Big Hair Girls and Anita
Colorful sisters, Lizzy Lightyear and Venus are fashion fixtures on the streets of Jersey City where they live together and run their own pet care business. When they aren't running around after pups, they can be found on stage performing their own original music under the name Big Hair Girls. I met up with them and their mom Anita, a special education teacher living in upstate New York, at the Oculus in Manhattan. Venus and Lizzy have an older sister not featured in this project, but who is their "biggest fan."
Ruthie: So, who are the Big Hair Girls?
Lizzy: We are a music group comprised of me, Lizzy Lightyear and my sister Venus.
Anita: And I’m the Mom, I gave birth to them. My name is Anita.
Venus: We started the band about five years ago. We always loved to dress up.
Anita: And they always gave recitals; singing, acting, dancing.
Ruthie: Anita, where are you from?
Anita: I’m from many places. Originally I am from Suriname, South America and I moved to Holland in the Netherlands when I was around 14 and then to America when I was 16.
Ruthie: Do you speak many languages?
Anita: You could say that. I moved to upstate New York where I taught kindergarten and had my three children. Now I teach special ed, but I am soon to be retired!
Ruthie: What do you plan to do with your retirement?
Ruthie: So the girls always played dress up, did you encourage this?
Anita: Oh yes, they were in a traveling theatre when they were five or six years old. We would go to thrift stores and we would build our dress-up closet from there.
Ruthie: Were you a performer Anita?
Anita: No not until later on, when I became involved with a church theatre group. That was my debut!
Ruthie: What style is your music?
Lizzy: Feminist pop.
Anita: They all trained classically.
Venus: We had a great aunt who taught us all piano.
Lizzy: Did she teach me? It didn’t stick!
Venus: Lizzy was always the rebellious one, if she wasn’t into something she wasn’t doing it.
Ruthie: How would you describe your style and how did you come to wear this look?
Lizzy: It’s a mashup. It depends on the day. Somedays we like latex-
Venus: Somedays we do superhero catsuits.
Ruthie: Do you always dress in this complimentary styles?
Venus: It’s funny, our mom used to dress us alike when we were little-
Anita: And they used to hate it!
Venus: I wanted my own identity, but I think we came back together when we started to make a lot of our clothing. We always wanted the thing the other one was wearing, so we made two of everything.
Ruthie: How do you co-ordinate?
Venus: Sometimes when I’m not feeling inspired, I’ll be like “What are you wearing?” then we build from there.
Lizzy: It’s not always matchy-matchy, sometimes it will be “Is today a catsuit day? Or is today a high waisted leggings and crop top day?”
Ruthie: You seem very body confident?
Lizzy: I think we’ve gotten over it, we had body issues, but now we’re like: this is what I am.
Venus: Yes, this is how I look. As we get older, we may not look this way anymore so we’re enjoying it now.
Lizzy: Enjoy now, worry about gravity later!
Venus: We have friends who won’t wear shorts because they think they have cellulite on the backs of their legs-
Lizzy: I’m like, “Me too, but I can’t see the back of my legs. Not my problem!"
Venus: I’m just happy that my legs work and you know what, most people I see look pretty damn good, They should rock what they have!
Lizzy: Yes, if you do it with confidence, it just sells it.
Anita: Just looking at the two of them has made me comfortable with myself. I used to be very conservative in my dress. Now all of a sudden, I’m out of my shell. I wear any color I like, any combination of patterns. They inspire me.
Lizzy: But our Mom is an inspiration to us too, we were just looking at some old pictures and she was fierce. She would make her own clothing and she would slay. There was a period though where I think your confidence went away and it was reflected in your clothing.
Anita: Yes and being a teacher somewhat forced me to dress in a certain way. I had to look professional, wear a suit and I always looked very matronly. Now I’ve cut my hair and I’m free! Let live!
Ruthie: What do you admire about your Mom?
Lizzy: So much. We love her to bits. We actually recently heard that accessorizing is genetic and our mom has shoeboxes full of jewelry and belts.
Anita: I used to go to estate sales and thrift stores. My own mother was very resourceful. She was a designer. She would go to the movies with a notepad and she would sketch whatever she saw on the screen and within two days you’d see that dress on her.
Ruthie: So I guess it is hereditary?
Anita: It is!
Venus: We used to love to go through our mom’s jewelry.
Lizzy: And put it all on at once! But what I really want to say about my mom, apart from her being a great accessorizer, is she taught us a lot about how to treat other people. She had us doing Meals-on-Wheels from a very young age.
Venus: We were always volunteering when we were growing up.
Ruthie: Why did you think that was so important?
Anita: Because I was fortunate enough to have and there were so many people who did not have. I volunteered at a soup kitchen and I remember seeing people looking forward to having a hot meal. Then we made it a tradition that at the Christmas season, instead of giving each other gifts, we would give to less fortunate families. To me it was more meaningful than going to the store and buying crap. We made everything we gave.
