Monday, December 22, 2008

Colonization all over your face...and hair

Be sure to stop by Racialicious to explore the blog's series: What We Do To Ourselves/What We Do To Each Other. In recent weeks, the site has hosted some really provocative discussions about how mainstream beauty standards tyrannize people of color.
On the "what we do to ourselves" side, I contributed an updated version of an essay on natural hair that originally appeared on What Tami Said:

Going natural was one of the best things I have done. And while I respect the right for all women to make decisions about their appearance and personal care, no one proselytizes like the converted. Now that I have had my follicular epiphany, It dismays me that most black women choose to obsessively hide their true nature from the cradle to the grave. Earlier this year, a fellow blogger very smartly observed that black women may be the only race of women who live their whole lives never knowing what their real hair looks and feels like. Think about that.

And think about the many things that some black women deny themselves to keep their hair fried, dyed and laid to the side. We will avoid working out, vigorous sex and a good night's sleep. We will devote entire Saturdays to the hair salon and spend our last dime to ensure roots are touched up every six weeks. We will weave "better" hair from women of other races into our hair. Few of us can even successfully care for our natural hair, as much of what we've been taught involves minimizing our hair's natural qualities, not working with them.

You may say "it's just hair" or merely "preference." But surely it means something when the vast majority of women of a certain race "prefer" to mask physical characteristics associated with their ethnicity. The doll test, oft-mentioned in anti-racist circles, revealed black children's preference for white dolls with European features. There is a clue here. Societal norms don't stop influencing us just because we're too old to play with dolls. It pays to examine your preferences. Read more...

Latoya Petersen, editor at Racialicious and a new nappy, wrote a wonderful companion post about the challenges black women face when they reject straightening their hair:

Today, I've been relaxer free for more than a year. My hair is fully natural - I cut out the last of the chemically straightened hair six months ago and haven't really looked back. I love my hair now, love everything it does, how it looks, all that.

But it occurs to me that this was strange journey for me. Navigating transitioning my hair out was never really about my hair - it was about notions of societal influence, beauty, intra-group standards, cultural conditioning, and asserting my own personality. It was about my hair as a political battleground - where people read the pattern of my stands like tea leaves, trying to divine my personality and political views. It was about everything except what I actually wanted to do - which was stop relaxing my hair and wear a new style.

While I scoured all the pro-natural sites on the net for advice, all I learned were new styles. No one told me how to cope with the transition itself. Everyone cuts to the happy - "You'll love yourself! You're free from chemicals!" speech, but no one really talks about how tough that road is to walk. So, let's look at a few of the things we tend to gloss over when we talk about natural hair. Read more...

And today, contributor Lisa Leong tackles the pressure that Asian-American women face to change their eyes, nose and skin color for a more Western look:
"That's colonialism all over your face!"

The quote is from one of my favorite Asian American Studies professors on eyelid surgery, nose bridge implants, and any other kind of cosmetic surgery that transforms Asians physical features into more Caucasian ones. She meant that there is one standard of beauty—the Western one—that gets imprinted on our faces, our bodies, and our senses of self. Read more...




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