On a bus on my way to the northern part of the Dominican Republic, Cabarete, a guy sitting next to me began a conversation with a guy sitting directly behind me. A conversation that is sadly too common in this country. They were saying that the most beautiful women in the Dominican Republic come from El Cibao because they are the purest and finest people in the country, “they have long hair, fair skin, and thin noses,” the men stated. Did I mention that the two men were both black and probably had black little girls that were growing up believing this nonsense.
The irony in all of this is that I was on my way to Cabarete to teach a workshop on self-image and hair care to a group of young girls from the Mariposa Foundation.
When I arrived at the school where the Butterflies met, I was greeted with a beautiful “Bienvenida Miss Rizos” on the chalkboard. We separated the girls into two groups, one with 8-12 year olds and the other with 13-17 year olds; all Dominican, Dominican-Haitian and Haitian girls.
With the first group (13-17) we discussed the definition of images, I then asked them to describe the different characteristics and physical attributes that make up the most beautiful Dominican women. Their response: blue eyes, thin, blond long hair, pointy nose, thin lips, fair skin and the list goes on. A lot of the older girls had natural curly hair and a few of them talked about how much they loved their hair and their brown skin even though others might not find them beautiful.
With the second group (8-12) I decided to have them draw the most beautiful Dominican women and if they wished, they could add descriptions next to their pictures. Here is what they drew:
With both groups, we looked at where these images were coming from and they both were able to identify TV, radio, billboards, magazines and their families as the sources. I then tried to convince them that I, black, coarse hair, Dominican women felt like I could be that beautiful Dominican women I asked them to describe. We talked about other more important attributes that make one beautiful inside and out. I taught them a few really easy exercises that I do every week. The first one is looking in the mirror and reminding oneself of how beautiful one is and saying it out loud if one needs to. The other exercise is reminding the women around us of how special, intelligent and beautiful they are.
I ended the workshop with a tutorial on how to care for natural hair using ingredients from our kitchen and garden and a natural oil making class. They were each able to mix their own carrier oils with essential oils to take home.
Just a few weeks ago a book entitled, “Good Hair Bad Hair” by Murray and Ortiz was released in the Dominican Republic. This “anthropological” study about hair salons in the Dominican Republic states that Dominican women go to the hair salon to engage in a beautification process and not to look “white.” It tries to divorce the practices that are done in the Dominican salons with race and identity issues. I will discuss and review this book in more details at a later time, for now I would just like to point out that this study that took 10 years to implement has been put into question by my hour long workshop on self-image with 30 young girls in Cabarete.
I guess that through the incident in the bus and the release of this book the universe wanted to remind me, in case I needed a reminder, that there is a lot of work to be done. We have to make it our responsibility to teach our girls, all of our girls, that they are intelligent and beautiful just the way they are.