It has been a little over a month since Lemonade, Beyonce’s visual album, was released but I find new reasons to appreciate it with every subsequent re-watch and listen. Aside from the overwhelming sense of power, anger, and empathy I feel from the lyrics, I have taken so much from the corresponding film. For me, Lemonade’s most lasting impression is the diverse and inspiring depictions of women of color and their hair.
Growing up mixed race in an extremely white community, I had no idea how my hair was supposed to look. The women on my mom’s side, the white side, all had naturally straight hair that they desperately attempted to curl. I have seen many a failed perm and body wave on my Irish-American side of the family. They lamented how much they wished they had my natural curls, which were either cut short and close in a tiny afro or arranged neatly into puffs. On my dad’s side, the black side, the women favored wigs, weaves, and hair relaxers. They taught my mother the “bap method,” which involved seating me in front of the television while combing through my nappy curls and “bapping” me with the brush if I tried to move. Bless my mother; she did her best.
As I got older, I went through every possible hairstyle in an attempt to conform to whatever standard of beauty was en vogue at the time. My self-esteem was in shambles and I desperately grasped for anything that would make me feel “pretty.” At eleven, I had my hair relaxed and cried in the salon chair because it did not look like the straight hair I so coveted. At thirteen, my hair was so fried from flat ironing it that it was almost crunchy. At fourteen, I often left my hair curly but straightened the side bangs I had cut myself. Side note: why did we all do this?! At sixteen, I started Japanese straightening treatments that left me with no semblance of my natural hair for close to a year. Throughout my adolescence, my hair may have changed but the underlying reason for my countless trips to the salon remained: I was insecure.
At 18, I was finally starting to love myself. I got my first keratin treatment from the only person I will trust with my hair to this day, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and the keratin made my hair a lot more manageable and gave me autonomy over my hair; it could be straight, it could be curly…either way, it looked great. I learned to love the thick curls that my ancestors had given me. I began to embrace changing my hair not because I felt I needed to conform but because I wanted to celebrate each and every opportunity to feel beautiful, inside and out.
That’s what I got from Lemonade. There are so many different representations of women of color in the film and each of them is absolutely stunning in her own way. These are women who are owning their personal power to be beautiful in a society that has often said that they are not. Whether it was Beyonce’s cornrows in “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” long curls during “Hold Up,” or straight hair in “Freedom,” the braids and afros of all textures from the women featured in scenes from “Pray You Catch Me,” “Sorry,” and “Love Drought,” or the various snippets of women with natural hair and wigs featured throughout the film, the message remained clear: women of color should celebrate their hair, whether they are putting in extensions or shaving it all off, and not let societal stigma infringe on their beauty.
I am positive that I am not alone in my feeling that Lemonade did so much more than make me unnecessarily mad at my boyfriend (who may or may not exist). Lemonade provided me with the representation I so desperately needed as a child and helped me in my journey to love and accept myself. I can only hope that another woman sees this film and feels the overwhelming sense of self-worth and pride that I feel.
Additionally – Lemonade helped me map out every different hairstyle I would like to try for the rest of my life. I hope Elizabeth is ready.