She might just be the most famous kid on YouTube right now, but don't ask her name or who she is. She's simply known as the "I Love My Hair" Sesame Street muppet. Rivaling top-ranked YouTube music videos with nearly half a million views in only five days, the little black puppet with the pretty pink dress and curly Afro has become an overnight Internet sensation with the young and old.
Joey Mazzarino, the puppeteer and Sesame Street head writer who wrote the song, told ABC News, "I just want kids to know their hair is beautiful. I just hope little kids, little girls, see this and really feel positive and great about themselves." Mazzarino, who is Italian, said his muse is Segi, his 5-year-old daughter.
Mazzarino and his wife adopted her from Ethiopia when she was a year old. He said he noticed that their daughter was beginning to covet long, blond, straight hair, and his fatherly concern led him to write the song that is now an Internet phenomenon.
From the moment it appeared on YouTube, natural-hair bloggers and viewers across the Internet flocked to the video and began sharing it at viral speed over social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Some viewers shed tears, some laughed in delight, and others, like myself, learned the lyrics and sang along. It has even inspired a popular mash-up. "I Love My Hair" is good on its own, but paired with Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair," it becomes the ultimate black-girl hair-power anthem.
The original song has become a hit among adults — even more so, arguably, than among children — because of the message it sends. Many black women wish they'd had something like this to watch when they were growing up.
Sesame Street works off of a platform that permeates both childhood and adulthood — it's designed down to the smallest detail to teach children (and adults) through pictures, sounds and subliminal messaging. Thus, it's easy to see how a song like "I Love My Hair" could bring a grandmother or parent of a black child to tears. Looking past the puppet, you can clearly see and hear a positive message that says, "You are beautiful." It's a statement that seems so simple but is much more complex.
Many African-American families struggle with teaching their children to love not only themselves but also the things that make them unique: their full lips, wide noses and kinky hair. "African Americans as a people have had to battle the social idea that not only is our skin inferior, but that our hair is as well," says Karcheik Sims-Alvarado, visiting lecturer at Georgia State University's department of African-American studies. "We were treated as inferior by default simply because we were black, and because of this, we internalized these beliefs and unfortunately passed them down from generation to generation."
The video puts into song and dance all of the things that many parents are constantly saying to their children (and, perhaps more important, other parents aren't saying at all), and it's a beautiful thing to see such a straightforward message about black beauty coming from the media. "Historically, we have been our hair, and we have believed that we were our hair and what it represents as it relates to slavery," says Sims-Alvarado. "This video is not as much an issue of how white people see us, but more so how we see ourselves amongst each other, and how we are growing to embrace our own uniqueness."
The message behind the video and song matters because adult viewers realize that all of the children watching little Miss "I Love My Hair" are learning to draw conclusions about this girl and her song. When black girls sing "I Love My Hair," each lyric implants subconscious self-acceptance. Little black boys who sing along will learn to accept not only their own hair but also the hair of the girls around them. And it can teach children of all races to value the unique differences among us.
As a result of the popularity of the video, many parents are now asking when they can get the song and video on iTunes. Others are wondering whether they are ever going to hear the song or see the Afro-wearing puppet again on Sesame Street. The bar has been set high for the children's show, and there are plenty of children and parents — hundreds of thousands of them — waiting in anticipation for its next move. So what's it going to be?
As we all eagerly watch to see how Sesame Street follows up this video, you'll be pleased to know that the little black girl who started it all has a newfound confidence. "She was jumping up and down, dancing, and she really loved [the video]," Mazzarino said. "She's really come into her own."
Angel Jordan is a contributor to The Root. Visit her blog, KisforKinky.com.