Our mission here at The Curl Company is to help girls embrace their natural curls, kinks, coils & waves; which was why we were so excited to hear about Project Embrace – an organisation focussed on breaking the cultural taboos and discriminatory beauty standards around natural curls and afro hair. We are proud to offer a platform to Project embrace to talk about this issue that urgently needs to be addressed.
This week our special hair guest is, Lekia Lée, the founder and driving force behind this noble and important cause.
The Power of Hair
Hair cannot be excluded when talking about beauty or looking acceptable. Hair has been a tool of expression for centuries, and because of its nature, it has been a great tool - easily manipulated, easily controlled (well most of the time if you know what you are doing). If we are determined enough it eventually bends to our whims as we use it to say many things, like we are beautiful, we are wealthy, we are teenagers, we belong to this or that group of people, we are working, we are having fun, we are compliant (think dress codes), we are connected and even just, we are female.
But to be born outside the parameters of the beauty standards defined by one's society is to live with the constant anxiety of whether or not you will be accepted or to put in other words, to live with a constant feeling of rejection.
No one likes rejection, not even from people you don’t like. Sounds crazy, right? I mean, if you don’t like someone or some people, why would you want acceptance from them? In her article, The Pain of Social Rejection, Kirsten Weir, cited a study by Prof. Graziano Williams PhD, Purdue University and his colleagues, that showed rejection hurt no matter the source. It reminded me of an incident, many many years ago, when I worked for a job centre. The front facing staff tended to get abuse from clients quite often, but this one guy took his a little further. He wrote to some of the younger female staff and described in gruesome detail how he would sexual assault us. He finally got caught, arrested and sent to prison but I remember my female manager reflecting on how horrible the incident was but joked that she didn’t get any letter, maybe because she wasn’t attractive or young enough to even warrant negative attention.
Many of us, if not all of us have suffered rejection at one point in our life, some much more than others. Not being invited to play with the other children in the playground, not asked to that party, excluded from lunch with co-workers, not getting that job, being dumped. It’s a horrible feeling that can last for days, months or even years.
This hurts because humans have a fundamental need to belong. No it’s not being clingy, it’s as a result of 6 million years of evolution and it will take a long while to reverse that. This is why, as Weir puts it, “excluded people actually become more sensitive to potential signs of connection, and they tailor their behavior accordingly.” So then it makes sense, wouldn’t you say, that if a person realises that how they look gives a reason to be rejected, then they will want to change that ‘offending’ look as much as they can.
When it comes to beauty, it is easy to see how women with Afro-textured hair are excluded from the narrative. It is not widely represented in movies or television, not in magazines or books. Whatever the media format, afro hair as beautiful is still widely invisible even when black women are present. Notice I said black women and not men. This is not because men do not experience the stigma that comes with Afro hair, but because, it is still widely acceptable for them to sport their own texture, albeit short.
Not being included in the cultural narrative around beauty, acceptance or anything good for that matter, does hurt. As a result of centuries of racist ideals, the hair of black women and anything close to it, has not only been simply excluded but deeply stigmatized.
The stigma hurts. As would be expected, when you are hurt you will want to do something about it, so you are, as Prof. Williams says, “more likely to conform to other people and more likely to comply with other people’s requests.” Hair being as easily manipulated as it can be, is one of the first things black women will use to find a way out of exclusion and into inclusion.
One of the more empowering ways psychologists give to deal with rejection is to seek out positive connections with friends and family. This is why I created Project Embrace - a space for positive and healthy connections for people with coils and curls. To create a sisterhood of friendship where they can feel a part of a community that appreciates them for who they are, while at the same time challenge the society’s beauty narrative into being more inclusive.
The great news is that beauty ideals and hence acceptance are shifting. More products are being made to cater to women who do not have straight hair. There is more visible afro textured hair in the media, but while there is still a lot more work to be done, remember, as Maryann Wei, a psychology graduate says in her article, Bullying, Incognito: Deliberate Social Exclusion, people who... deliberately excluding others are, “acting based on their own insecurities.” She goes further to say that, “there is clearly something about you that your bully sees, probably lacks and covets and feels extremely threatened by.” … so take pride in your unique hair texture and look. Seek out people who will appreciate you regardless. Know that beauty is an ever changing construct and you can create and live by your own empowering beauty standards and in the meantime, here’s to more #afrovisibility.
Lekia Lée is a former broadcast journalist and founder of Project Embrace @project_embrace
*In order to support girls on their journey to embracing their natural hair we are giving readers of this blog & Project Embrace supporters 25% off their next order with code EMBRACE25