black girls. Through advocacy, mentorship, and program development, Black Girls Matter, Incorporated (www.blackgirlsmatter.com) focuses not only on issues, but also on solutions. My creative spirit and desire to increase the availability of handcrafted accessories that reflect the natural beauty of Black women and girls lead me to establish Ananse Design Essentials, LLC, an accessory company. As the creator of Ananse Design Essentials’ (www.anansedesignessentials.com) jewelry and accessories, I am able to impact the daily life of Black girls and woman by enhancing their natural beauty. For example, the Sista Collection is a line of hand-painted, earrings and accessories that provides Black women and girls an opportunity to wear earrings that are reflections of themselves.