Friday, February 19, 2016
Reviewing While White: Braids & Buns, Ponies & Pigtails; 50 Hairstyles "Every Girl" Will Love
Don't be fooled by the smiling East Asian girl on the cover of Braids & Buns, Ponies & Pigtails by Jenny Strebe (Chronicle, 2016). This guide to hairstyles for "every girl" firmly centers Whiteness.
By page 13, I found 9 tips to help "minimize frizz" and make hair more "smooth" and "silky". Strangely, though, when I perused the "Tools" section (p. 8-10), I saw that Strebe recommends curling irons and silk pillowcases, but not the hot combs, straightening irons, and oil/grease that much of the population would need to pull off these styles (including me--I'd need a bathtub of keratin).
By this time, I'd committed, so I spent a good chunk of tonight doing tallies (it's OK, I was listening to Hamilton the whole time). Here's what I found:
107 photos of girls who present White
14 photos of girls who present Black
22 photos of girls who present East Asian
4 photos of girls who present South Asian
I'm using "present" deliberately above, as I recognize that I cannot know how a person racially identifies merely by looking at them.
For each hairstyle, the book provides information on the "Difficulty Level", "Ideal Hair", and "Accessories". "Ideal hair" indicates what texture hair works best for the style, and includes terms like "straight" and "wavy". Here's how many times the book describes the following hair textures as "Ideal":
Straight - 3
Straight to Wavy - 24
Silky - 1
Wavy to Curly - 10
Wavy - 1
Curly - 2
Straight to Curly - 2
Afro texture to medium coarseness - 1
Thick and curly texture - 1
Wavy to frizzy - 1
This book promotes itself as a resource for "Every Girl" (in the subtitle). This book features "Braids" as the very first word (of the title). Yet, nowhere will you find braids or cornrows on Black girls (the closest is a Black girl wearing "ropebraid pigtails").
I guess they didn't mean "those kinds of braids."
What of the Black girl with tightly curly hair who happens upon this book, reads the title and the subtitle, then flips through it to find that nearly three-fourths of the pictures are of White girls, that more than half of the styles describe "Ideal Hair" as "straight" or "straight to wavy", and that not a single image of Black braids or cornrows is to be found? What messages is this sending her?
I think the message "straight, smooth hair is ideal" is definitely there, but that's only half the problem.
The other half is a tougher nut to crack, and it goes like this: "Black girls, we're going to Other you, and we will never, ever acknowledge that we're Othering you. You're just not Every Girl."
Sure makes me grateful for books like Hair Dance! (by Dinah Johnson, with photos by Kelly Johnson, Henry Holt & Co, 2007) and Puffy: For People Whose Hair Defies Gravity (by Aya de León, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013). More like this, please (and feel free to leave more suggestions in the comments).