I wasn't really thinking about The People of Detroit when I came across this young woman. The sun was still high in the sky, unfettered by clouds, and casting strong shadows that are generally unflattering for portraits.
That said, I thought this young woman had stunning features, so I figured I'd make of the available light what I could.
I approached her and she was as gracious and kind as are her eyes in this photo. I wanted to get her out of the direct sun, so I placed her in the shade cast by a bus stop shelter.
It was a friendly but brief encounter and as such I didn't get a chance to get much biographic information on the young woman. I know that she is a teacher and an occasional model.
Her calm, friendly demeanor definitely bespeaks a teacher however, it is her occasional occupation that is most interesting to me because it calls into question popular Detroit notions of beauty.
Detroit is a city famously obsessed with black hair; particularly black hair that has been massively altered by chemicals or cornrowed and plastered over by extensions made of synthetic fibers or, if you're really fancy, tufts of hair from middle school-aged girls in India.
There seems to be a generationally ingrained belief that phenotypically African hair is by definition undesirable and unattractive - something to be managed instead of embraced. There also seems to be a running assumption that a woman has to have long hair to be attractive.
More than anything else, I hope black women will look at this photo and think about those long running assumptions.
Think about the thousands of dollars spent on chemical perms that are so apparently toxic, doctors advise women against getting one while they are pregnant.
Think about the hundreds of hours spent having your scalp pulled taut while your hair is braided.
Think about the concentration camp incinerator-inspired smell of hotcomb-singed hair.
I want them to think about all of that, look at this picture, and then think of one word:
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