Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Not Interested in the Frog Princess

The new New Orleanian Frog Princess is being heralded as Disney’s first black princess. It is significant because Disney’s princess collection has stolen the hearts and minds of little girls all over the planet. In the world of my three year old daughter there are countless little girls awash from head to toe in pink, wearing sparkling patent leather shoes and plastic rhinestone tiaras with matching earrings – all of them in the mold of some version of Snow White or Cinderella. As with most things in American society, the aspirations of little black girls are secondary, if not totally overlooked. In the Disney repertoire, there has been no image for a black girl to aspire. There has been nowhere in this global inescapable Disney princess marketing blanket for her to look for images of beauty that even loosely resemble herself. The legendary consequences of that have been a steady assault on the self image of little black girls. Dr. Kenneth Clark famously demonstrated black children’s preferences for white dolls in the 1940’s. Kiri Davis has painfully reconfirmed those preferences right here at the beginning of the 21st century. Among other things, the onslaught of Snow White and the gang – not to mention Barbie – has caused little black girls to degrade themselves before they can even fully recognize themselves. In light of that, I am not interested in the Frog Princess and her packaged for black beauty. And a princess titled Frog doesn’t sound pretty anyway.

My daughter has the ultimate weapon to protect herself against the debilitating equivalence between white women and beauty – her mother. My wife is not only the perfect countermeasure to the white standard of beauty, she is the complete personification of beauty itself. Without any risk of chauvinism, women’s hair is a multi-billion dollar industry because it is a critical component of women’s sense of beauty. My wife is not constrained by the unwritten rule that says that black women must wear their hair in the closest semblance to white women. Indeed she does not adhere to the broader rule that says that hair is a central element in women’s beauty period. As such she moves gracefully and confidently between the most natural of afros to bald and back without breaking stride. Her hairstyles are just one of countless other qualities that demonstrate her extraordinary personal strength and serve as ammunition for our little girl.

It is the confidence implicit in her rebuke of such an overwhelmingly strong social code that is such a precious gift for our daughter. My wife’s extraordinary comfort and confidence in her own skin signals a smoldering degree of self assurance. She prescribes her own rules for beauty and measures herself against them. That is the weapon. The ability to be governess of her own soul. Beauty is in the eyes of the vessel from which it comes. She has the power to signal to the world that she is beautiful and the world responds accordingly. She is arming our little girl with that special skill. The confidence and courage to make her own rules and be her own judge. These are extraordinarily important qualities for black children and black little girls because there is an endless array of images that either belittle their beauty or dismiss it altogether. Against that weaponry Cinderella and Snow White and Aurora and Ariel are powerless and the Frog Princess is meaningless. I’m not interested in the Frog Princess because my little girl has a secret weapon.

Her mother.

kamau

10 comments:

esk said...

Beautiful!

The Nightshift Chronicler said...

lovely

luvlife0702 said...

beautiful tribute to my girl but dude, once your daughter leaves home she'll only see mama for a minute out of her 24 hour day. and all my soulful neglect of hair maintenance, including two perms in my entire life and less than 10 trips to a hair shop in 40+ years, banning of barbie and not even one trip to Toys R Us (she thinks that's one major criminal ommission from her childhood but i can't stand pink anything and half the store is that bitch with the little waist on her tippy toes), and all the trips to Uganda and Jamaica are not going to prevent the onslaught of online, print and other media content that glorifies long, straight hair. okay, her fave song is "i am not my hair' by sista arie and so me running out the door without a glance at my hair may have had some impact but i aint thinking it's gonna last past 11. if it does, it will be because the world has changed, not because of me. i aint got that kinda power against the entire world.

and let's be clear, jsut because i can't be bothered and my mop has been a mop long before it was cool or even considered beautiful (1988!!), just because a sistah wants straight long hair dont mean she aint about self-love. my sister flows between the bob, the flatiron, the twists and some kind of whatever else and she is another example of soulful sistahness. dont mean her sons wont date a girl with a perm and think it rocks.

i want to emphasize that i want my daughter to feel she has the CHOICE to wear her hair as she wishes and i wont give a shit how she does it. but i will care why. she should have the choice to rock a perm without being judged as wanting to be white. just like white girls ain't trying to be black just because they want curls.
ruth

IK said...

Fuck Disney.

Today Io was in her car seat playing with a big chain (don't ask!). She wanted to put it around her neck to wear as a necklace, but she had gotten one of her little legs into it. So she was frantically pulling and pulling on it so she could get it over her head and onto her neck, but by doing that, she was just pulling it farther and farther up her leg. That struck me as a metaphor for this Disney thing. The Black princess might seem like progress -- the chain is getting closer to the head with every tug. But there's no way that chain's going to actually go over the head because it's just getting more and more stuck with each progressive yank. What we may need, in fact, is for the chain to come all the way *down* the leg -- for us to have some events that seem like the opposite of progress -- in order to free up the chain for its placement on the neck. I don't know exactly what those events should be, but they would have to involve dismantling Disney and this ridiculous princess complex. Either that, or we're going to end up with some little contortion artist kids with their knees up in their necks all tangled up in chains.

luvlife0702 said...

PS...
Disney aint the only one to say hair matters. All over Africa, women (and many men) spend hours upon hours on their hair and long before fake hair came in a bag, they had ways of extending it. so if we want to have cultural continuity, we have to acknowledge that we (black folks) came before them (white folks) and so long hair aint just about them. and every woman got a right to say if her hair or her toenails is how she wants to express herself. cuz i know your wife well enough that if you gave her a whack haircut it WOULD matter. so yeah, it matters. but the glory is in showing your daughter, she got choices. i hope when she rocks the purple dyed mohawk you'll be okay with that LOL

Anita said...

Kamau,

I was proud to see your blog link posted on my HBS classmate's facebook. Let's catch up!

Anita Lynch
anita.lynch@gmail.com

Ebony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ebony said...

Speaking to the significance of natural hair in the African American/Black community. Not to get too off topic, but I recently completed research (summer 2006) related to some of the very issues that you all are raising.

Background: My project was inspired by my own transition to natural hair, in which I recognized a spiritual change, which ultimately changed the way that I was perceived my many of my peers. When sharing some of my insights and reflections with an acquaintance that had recently transitioned, she explained to me that she had only cut her braids out because she liked to swim in the summer. After taking in her comment, I had to challenge my own assumptions around the significance of natural hair to Black women.

I assumed, like many others, that it does speak to a transcendence, one in which you overtly express your rejection of the dominant, white, mainstream standards. However, with my project, I learned that Black women in particular are far more open to multiple standard of beauty, promoting various styles and hair textures. Most importantly I learned that all types of hairstyles are being incorporated into Black appearance standards, so the stratification of not only hairstyling but also hair texture is fading away, to a certain extent. I also learned that natural hair is not as “politicized” and “radicalized” as it once was, and that those who tend to believe that straightened (whether relaxed or pressed) signify a desire to be white (or the complicity in white standards) are growing fewer and fewer.

Again, my research just focused on college-aged Black women, so it is by no stretch of the imagination generalizable. However, I just wanted to share with you all (especially luvlife0702) that we are moving towards the next generation being able to make their hairstyling choices based on individual yearnings as opposed to imposed social meanings.

Thomas said...

insightful as always. gives new meaning to i am not my hair by india aire.

Me said...

Wanna know what this is? A ton of WONDERFUL things to say! It's about time someone wrote something like that. Let me tell you, I don't usually read all the way through things, but I did today!