"I Love My Hair" Muppet and child actor Chantylla "Chauncey" Johnson. Photos: Courtesy of Sesame Street Workshop | Vamnation Entertainment

Last week, "Sesame Street" broke beauty barriers with a segment featuring a brown, Afro-topped Muppet giddily singing, "I Love My Hair." The video spread like web wildfire, and was featured on the Nightly News.

The song resonated with woman around the country who have struggled to accept their natural locks in a society that considers long, blonde hair its beauty ideal. As a 20-something African American woman who's been surrounded by strong black women my entire life, it took me over a decade to embrace my natural hair. From hot combs to chemical hair relaxers, my jet-black strands experienced just about every possible form of damage before I finally mustered up the courage to love my kinky locks.

Fortunately the song's singer, Chantylla "Chauncey" Johnson, has escaped this mental dis-tress. The 13 year old has always worn her hair natural and takes pride in her curly strands.

"The way I wear my hair is kind of like the Muppet. I wear it in curls...I put it in a ponytail [laughs]," Johnson tells StyleList. "I may have my bad hair days, but I even like it because it looks fun,"

Johnson, who perfected her acting chops on Broadway in "The Color Purple" and "The Lion King" and on the big screen in "Notorious," felt a very special connection to the Muppet and the message.

"I like that I can put my hair in different styles and I don't have to destroy it because a lot of people are destroying their hair and not accepting it as it is," she adds. "I want kids, adults, anybody, everybody to really accept their hair...be grateful for what you have."

Joseph Mazzarino

Sesame Street "I Love My Hair" writer Joey Mazzarino. Photo: MuppetWiki

"Sesame Street" head writer and Muppeteer Joey Mazzarino knows how important it is for society to redefine beauty raising his five-year-old, Ethiopian adopted daughter, Segi.

"She plays with a lot of dolls and she was gravitating towards the White ones and not the African-American ones," says Mazzarino. "She really wanted to have the hair like Barbie. She wanted it to be blonde, long and flip it back."

But when Chris Rock released his documentary comedy film "Good Hair," Mazzarino realized that he was up against a much broader issue as the emotions his daughter expressed are commonly shared among many.

"The texture and length of one's hair historically has been used as a marker of status for women, especially in the Black community. But this is true of all cultures," says Lori Tharps, assistant professor at Temple University and co-author of "Hair Story: Untangling The Roots of Black Hair in America." "All girls are taught, both explicitly and implicitly, that long, blonde hair is the ultimate beauty ideal. Therefore, if they don't have long, blonde hair then they can never be truly beautiful. That right there is a major blow to anyone's self-image."

Inspired by Segi to send out a positive message to African-American girls about loving their hair, Mazzarino teamed up with composer Chris Jackson to write the song.



The uplifting tune confirms why pop culture references are needed to reflect our own image of beauty, adds Tharps.

"While it is important for parents to instill in their children a strong sense of self-esteem and body confidence, let's be honest these same ideals must be reinforced by the outside world as well because kids pick up on things pretty quickly," Tharps tells StyleList. "Both mom and dad can tell their curly-haired, brunette daughters that they are pretty but if they turn on the television or read a magazine or even a children's book and only see cute little girls with long, blond hair, then they are going to doubt their parents' message. That's why the 'Sesame Street' video is so powerful."

And even though Mazzarino can't fully credit the "I Love My Hair" song to his daughter's change of heart, he's proud to know that she now loves the person looking back at her in the mirror.

In related beauty news, check out three fabulous women over 40 that were highlighted in this month's More magazine who prove life gets prettier with age.