By Yuwa Edomwande, age 17
This phenomenon of criticizing black girls for wearing their hair naturally contrasts with the lesson teenagers are currently being taught: Be yourself. When we, especially minority teens, take steps to embrace our natural beauty, we should be applauding one another, not tearing each other down.
Vanessa Vandyke's recent problem with her Orlando, Fla., private school over her long afro-styled hair is, unfortunately, not the first incidence of its kind. Until an abrupt policy change late last week, the 12-year-old faced expulsion if she did not change her hair to be less of a "distraction." Looking at her photo online, I don't see anything wrong with her. I actually find her hair to be quite beautiful.
I've seen people comment harshly about the hair of Blue Ivy, Beyonce and Jay-Z's daughter. Negativity has also been directed to 8-year-old Oklahoma girl Tiana Parker two months ago and even to Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas last year. I've seen girls do this to one another regardless of the "be yourself" mantra being drilled into us.
As teenagers trying to figure out who we are, we naturally experiment with different ways to express ourselves. To be forced to manipulate our hair in a way that doesn't represent us just isn't fair. As an African-American 17-year-old, I wish I saw more variety in the way we express beauty. Not only do see a disproportionately lesser number of black women on TV or magazines, when I do see them, they all have the same European-style hair weave.
I don't have a problem with women who choose to wear the long and silky look. I have a problem with the fact that this style has become the standard. As 2013 comes to a close, it's clear we are more connected than ever on a global scale. You would think we would be a tad bit more accepting of people who look a little different than us. There's a problem when girls who wear dreadlocks, afros or braids are considered a distraction. It implies that hair textures and styling that is not European-inspired aren't presentable.
At Vanessa's school, Faith Christian Academy, guidelines stated that hair has to be natural -- and for Vanessa, it is. As one commenter pointed out, to ask her to change it would make her hair unnatural. Associating natural hair with wildness is not a new concept within the black community. A girl with long, shiny weave will look down on another girl with cornrows for looking "ratchet." Meanwhile the same girl with cornrows will look down at the other girl for being fake, and she might even make up some generalizations about her being high maintenance. The current standard of beauty has fostered a self-hatred within our own communities that continues to threaten the self-esteem of young men and women.