I thought long and hard before sitting down two weeks ago to write an article about the state of Zahara Jolie-Pitt's hair. I knew any discussion about hair and culture would spark an angry debate in the world of bloggers and beyond. Just ask Chris Rock. His new film, Good Hair, has brought him all kinds of criticism and drama, so at least I'm in good company. Days after my story hit the Web, the comments sections of our site was overrun with furious remarks, and blogs had a serious field day roasting me all that week.
Still, I'm undeterred by the venom shown to me on the Web. I continue to believe Angelina Jolie should take better care of Zahara's hair. Hey, if Maddox can get blond highlights and a Mohawk, Zahara can at least get a quick top knot and rubber band. Is that asking too much?
For those who accused me of having my own hair issues—I say I sure do. And so do most of the African-Americans who responded to my article in an angry huff. Zahara will have them as well, because like or not, how we look has a huge impact on how people see us and ultimately judge us. Is it fair? No. But is it reality? Yes, it very much is.
Disturbingly, I was accused of attacking the little doll of a girl. Last time I checked, 4-year-old little girls can't take care of themselves, much less comb and style their own hair. My suggestions were for her parents, because I'd like to see them avoid an angry and resentful teen in about 10 years.
Like many who wrote in, I too have followed the development of the gorgeous little African girl since her arrival in America. I vividly remember ooohing and aaahing over a beautiful picture of Jolie holding the baby on the cover of People. Zahara was about 6 months old with barely there hair and gleaming smile. Adorable! Since then, I've read many of the stories where both Jolie and her partner, Brad Pitt, spoke on Zahara and her emerging personality. Last year in an interview with an international magazine, Jolie said something very telling about her oldest daughter. She mentioned that Zahara asked why her hair wasn't like everyone else's in the family. Why wasn't it long and silky like Jolie's? She went on to add that Zahara was very much a girlie girl who loved dresses, makeup, and jewelry. The young child asking why her hair wasn't like others in the family really saddens me. Three years old is pretty young to be aware of such things. It's much too young to feel different.
But how could she not feel that way in a family such as the Jolie-Pitts? Her two brothers are of Asian descent, and her others siblings are all white. She's the lone little brown girl with the kinky hair. This clearly bright little girl is going to have even more probing questions for her mother as she gets older. Some of them will be unavoidable—after all, she is a black child growing up with white, superrich, superfamous parents. But some of them, such as "Why does my hair looks this way?," can and should be dealt with right away so it won't adversely affect her self-esteem in the long run. Yes, it is that serious.
For the many African-Americans who wrote in chastising me for speaking ill of Zahara's hair (particularly in what some consider a "white publication") I challenge you to send in pictures of the little girls in your family with hair that isn't brushed, combed, or put in some sort of style on a regular basis. I must admit NEWSWEEK's photo that ran with my story (a version of which is reprinted above) didn't do much to prove my point. It was one of her better hair days. But pick up any issue of Us or Life and Style magazines, and you'll regularly see photos of this cute little girl, with ruffles on her dress, bracelets on her arm and hair that clearly hasn't been attended to. Unacceptable! For good measure let me say explain once more what I consider unacceptable for a 4-year-old baby: uncombed, unconditioned, and unbrushed. If Zahara were the child of a single mother, frazzled by bills, parenthood, and life, I'd be more understanding. But this is a woman with nannies galore and access to any expert or professional in the business. I maintain if you make the commitment to adopt a child from a different culture and transport them into yet a different culture, there are considerations and provisions that need to be made.
Trust me, I really do applaud Jolie and Pitt for bringing needy children into their lives and their home. But it doesn't and can't end once you get them in the house. As I said before, self-esteem and confidence can be just as vital as food and shelter if the child is to become a contributing member of society. As wonderful and as lavish as Zahara's life may be right now, it won't mean much if she ends up having serious issues with her identity and place in the world. If she's already asking about her hair, it means she's already thinking about her looks and how she fits in. At some point, Angelina will have to try to answer those questions. It won't be easy. But the actress should know that the next time Zahara asks about hair, it won't be why her hair isn't similar to others in her house. It will be why her hair doesn't look like other brown girls' does.
On a cultural note, I'd like Angelina to also know how much bonding goes on when mothers sit down to comb their daughter's hair; something that happens in almost every culture, but particularly in the African-American community. My fondest memories are of me sitting on the floor as my mother brushed and oiled my hair. During that time, we'd talk about my day at school, plans for the weekend, and anything else that crossed our minds. That was our time. Do I believe Madonna, another superstar with a child adopted from Africa, is actually sitting down and cornrowing daughter Mercy's hair? Probably not, but I do think she has taken the time to learn and understand how important it is that Mercy gets all the attention she needs from head to toe and inside and out.
I'm not a member of the Jolie-Pitt household, so I can't assume to know their thought process or intentions. But one thing I do know is that girlie girls usually like to have their hair combed.