True confession time.
I am an adult who still watches Sesame Street on a daily basis. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and countless other black celebrities put aside their adulthood and sing along with the likes of Big Bird, Mr. Snuffleupagus and a bunch of elementary school students.
One thing I always appreciated about Sesame Street is the fact that it showed diverse images of guests, as well as the child actors it prominently highlighted. I remember as a kid seeing kids with Afros, cornrows and other ethnic hairstyles. Even Wonder’s appearance on the show gave a glimpse into what black culture consisted of when he rocked his dashiki and natural hair.
Over the last several years, Sesame Street has found new ways to highlight the beauty of black culture. In 2010, Sesame Street’s head writer and puppeteer, Joey Mazzarino, created a puppet and song for his adopted daughter, Segi, from Ethiopia, once he realized that she wasn’t embracing her black hair. His song, “I Love My Hair,” dedicated to the 4-year-old, quickly went viral.
As goes one verse in the song, “Don’t need a trip to the beauty shop, because I love what I got on top.” Mazzarino stated in a Huffington Post interview that his message was simple: “Everything in that song is what I want to say to my daughter. [I want her to know] you don’t need to change. That’s where you go to change, so it just naturally felt like the place to start the song.”
From hair to skin, Sesame Street has its bases covered when it comes to educating black children on loving themselves.
Enter Lupita Nyong’o.
As a dark-skinned actress, Nyong’o didn’t expect to rise to fame in Hollywood, considering that she also has short, natural hair. What better person than Nyong’o to talk to children about loving their skin?
The recent Oscar winner and star of 12 Years a Slave joined forces with Elmo for a song celebrating skin color. “Skin comes in lots of beautiful shades and colors,” Nyong’o says after Elmo notices that she’s a “beautiful, brown color.”
Nyong’o has been quite open about her own issues growing up as a woman with dark skin, and her mission has been to encourage everyone to embrace their God-given hues.
Earlier this year, when she was named People magazine’s “Most Beautiful,” she spoke about being insecure because of her complexion. “What an incredible journey to go from that feeling to being on the cover of this magazine,” she said. “I mean, you could have never told me that that would happen when I was 16 and insecure about my complexion.”
Nyong’o says she grew up thinking that “light skin and flowing, straight hair” made women desirable, but her mother “always said I was beautiful. And I finally believed her at some point.”
Shortly after her Oscar win, Nyong’o spoke at the Black Women in Hollywood luncheon and expressed even more sentiments about skin color. “I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey,” she said. “That you will feel the validation of your external beauty, but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty.”
From skin color to hair, Sesame Street continues to be a catalyst, not only in educating children when it comes to reading, math and being a good friend, but also in also serving a bigger purpose in teaching children about self-acceptance.