It’s been years since I watched Whoopi Goldberg’s “long blond hair” segment in her stand up routine, but it’s something I’ve never forgotten. Whoopi plays a young black girl who dreams of being white. She drapes an old white skirt over her head, smoothing it as if stroking her luxurious hair. The character wistfully hopes to become white with long, blond hair so she can appear on The Love Boat.
The implications are clear: beauty is measured by a white world’s standards, and those standards are what you aspire to if you want the American Dream.
While we talk a good game about diversity in American culture – models of all shapes, sizes, and colors; movie roles for minorities; increased visibility for people of color on television – you can’t expect the tide to recede just like that. It took a long time to shape our culture, and it won’t change back overnight.
I shouldn’t be surprised, really. While searching online for hair ideas I was instinctively drawn to long, flowing hair with golden or auburn highlights moving through the curls. These were the pictures I bookmarked for my hairdresser, the examples of how I wanted to look. They were gorgeous. They were also utterly unrealistic.
My hair has never flowed down my back like a glossy waterfall. Ever. Even when I had long hair in college (way before an illness fried it altogether) it was only your average coed coif – hair that reached to the middle of my back but lacked oomph or pizzazz. It was just…brown. And often frizzy.
So it’s no wonder that I, too, am drawn to women with gorgeous hair. Ones who look like they stepped right out of a resort commercial. I can only imagine how much more intense this longing might be for someone of color.
Somebody who already feels marginalized and separate from her peers. Someone subject to the typical doubts about her self-image and how she fits in, but amplified by how different the “ideal” image is from her reality.
Grown women struggle with looking in the mirror and loving who they see; how much are we asking of our young girls when we tell them to do the same?
A lot. We’re asking a lot.