Media reinforces unattainable beauty ideals for Black women

You are wildly respected and appreciated amongst society for breaking the stereotypes of the media with your new TV show, “How to Get Away with Murder.” In the show, actress Viola Davis plays the role of a powerful Black woman named Annalise Keating, a lawyer whose strength is exercised through her leadership and dominance. Her knowledge puts her above her field; she constantly works to win her cases, no matter what measures it takes. Overall, Davis plays a powerful role that encourages important roles for Black women in media.

However, in this drama series Keating is constantly faced with crisis and cannot always maintain her strength. When in distress, Keating is shown stripped of her armor, this being her wig. When defending her glory in court, Keating glows with silk pin-straight locks cutting below her ears, While in her most helpless moments, Keating is found in her robe with a scalp surrounded by short kinks.

To symbolize her vulnerability, her straight pixie-cut wig is removed, revealing her natural hair. Keating flips between her real self and this facade throughout the show. When depicted as a strong Black character, her hair is only worn hidden behind straight locks. But when faced with crisis, her hair is worn in its natural state to emphasize her weakness.

What precedent does symbolizing natural hair as a sign of weakness set for Black girls?

This precedent is not new to media. The societal norms surrounding what defines physical beauty have set unattainable bars for men and women to reach for decades. In particular, the desired look is to have pin straight hair. The Hollywood ideal has always been glossy, sleek and straight hair. Except, this hair type is only found in the smallest percentages of women, which makes women not a part of this minority subject to the pressure surrounding this ideal look.

And here’s where the problem lies: the pressure around meeting societal expectations comes directly from media: it sets unreachable bars for girls to achieve if they wish to be desirable. We are constantly bombarded with varied forms of media showing women strutting different variations of straight locks. This reinforced societal ideal only shames women who cannot naturally achieve straight hair and pushes for them to attain it in damaging ways, especially when it comes to Black women. This lack of support for natural hair for Black women reinforces the insecurities that can come from curly hair.

We are all programmed from the beginning to believe certain attributes are stronger than others and that we all should strive to be the same version of beautiful. Shonda Rhimes has made waves in media; however, nothing can get done until we prove that Black women in the media can be more than strong, but naturally beautiful too.