A few years ago, we asked three women to stand in Union Square in New York City, each holding a sign that said “You Can Touch My Hair.” I remember thinking that no one was going to participate or even ‘show up.’ But a national and international conversation ended up happening as a result of the public art exhibit, as we called it. One of the sound bites from that conversation that really stuck with me was image activist Michaela Angela Davis saying (in the short film we made about You Can Touch My Hair) that most of us have started off wrong. Usually, Black women, at a very young age learn how to ‘tame’ their hair; they learn how to change it and turn it into something that it’s not. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in recent years I found myself thinking how weird it was that after decades, I didn’t actually know what my real hair texture was like; I didn’t know how to take care of it; and I didn’t really know its potential.
How Can We Start Off Right?
Cut to four years later, with my own perception of my hair evolving, I asked myself: how can we start off right? It’s safe to say that throughout history we’ve often been subjected to beauty standards, having no control over what is considered pretty. What would it look like if we were in the driver’s seat? If we were the ones defining beauty standards? If someone gave you a blank slate and said, ‘you’re the boss; you can determine what is pretty,’ what would you say? How would you define it?If someone gave you the power to define pretty, how would you define it? Click To Tweet
For me, when it comes to what type of hair is considered pretty, I know now, for sure, that I’d make the definition quite broad. For Black women, I’d eliminate the ‘starting off wrong’ part of our experience. Not because everyone needs to wear their hair in its natural state, but mainly so that we’re not suppressing something without giving it a chance. I’ve long been a proponent of self-fashioning, and the freedom of expressing yourself however you want with your appearance. But I’ve also learned, through conversations with Black women around the world, that beauty should always be questioned. It’s not a static, consumable finite thing; it’s an experience. It’s an exploration of what you like, what makes you happy and how you feel like expressing that. So, if we’re starting off by already thinking a part of us isn’t beautiful, we’re cutting that exploration short, and limiting our own possibilities.
In the past, thinking about changing things, or doing something as grandiose as redefining beauty standards might have seemed impossible, or at least something really hard to do. But, as most people are likely aware, we’re living in a pretty cool moment in time right now. The traditional gatekeepers of beauty have been let go, the structures that put some people on a pedestal and left others out are being dismantled. The Internet has made it easier than ever to get our messages across, our voices heard, our images seen. So when I ask, ‘If you can set beauty standards, how would you define them?’ It’s not a rhetorical question. Because it’s something that we can actually do, which is why we’ve launched #Hairties.
Knowing that in addition to the media, beauty standards have been set by the messages that moms, sisters, friends, stylists handed down to us, #Hairties is a message from this generation to the next that’s setting out to shape what women today and those who come after us consider beautiful as it relates to their hair. It’s a collective trip down memory lane that follows six women across, three generations and three continents, and the people that influenced how they view and do their hair. I see it as one big family album that documents where we’ve been and sets the stage for where we’re going. And because six women can in no way capture everything that we may want the next generation to know, we’re asking as many people as possible to add their voice to #Hairties for the seventh video in the series and our pop-up exhibit in New York City. So, think about it and add your voice. What message will you send to the next generation?