Ruthie: You’re making me feel bad here.
Lizzy: We bought some gifts for each other too.
Venus: At Thanksgiving we would put together food baskets. We used to love doing it together. It made us feel so good. But she instilled that into us. To be kind.
Lizzy: Even daily things, being nice to people - how good it makes them feel and in turn how good it make you feel.
Venus: My mom is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. On the way home from work yesterday, I was so tired and hungry and I though “How the hell did mom do it AND raise us? I can barely take care of myself!”
Lizzy: On top of all the things we mentioned, she was also cooking and fixing the car and gardening.
Ruthie: Did you sleep?
Anita: I still don’t!
Ruthie: What do you admire about your daughters?
Anita: That they turned out to be such incredible young ladies, doing what they have a passion for without allowing anyone to stop them. They have the strength that I wish I had had at their age, to pursue my passion. I feel like I’ve done my job as a mom.
Venus: Yeah we’re crying now!
Anita: They are very compassionate young women. I adore them and my life would not be complete without them.
Ruthie: What was your passion that you wanted to pursue, but perhaps couldn’t?
Anita: Cooking, dancing. That was blocked by my mother. I would sneak out, but my mom would always catch me. Eventually I gave cooking lessons at home. I taught children how to cook. Their friends would come to my kitchen after school and I would teach them how to cook.
Venus: When I reconnected with some old school friends on Facebook, a lot of them remembered taking the lessons with my mom and how much they enjoyed them.
Ruthie: Have you ever been through any difficult times that you navigated together?
Lizzy: Yes. My Mom was married to our father for a long time, but then she came out as a lesbian.
Anita: It’s who I had been all of my life.
Lizzy: Right, but back then you had to conform to what was expected. At a certain point she pulled us to one side and said “What would you say if I told you I was gay?” and I said “I wouldn’t have a problem with that” and then she looked at me and said “Well I am” and for some reason I was really shocked!
Anita: It was always something that I kept hidden because my mom used to abuse me because of the way I was. I didn’t understand why until much later on. She explained that she didn’t understand how to deal with a gay daughter. She thought beating the hell out of me and shock treatment was going to make me “normal.” I don’t think she was trying to dislike me, she was trying to change me, but it didn’t work. In all my life she never told me that she loved me. All she did was hurt me. I’m not going to continue, because I will become too emotional...
Ruthie: Of course. Did your experiences with your own mother make you never wanted to be that way with your children?
Venus: Yes she never put any type of pressure on us.
Lizzy: They let us be. They were strict, but they never stifled us.
Venus: People always ask us what our parents think about how we dress and it’s funny because, as strict as they could be, they never had a problem with us expressing ourselves.
Lizzy: And mom was finally owning who she was for the first time in her life.
Anita: That was 23 years ago! I am now married to my wife. We have been together all that time.
Lizzy: We came together and because my Mom was so much happier, there was no question as to whether it was the right decision or not.
Ruthie: Did you encounter any trouble at school because of this?
Venus: No, we did have trouble because our parents were an interracial couple though. We grew up in a predominately white suburb and there was a lot of racism
Lizzy: Yeah we didn’t look like anyone else, so we just went with it.
Ruthie: How was your hair at school?
Lizzy: At school we would hide our ethnicity. We would pull our hair back in a bun or braids. We relaxed our hair.
Anita: I used to have long hair when I was young too, but I liberated myself by chopping it all off. That was one thing my Mom would use to wield power over me with. She would always grab my hair and wrap it around her wrist so I couldn’t run, because I used to be a runner.
Ruthie: I bet you did!
Anita: Right. The minute I was able to chop it off, I did, and I haven’t looked back since.
Ruthie: How did your style develop from shy teenage girls to the fierce looks you are rocking now?
Venus: At a certain point we decided to let our hair go natural. I had never seen my hair look like that before. We started to embrace it.
Lizzy: Little by little we would put a highlighter on the tips.
Venus: And I used to say to her: I don't want it to look unnatural.
Lizzy: Can you imagine?
Venus: The color crept in after that.
Anita: When I first saw them this way I was surprised, but now I embrace whatever they want.
Lizzy: We love color. I do the pinks and purples.
Venus: And I do the blues and greens.
Lizzy: Sometimes Venus will walk into a room, or I'll see her coming down the street and it just makes me smile.
Venus: Yes, when I see that puff of her hair I feel like: look at her, she's so cute!
Lizzy: It's just fun and people say to us, "Every time we see you girls, we have to smile". We are happy that our happiness radiates and picks people up. We get a lot of high fives on the street.
Venus: A question we get a lot is "Where are you going?" or "What's the occasion?"
Lizzy: We say "Life."