I have made it very clear to my daughters that I don’t want them wearing weaves. I have also told them that I would be very disappointed if I ever new they had bleached their skin and would take it as an insult to me and their mother, my wife. There is a running joke in my house that any weave crossing the threshold will be swiftly removed and thrown on to the street to independently find some other head to inhabit. For those asking, that includes lace front weaves.
Some may be surprised that some one who holds pro feminist views would have such an opinion. We all have an Achilles heel.
On a serious note though as a Dad to teen and pre teen girls I realise I have a strong role in helping to shape their identity and self esteem. In a society that is bombarded with repeated images and media of what a young lady should look like the battle is always upstream and without a doubt image is one of the pillars that shape self esteem.
As a youth worker I often subconsciously slip into a father figure role for many of the young people I work with. We have had conversations about what beauty is. The amount of girls who I have spoken to who want to be skinnier, to have the perfect tan or pale skin, flat stomachs and thigh gaps. Notions of beauty you can see posted over their social media when we are not talking idolising entertainers who they often don’t realise have gone through extraordinary lengths and sometimes surgery to get there.
With my own daughters the subtext changes quite a bit. The majority of notions of beauty tend to be dominated by a Caucasian archetype in the media. Afrocentric, South Asian, Middle Eastern don’t tend to get as much play and even when they do they tend to be the darker skinned versions of the same body type. Yes the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian or Alex Wek are exceptions to such a rule but even so the emphasis is, especially with the former too, on their derriere. It is by no coincidence that my social media, especially my Tumblr is dominated by a variety of skin tones, morphs and hair styles of women of African descent.
The other day my eldest remarked that the sister of one of her classmates had come into the girls house in her school. This six year old had remarked to a group of girls that all the pretty ones were those who had blond hair. She remarked to my daughter that she was not pretty because her hair was black and then commented a second time that because her skin was dark she was not a princess. What the deuce? My daughter had to tell me my mouth was open and to close it.
Last year my youngest was also in a discussion with friends in her primary school about beauty. They had been commenting about long straight hair. My youngest told me she had to school them that her Dad calls her a princess on the basis of her inner beauty and equally on the fact that she had beautiful chocolate skin and naturally curly hair that she could style and present in a number of styles. Some were quite taken aback by this, but hey I least I know my parental training has worked.
It did make me think of the wider idea of beauty for girls, and particularly for my girls, dark skinned girls. Many of the most celebrated women of colour in the public eye fit a particular image. They are thin, straight nosed, usually rocking longer than natural hair and in the case of many musicians have adjusted skin tones. Whether one agrees or not with the online discussions the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj (we’ll leave poor Lil Kim out of this one) have had some serious skin and hair lightening treatment. Jennifer Hudson and Marshia Ambrosisus are examples of singers who have had dramatic weight losses once they hit the spotlight. Fashion coincidence or carefully manipulated imagery? This is why I will constantly remind them of Erykah Badu, India Arie, Jill Scott and Ledisi. That black beauty, nay all beauty, comes in all shapes and sizes. This is probably one of the reasons I like Adele so much and also probably why I jumped all over pictures of Thandie Newton and Naomi Harris when they rocked a frizzy hairdo.
On a professional level they will also see in my network a number of incredibly powerful business owners and leaders across all racial groups. I make it my duty to introduce them also to the bald women, short cropped, braided and natural professionals too. I dislike the notion that one model of beauty is acceptable. I also dislike the notion that women of colour need to spend millions of British pounds on hair and accessories that will make them look well, less African. It is a delicate balancing act. Whilst my daughters would have been empowered by both me and my wife about what makes them our princesses I know that the wider world will also have a massive impact on them and their esteem.
They have no desire to be like the unrealistic images they see on magazines their friends read, or so they tell me. They know I don’t want them swinging a hair type more associated with a young Vietnamese or Indian girl. They are proud of the body shape that has occurred as the result of our African lineage. We have also had some deep and meaningful about the psychology behind those who wish to lighten their skin through bleaching or surgery.
I know that they have to make choices for themselves, but while they are under my charge, I hope I have enough influence to last until they are older that they can shape their own models of beauty rather than conforming to the ones the wider culture seems to have rather successfully imposed on some of their peers.
To my daughters. You are beautiful just the way you are and I love you.