‘Natural Hair’ may be rising in popularity when it comes to mainstream Beauty coverage — and it’s certainly become a beauty buzzword. But in much of the U.S. and the world, rocking an afro, braids, or dreadlocks, can still spell controversy for many black women, and especially for school kids (take recent dust-ups in South Africa and Kentucky, just for starters). It’s why one amazing mom, in England, has taken matters into her own hands.
“Our goal is to make afro textured hair more visible in the media as beautiful hair. We want to see billboards featuring women with afro hair as beautiful and desirable,” notes the website of Project Embrace (#Afrovisibility), a new campaign started by Lekia Lée, of Romford, Essex.
“The campaign basically was inspired by my daughter, because I wanted her to grow up to know that she’s okay just as she is, from her hair down to her toes,” Lée told the BBC of the poster she convinced a UK billboard company to allow her to display, free of charge, for two weeks. “Because nowadays you go out and you see a lot of prominent black women with straight weaves and wigs and I didn’t want her to think, ever, that there’s anything wrong with her hair.”
Lée’s 11-year-old daughter, Siirah, told the BBC that she, as well as her friends, liked her naturally curly hair. “All of them really, really like it,” she said, adding, “sometimes they tell me that I should try and straighten, it but I don’t want to.”
Women in the area voiced their support for the billboard, with one telling the TV station, “I feel like we need to see women of color with their hair out. It shouldn’t always be about long hair, flowing hair. We’ve got amazing curly hair, so why not see it on a billboard like this? I want to see more companies showing girls with natural hair on their billboards.”
Another happily noted, “I’ve never seen a billboard full of people that look like me, so hopefully that should motivate younger children, as well.”
“The billboard challenges the narrative of beauty and promotes diversity and counters underrepresentation,” Lée, a former journalist, told BuzzFeed, noting that, while natural hair has been more widely affirmed lately, she hasn’t seen the same for what’s known as 4C textured hair, or the mostly tightly coiled type of hair. She says 4C “isn’t seen as beautiful by the mainstream,” and that she aims to change it.
“Initially, I wanted to write an open letter to the big brands asking them to be more inclusive and be more diverse. … But I thought, Why don’t I do a billboard? … So I called up UKBillboards and explained what I wanted to do and I was lucky enough for them to give it to me for free for two weeks,” Lée said. “When I first saw the billboard, I was completely and totally excited. I was in tears. I’ve been working on this for a couple of years. I am so excited to see it come to fruition.” Society makes women of color anxious about their hair and skin, she added, “So this is to empower black girls.”
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