A plucky little Muppet in a pretty pink dress, her brown hair a perky 'fro, is helping little girls -- and their moms -- to accept themselves just the way they are by loving their hair.
The nameless Muppet trims away generations of yearning for long, silky locks with her song, "I Love My Hair" and has become an Internet sensation. Now her creator wants to give her a life beyond YouTube.
"I really want to sit down with the writers and figure out what we can do with her and give her a name, and really expand her out," said Joey Mazzarino, head writer for "Sesame Street," who co-wrote "I Love My Hair" with composer Chris Jackson. (Jackson played Simba in "The Lion King"; Chantylla Johnson, who sings the song, also appeared in the Broadway show as Nala.)
The video is being shared on Twitter and posted on gossip sites and blogs. It is popping up on Facebook pages and discussed in the comments section on YouTube, where the original clip gets a steady stream of views. It was posted Oct. 12, and had more than 1 million views on YouTube as of Friday , and tens of thousands more at other sites.
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The tune is breezy and bouncy, the lyrics simple and filled with pride: "Don't need a trip to the beauty shop, 'cause I love what I got on top -- it's curly and it's brown and it's right up there. You know what I love? My hair!"
With fast cuts, the Muppet changes hair styles -- braids, pouffy ponytail, curly top. And no matter what the style, "I want to make the world aware, I love my hair," she sings with happy confidence.
"When I first did the song, it really touched me because I really love my hair," Johnson said. "My hair is very curly. And the thing I like about the song is that it shows the different ways I can do my hair." The 13-year-old recently read for a part in a new production about Josephine Baker.
"It struck a particular chord with African-American moms like me," said author Denene Millner, a columnist for parenting.com and the creator of parenting blog MyBrownBaby. "I think that at some point, if you have a little girl, we all deal with the day your child comes home from school and says, 'I don't want my hair to look like this; I want it to look like Annie's.' And Annie's hair is blond and long and not what she has."
She says she is teaching her daughters Mari and Lila -- ages 11 and 8 -- to "love their hair as it grows out of their head." Millner, like many black women, recalls the big plastic comb, thick grease and sizzling hot comb used on her hair when she was a little girl.
"It was horrible," she said.
It was a similar discussion with his 5-year-old daughter Segi over tight, curly hair that inspired Mazzarino to craft the song and video. He and his wife, both white, adopted the little girl from Ethiopia, who told them that she "wanted her hair to be long or blond like Barbie or a princess."
Mazzarino said this bothered him.
"I thought it was because she had two white parents that she was going through this. And I didn't know about the larger sort of issues with African-American girls until Chris Rock's movie came out," he said, referring to Rock's 2009 documentary "Good Hair," which takes a serious, and sometimes lighthearted, look at the black hair care industry and the history behind concepts of so-called "good hair."
The idea of "straight" or "white" hair has been an albatross for black American women and men, tied to slavery and racism, and a society that stripped them of pride by defining beauty in terms of only one ethnic standard.
The effort some women and girls would take to "look white" was poignantly framed by Whoopi Goldberg in her 1984 one-woman show on Broadway. She played a 9-year-old who pours bleach over her brown body and wears a white slip on her head as pretend long blond hair. The child wants to be on "The Love Boat," a cruise ship sit-com from the 1970s-'80s.
"I think there's a larger part society can play. And I say this, being a dad of an African-American girl. ... The images she sees and the Barbies she gets and the American Girl dolls she gets -- even if they have brown skin, the hair's not right. It's all straight," he said. "They do have a little curl but it looks like straight Caucasian hair that's had a curling iron to it."
The day the video was shot, Mazzarino said, everyone felt the power of the song. "
"All the African-American women came down to (the set) to watch," said Mazzarino, who has been with "Sesame Street" since 1990. "If there's a celebrity, people will come down to watch. But really, it touched them. And I think I should have known that -- that this is something that is deeper than just your kids."
Mazzarino said he would like to do more self-esteem videos like "I Love My Hair" or even recreate older "Sesame Street" clips such as "Skin I'm In," performed by 1970s-era Muppet Roosevelt Franklin.
"I'm looking at those -- possibly redoing them, or coming up with new songs that would work for kids (on) issues like hair or skin color and things like that," he said.
Meanwhile, a little Muppet girl in pretty pink dress says it all: "I love my hair ... there's nothing else that can compare, I love my hair."