First, let me tell you a story. The elementary school I went to 1st - 4th grades was something like 90% black. So, obviously, that was the culture that dominated everything. The common hairstyle--and I don't see it too much anymore--was braids and beads. Often cornrows with three or four pony beads at the bottom. And man, when I was a little girl I thought that was the neatest thing ever. I was so jealous. I wanted that hairdo, but I never saw white kids with their hair like that, so I didn't know if it was okay for me, and I don't think I ever asked for it, but I loved it. And the fat pigtails with the little plastic barrettes on the end. Loved that too.
Then I got older and more exposed to the world and realized that what I experienced as an elementary school kid was pretty much the inverse of the way it usually is. White people set the standards of beauty in this country. I don't think I'll ever understand why that is, at this point in our collective history, but it hasn't gotten better. It's so ingrained in society that most people don't even notice it. I had this conversation my Freshman year, in English class, during classroom discussion of an excerpt from Malcolm X's autobiography titled "My First Conk," wherein the activist described undergoing a hair treatment--one which included lye and apparently quite often led to chemical burns--in order to get "good" hair. And I made the statement that I find it ridiculous that black people are still held to white standards, and used Beyoncè as an example. The one male in my group was completely confused. "But she's beautiful!" Perhaps, perhaps. But black women don't normally have long, straight, blonde hair. (On a side note, this is also why I found Hannah Montana deeply disturbing, and also the long blonde branded wigs they used to sell.)
So anyway, we have this whole ingrained thing where typical ethnic hair is considered bad and white-seeming hair is considered good. And then we hit upon this story last year wherein a Sesame Street writer wrote a song for his nappy-haired daughter called "I Love My Hair", and that was a song about, well, just what it seems. And it was an absolute sensation because it carried a positive message that really is not that common, even today:
The video hasn't struck a chord only with little girls, but grown African-American women as well.
ABC News found hundreds of responses on the Internet like this: "I wish 'Sesame Street' would've had this segment about 18-19 years ago because my mother and I surely needed to see this message."
Another woman wrote online, "My daughter loves this video. ... I could see her eyes light up as she began to sing along with a little girl with hair like hers.
And that is why I find this Forever 21 piece so disturbing:
(Oh, also, please note that they lightened the "skin" of the Muppet too.)