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(Elaine Vilorio)– The ideal woman, as portrayed by our media, has straight hair and a light skin tone. Unsurprisingly, this beauty standard is hardest to achieve among non-white women, particularly African American and black Hispanic women. But, if they want to be generally accepted as beautiful, these women must become whitewashed. We don’t question how they become whitewashed. We don’t think about the pains they have to go through to achieve the celebrated look. And, quite honestly, they don’t want society to think about those pains. The conventional female appearance is supposed to be effortless. But, women invest a lot of time and a lot of money to fit our society’s standard of beauty. And because the standard of beauty is inherently white and effortless, it is particularly difficult for black women to hide how they attain it.
Considering the mirage of ideal beauty, the reactions elicited by Rihanna’s most recent hairstyle are unsurprising, but significant. Usually, I don’t care for the coverage of a celebrity’s appearance. The analysis of what’s in and what’s not usually bores me, which is why I was initially hesitant to learn about this latest “fashion scandal.” But word was floating around that Rihanna had worn a “tubi.” A tubi? No way. I hadn’t watched Sunday’s American Music Awards, the setting of Rihanna’s alleged hair fail, so I did some googling. Lo and behold: the girl had actually done it.
The AMA audience was beside itself; apparently, upon Rihanna’s debut onto the red carpet, “Did Rihanna” was trending on Twitter. White people were confused. African Americans and Hispanics were either proud or outraged. To the amusement of many, Glamour magazine called Rihanna’s hair a “faux pixie crop” on its site. Then, in order to save face, it changed the wording to a “sleek and chic hairstyle.”
In order to understand why Rihanna’s hairstyle matters, I feel obliged to define what a tubi is. I grew up wearing a tubi. More importantly, I grew up knowing that, for the sake of propriety, a young lady never wears a tubi in public. Although it’s prevalent in Hispanic culture as a whole, the tubi is more popularly known in the spheres of Dominican hair salons. In African American salons, the tubi is known as a doobie or a doobie wrap. It’s viewed as a maintenance procedure in the beautification process, not a hairstyle. Women spend hours in the salon to do (a/k/a straighten) their hair, especially women who perm their naturally kinky hair. In order to ensure that “salon finish” every day, these ladies go to sleep with a tubi. One wraps their hair around their head with bobby pins to ensure a non-frizzy straightness the next day. People aren’t supposed to really talk about the tubi. It betrays the beauty standard. It says, “My hair isn’t naturally this way.” It says, “I go to great lengths to make my hair look this way.” And this is where some African American and Hispanic folk sowed their rage.
An article from Latin Times concluded the following:
“Going outside with a ‘doobie’ is like submitting yourself to a world of shame. Women’s beauty secrets are kept in the privacy of hair salons, and you wouldn’t want your significant other to see you halfway through the beautification process. It’s just unacceptable. So please, although Rihanna rocked the ‘doobie’ (it pains me to admit it) please don’t make it into a mainstream trend.”
And, although it talks about the positive implications of Rihanna’s hair toward its end, a post on Salon.com notes:
“…when Rihanna showed up at the AMAs rocking [a doobie], but adorned with fancy bejeweled bobby pins, I registered it immediately as ratchetness. Ratchet, because it wreaks [sic] of impropriety, and rejects the unstated rules of black women’s hair.”
To many, Rihanna’s hair was a betrayal. It was registered as shameful and “rachet.” Anything other than the final product — specifically flowing, straight hair — is sloppy.
Let me establish that Rihanna’s hair wasn’t a disgrace to black women. Far from that, it challenged the standard of beauty imposed upon them. It pushed the borders of the beauty standard. It expressed that women, and black women at that, could look however they want to look. It expressed that you don’t have to go through great lengths to look good, to fit a mold. It expressed a rebuttal to the two facets of the beauty standard, those of effortlessness and whiteness. First, it told women that they don’t have to pretend to have effortless beauty. They have effortless beauty; it can be as simple as a hairstyle that doesn’t take hours to do. Second, it unintentionally heightened the transparency concerning the procedures black women go through to achieve the beauty standard.
Through this heightened transparency, I can only hope that more people realize what our society is doing to black women, which is essentially pressuring them to be something they’re not (which is not to say it’s wrong to, say, alter your natural hair; doing so becomes a problem, though, when it is seen as the only mode of beauty). Rihanna isn’t the best example of a well-represented woman of color in the media, but I can at least draw the aforementioned conclusion from her hairdo. In a world where black girls (and boys) look to white as exclusively beautiful and anti-black beauty discrimination is practiced, it’s important to look to anything substantial (even if that anything is Rihanna’s hair) as a challenge to negative social norms.