In class, we watched “A Girl Like Me” as an example of youth media. The piece analyzed beauty standards for black women by illustrating children who did not find their black hair beautiful. This reminded me of a documentary I saw earlier this year by Chris Rock called Good Hair. You can watch the trailer here.
Chris Rock was inspired into researching the Weave Industry and Black Beauty Standards when his daughter came up to him saying that her hair was ugly and she wanted different hair. The documentary looks into unattainable beauty standards for black women and the “white washing” of images of black women in popular media. Dominant forces in society tell black women that their skin color and hair are ugly and then use that as a marketing tool to sell products like hair straighteners, weaves, hair products, make up, and skin lightening cream.
The Weave Industry makes around $9 billion dollars a year and a weave can cost up to $5,000. Hair for weaves is India’s number one export because of its large contributions to the weave industry. Black women are conditioned to hate their hair and praise weaved and straightened hair. There are many personal accounts of this in the documentary, one story that particularly stood out to me, was one of a working class women who spent $500 a week to get her hair treated because she treasured her straight hair that much. That cost $2,000 a month and was most of her paycheck. When asked about this, she said she doesn’t regret this spending and finds her straight hair an essential part to her identity. This raises important questions in terms of the amount of internalized oppression happening to Black women and the forced economic spending done so black women can feel as though they fit in. Capitalizing off oppression is not a new topic; look at the Prison Industrial Complex and War on Drugs.
“A Girl Like Me” is a perfect example of youth media addressing media for and by marginalized communities. The media maker in this situation talks about issues that are important to her and that effect her and her community, which is incredibly powerful in shifting the conversation. Like Goodwin states “[the observations and insights of these youth] can serve to challenge adult perceptions of teens as hostile and threatening and also bring diversity to the voices informing public policy,” (Goodwin, Teaching Youth Media, Chapter 1, pp.30). This media can also be powerful in educating people in positions of power what’s happening so they can get involved in taking action.