Patricia Harewood: The Beauty Myth

 

Planet Z’s: EPISODE 17 – The Beauty Myth

Patricia Harewood

Patricia Harewood with twins Zayde and Zindsiwa

 

No one told me that the black girl’s quest for long hair would begin at four years old.

 

 I’m not kidding.

My daughter walks around the house with towels on her head. If she can find a blanket that will look like long hair, she will wear it. She digs into her closet and finds pajama tops, dresses and pantyhose that can serve as a substitute for her kinky hair.

I feel somewhat at a loss. I mean, I went through it. I used to relish going into the bath and coming out with a towel on MY head that I would parade around the house until my Mom would tell me quite sternly to take it off.

I always tell my daughter that she is beautiful. Positive affirmation comes in the form of cornrows from Grandma, Sunday braids from mama, telling her she is beautiful always, that her hair is beautiful, that her stick-up, kink-up, pull-out hair is the bomb.

She just doesn’t believe me. I’m hoping this will change.

I borrowed Althea Prince’s sociological study on Black women’s hair just to remind myself of what I was up against. I remembered Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments in her feminist manifesto about the hours..and hours..and hours her mother spent doing her hair..how she wishes she could have just spent that time doing something fun..like running around. I watch my friends’ teenage daughters as they experiment with braids and more braids and extensions..and more extensions.

This is not a judgement but the white beauty myth is real. My daughter is in a classroom surrounded by white girls with long blonde or brown hair. Very few of them have short hair. Nobody really has black curly curtly hair. And most, if not all, of the images around her at school and in society…in the form of dolls, figurines, lunchbags.. books…celebrate and promote whiteness in our imagination.. enter Frozen, Snow White, Cinderella…Mary Poppins…

And there Zindsiwa is…

What to do?

Toni Morrison is a favourite of mine and Pecola Breedlove, the protagonist of the Bluest Eye literally lives in my psyche.

I remember how she hated herself because she was a black girl and she only played with white dolls. And she really really wanted blue eyes. Okay, there were other issues in her home that made her troubled..like serious sexual abuse, poverty and bullying at school.

Still, Morrison’s comments on the depth of self-hatred in Pecola Breedlove’s world.. earned her a Nobel Prize for Literature. For me, reading Morrison and my no-nonense BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL parents!!! Inspires me to make a conscious effort to have many other images of beauty in my home and world. Black and brown dolls surrounding us, books with magnificent illustrations of black children…lego with black or brown figurines…films with non-white characters…places and spaces to see ourselves.

I look at my beautiful daughter every day. As she traipses around with her off-white towel over her head, I remind her that her hair is black and curly and bountiful and beautiful.

Then, I tell her, gently at first… to take that towel off.

 

For Planet Zees, Parenting ABC’S, this is Pat Harewood.

Planet Zees: Parenting ABC’s is a snapcast (really short podcast) that is aired on CHUO 89.1FM. You can also listen to all episodes at http://planetzeesparenting.libsyn.com.

About the writer

 Patricia Harewood is a labour lawyer and a mother of two toddlers. She works in Ottawa and is a volunteer co-host on “Black on Black” on CHUO 89.1FM. Recently, she launched her snapcast -Planet Zees: Parenting ABC’s – a podcast about her adventures in parenting with a social justice twist!

 

 

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