This past August, 26-year-old professional ballerina Daphne Lee was crowned Miss Black USA. However, the New Jersey native has been making headlines for a different reason: her natural hair. Daphne won the pageant wearing faux locs!
The Black beauty queen recently spoke to Allure about coming up against the Eurocentric beauty standards that still exist in the dance world. Of course, Misty Copeland has pushed the conversation forward, but Daphne is hoping to inspire young girls to continue to stay true to themselves.
"When I do photoshoots...I make sure that I show that yes, I'm a black ballerina, but I can show unique styles that can benefit staying true to myself, [while] also staying true to the classical form," she shared.
Growing up, Daphne looked up to dancers like Lauren Anderson, the first Black principal, along with her mother, who was also a dancer. She admits crumbling to the pressure of chemically straightening her hair despite her mother’s initial warning.
"As a little kid, a little black girl, you have your little bobo beads and your little hairstyles that your mom creates on you, and you get to this point where you start seeing things — and you’re seeing other people in the industry, or on TV in general, and you decide to chemically relax your hair.
"My mother did warn me. She was like, “Are you sure you want to do this?” and I’m like, “Yeah it’ll be fine, hair grows. It’s not a big deal.” So I chemically relaxed it, which you know, is what makes our hair straight from its kinky, natural state, and then you realize, it starts breaking, it starts getting messed up, and it goes beyond a hairstyle now. It goes beyond who I am, how I was created. Am I conforming into something that I’m not?"
“Our hairstyles started to get associated with different stereotypes that were not positive for black women and men. People can’t say that they would ever see former President Barack Obama with cornrows in the White House. He should have been able to, but it’s not considered.
“Our bodies, black bodies became political. There’s always been something that we’ve needed to conform to in order to progress. So, I don’t want to say that I’m using my hair to make a statement, it happens because it’s still not the norm. I’m just wearing my hair a regular way, you know. As long as I’m alive, it’s going to grow, and I make sure that it’s conducive to my job, which happens to be dance. So, I want to make sure I’m able to have diverse styles but still keep it eloquent and quaint.”
“The more people can see black women with their natural hair — its normal! There are 106 shades of melanin, and it’s the same with our hair textures, there are so many hair textures!”
She’s not the only dancer who has faced this struggle. Brianna Mims also shared her story in a recent Herbal Essence campaign. She was told to get a wig or a weave to make her hair “less edgy” for dance theater. Now, she chooses to rock her afro across all stages to help others walk in their truth.
Daphne is also part of an organization called Brown Girls Do Ballet, created to celebrate diversity in dance. If you haven't checked it out, the images of tiny Black ballerinas will literally make your heart melt.
Her parting words? “Yes, you may be the only black girl in class, but you’re not the only black girl in the world. There are other black girls and black boys who are making that choice to get out there and dance. Use that fire for good, use it to push yourself. Stay persistent.”
(Photo: Daphne M. Lee via Instagram)