A vault full of thoughts and emotions come to mind when I think about Beyoncé and the impact she’s had on my life. I’m only 26, but there’s only a pocket of time in my earliest years that she didn’t exist in my personal zeitgeist. From “No, No, No” to “Formation” I, like many, have felt a personal, stan-worthy connection to Beyoncé’s evolution. Even as taciturn as she is about most aspects of her life, I can’t shake the notion that somehow, I know this person, and she’s been specially put on this earth to serve some purpose in my life. Dramatic, I know, but that’s stan culture for ya.
The obsession is real. In college, no matter how formal or casual the outing, I would perform the “Get Me Bodied (Extended Mix)” choreography in its entirety any time the song came on. Yes. All six minutes and nineteen seconds of it. I still have all of those moves on lock. All the backing vocals, all the runs, all the harmonies. I’ve seen Beyoncé twice in concert, for the On the Run tour and the Formation world tour. It honestly feels like both of those experiences were a spiritual reckoning. On the other hand, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how much of a polarizing figure she can be, especially in the black community. Some critique is valid, but most of it I end up side-eyeing.
Beyond music and performance, Beyoncé has inspired me through beauty and aesthetics. To me, she stands amongst the greats in the Rolodex of black beauty. Beyoncé signaled an era of choices — unapologetic choices — when it came to black women’s hair, that included wigs, kinky-curly weaves, straight and floor-length hair that came in honey brown, platinum, and blonde. Throughout her career, she’s presented a spectrum of possibilities for black hair, for natural girls (like me) and girls that chemically manipulate their hair. That honey-blonde, almost ceiling-reaching Afro she sported in the “Work It Out” video? Goals. I dyed my hair that same exact color when I big chopped in early 2014. I’ll also note that her beaded braids à la Stevie Wonder “Hotter Than July” have been a recent favorite. Through her styling choices, on stage and off, Beyoncé has reflected the versatility of black hair.
But beyond aesthetics, hair also entails politics. Hair is an important aspect of the lives of many black women and girls all over the world. It helps us define ourselves despite the often narrow way that society tries to categorize us. Many brown girls ultimately end up walking a sociocultural tightrope between dominant culture’s beauty ideals and black cultural ideals, fears, expectations, and internalized skewed views of our kinks, coils, and curls. Just the fact that we established an alphanumeric rating system that places the least curly hair texture as 1A. Yes, read: 1A a.k.a. “good hair.” Unpacking “Becky with the good hair,” the line from Bey’s “Lemonade” alum that captured the imaginations of those unfamiliar with the term, is complicated, but it is one of those places that Bey pulls back the curtain and invites you to face this harsh reality.
“Hair texturism” often goes hand-in-hand with colorism in black culture. The effects of centuries of conditioning packed into a five-word lyric; this lyric has become an American cultural euphemism. This is where Bey implicates black folks and our politics about nappy vs. “good hair.” In her own hair changes and choices, Bey demonstrates that all of the textures can be beautiful.
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My mother always enforced that all hair is inherently good; it is the perception of the wearer that makes it good or bad. Of course, she said this while relaxing and blow drying my hair straight (at my request). But it seems a lifetime since I had my final all-day session of relaxer, deep conditioning, trimming, blow drying, and flatironing. My first big chop (in third grade) was a result of damage from the combination of relaxer and daily swimming. The second time, however, the big chop crept up on me. Something transformed between the first and second semester of my final year of college. I realized that I was participating in a ritualistic obliteration of my kinks and coils when I didn’t even have to! What I had internalized regarding my own hair was being undone by Queen Bey. From this base of coily kinks, I had a myriad of choices at my disposal, through wigs, pieces, and braids. I could wear my hair curly, wavy, straight; brown, red, blonde, purple; short, medium, long, and any combination of these. I realized that what I had also embraced about hair were the ways in which Beyoncé celebrated and demonstrated all the possibilities available within Black American culture, including those that have been deemed political.
My experience with wearing an Afro is inherently that — in short, I chose to big chop because I was sick of damaging my hair to conform to white beauty standards. Wearing my hair natural has been incredibly liberating. Donning a large Afro full of tight, corkscrew coils has become such a large part of my identity, and I intend for it to be the first thing people notice when they see me, as I do everything in my power to pick it up and out to the heavens. Hair sends a message, and I think the message that Beyoncé sends to black women and girls worldwide, is that through our hair, through black beauty, the possibilities are endless. I’ve adopted that mentality, and I haven’t looked back since.
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Beyoncé has often been criticized, though, for her choice to wear wigs and weaves that don’t match her natural texture, and has also been accused of upholding Eurocentric beauty standards by choosing to keep her hair a blonde color for the bulk of her career. In a recent sit-down for the premiere episode of “Never Before” for Lenny Letter, Tina Knowles, (a.k.a. Beyoncé’s mom, a.k.a. Miss Tina) discussed hair politics with host Janet Mock. Mama Tina owned salons in the past and was responsible for a lot of the earlier looks of Destiny’s Child. “My kids wore braids when they were younger,” she said. “They wore them for several reasons, one was that I thought they were beautiful, and it brought about a sense of pride, and also because it was easy; you know, cause I didn’t have to comb their hair for days.” Spoken like a true black mother. She then went on to address some of the statements that revolved around Beyoncé’s hair and questioning her blackness, saying, “I’ve read some things where people are like, ‘Oh Beyoncé wants to be white cause she has blonde highlights in her head, but it’s ridiculous. She’s a very proud black woman, and it’s just a cosmetic thing, it’s like makeup. Hair-color is like makeup and if you look better in something, then you should look your best.”
Super Bowl 50 remains as one of the most iconic, symbolic performances of Beyoncé’s career. While she opted to wear her hair in loose, teased-out blonde waves, the entire “Formation” section was a direct reference to the Black Panther movement, from the literal “X” formation that the dancers were placed in, to their beret-adorned Afros. The performance exposed the world to the variety of tones & textures that is black American beauty — this includes Beyoncé’s choice to wear her hair in a long, honey-blonde, wavy style. After all, some black folks actually have hair like that. The performance embraced the multitude of black beauty. In my own family, you will find people light as alabaster with freckles and people with deep, dark ebony skin tones. You’ll even notice how variant the hair textures are through the generations in Bey’s family, from Ms. Deréon (Tina’s mama) to Blue Ivy Carter.
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It seems almost impossible to try and eloquently sum up all the love and admiration that I have for our pop queen, but I do hope she knows how much she’s provided us beyond music. It’s been about black love, self-love, looks, gowns, politics, charity, more gowns, motherhood, representation, wigs, snatching wigs, and a plethora of other cultural contributions. My stan card is for life. And then some.
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More on Queen Bey:
- I Broke Up With a Guy Because He Hates Beyoncé
- The Evolution of Beyoncé’s Maternity Style
- Beyoncé’s Braids Are Back and None Of Us Are Worthy
Beyoncé Really Does Wake Up Like This: