I have what is classed as “4C” afro hair and been natural for over 10 years. Before then I experimented with weaves, braids and relaxers. I decided to go natural after realising my hair was “allergic” to chemical relaxers (self-diagnosis!).
When my hair was relaxed it was ‘easier to manage’ but I noticed a lot of breakage. Yes, I said it – ‘easier to manage’. I’ve used that phase in reference to my chemically relaxed hair and I regret it.
I was ignorant.
I was ignorant about my own natural hair, because I didn’t take time to understand it! Even when I went natural, I still didn’t really understand how my hair works. Only in the last 4 years, I’ve taken time to understand my hair and I’m still learning (due to its versatility). Now my natural hair is ‘easier to manage’, because I understand what it likes.
I remember hating water touching my hair became I was scared of shrinkage. Now I know water is my hairs best friend and shrinkage is to embraced.
The great thing about the ‘natural hair movement’ – there is so much information out there (which can be overwhelming at times), so the journey is always an individual one, involving trial and error. I’ve learnt that even if someone has the same hair texture as me, products they use may not always work for me.
We all have differences in opinion on what works for natural hair, and some information may seem contradictory. It’s up to you to test and decide what’s right for your hair.
If you have any advice or tips, please share in the comments section as we all learn from each other. Finally, some last tips on maintaining moisture – a must for afro/curly textured hair.
IS NATURAL HAIR PREJUDICE SHRINKING IN THE WORKPLACE?
Afro hair in the workplace
Historically afro/curly/textured hair hasn’t, had an easy ride. In attempts to align with a European beauty ideal, women (and men) have forced their hair to conform. However, in 2016, in arguably the most significant era of the natural-hair movement since its prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, women have embraced their freedom and started revelling in their natural hair beauty. But will unspoken ‘rules’ of the workplace undercut this natural hair revival? In the world of celebrity, natural hair is increasingly in the spotlight – thanks largely to individuals such as Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o, British singer Jameila and Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo.
Their decision to wear their hair natural hasn’t hindered their careers, but for the not-so famous, the psychological battle of deciding whether to wear natural hair to work continues.
“One weekend I took out my weave and went to work on Monday with my natural hair,” says Annie from Manchester, who works in finance. “I was so apprehensive when I first went in. Being the only black woman in the department, everyone was staring and talking about it … There were some negative but also some positive comments. Colleagues were quite shocked, [some] even touched my hair!”
Annie is not the only one to experience the ‘hands-on’ approach. “When I started wearing my natural hair to work, there was lots of fascination – colleagues asked to touch it”, says Belinda from London, who works in market research. “I do get positive comments, but I don’t see why I should give full-blown explanations about my hair at work – it’s hair, it’s just a different texture to yours. Views about natural hair are so entrenched, we don’t even realise. If I worked somewhere and they told me to cover my natural hair, I wouldn’t work there anymore.”
Increasingly, anecdotes of black women experiencing problems after wearing their natural hair at work have been surfacing in the media. Earlier this year, ‘Leila’ from London reported that she was told by her employer to wear a weave to work. “I am West African and I work at a consultancy firm in London,” she told the BBC.“I am always being made to feel that my natural hair gives the impression that I am unprofessional”. Leila subsequently changed her hairstyle, fearing her natural hair would become an obstacle to career progression.
Another Londoner, Simone Powderly, claimed she was told by a recruitment agency to remove her braids before being put forward for interviews with luxury designer brands. She declined. Meanwhile Canadian waitress Akua Agyemfra was reprimanded at work after her manager allegedly told her to wear her hair down, to which she replied, my hair doesn’t really “go down”.
Unfortunately, many people of all races have inherited the fallacy that afro hair is ‘unprofessional’.
“I think it’s an issue that women of colour can’t feel confident and feel they have to navigate the workspace, hiding their natural hair”, says Oyin Akiniyi (pictured), founder of The Good Hair Club online beauty store.
“The idea that only straight hair is professional is ludicrous”. Nevertheless, it remains a common concern – even for Neecie Gold, co-founder of The Natural Hair Daily, which ran an afro-hair meetup and workshop at Africa Utopia, sharing natural-hair style tips and celebrating the versatility of natural hair. “I was a bit nervous about going natural to work,” says Gold. “At the time I was working for a car dealership, but I just confidently rocked it. “As I’m natural now and trying to branch away from the industry I’m in, I’ve found it quite difficult to secure interviews, which does make me question whether my LinkedIn profile picture is a reason for this. It’s a shame there is some ignorance among some employers regarding natural hair. Employers should judge people based on whether they can do the actual job.”
To wash away lingering, archaic prejudices, natural hair needs to be more visible in the workplace. Unless natural hair becomes a ubiquitous feature in our culture it may always face resistance. If people with naturally straight hair are not forced to wear their hair in an un-natural state, the same latitude should be extended to those with afro/curly textured hair.”
Many naturals are concerned with hair length, when it should be about hair health! For thousands of years African women have creatively styled their hair in various ways. Historically, African hairstyles have always been a sign of identity, including social status and indication of the geographical region they are from. For some tribes like the Massai, short/shaved hair is gender neutral and seen as a rite of passage through various stages of life.
If you’re thinking about doing the big chop, whether you want to keep it short and simple or get a bit more creative, see below for some hairspiration and tips!
The Fashion industry is definitely being called to account on its failings in providing an environment where all models are provided with the services required to do their jobs. These failings are chronic; the only reason they’re coming to light is because of social media and the fact that black models are just fed up!
It seems like, black models can’t just turn up to work and expect a makeup artist to have products that complement their skin, oh no no no! They need to be prepare just in case… This isn’t an issue 100% of the time, but it’s more prevalent than it should be, especially as it occurs at international shows.
If you’re a stylist / make up artist / hairdresser on an international model show, you need to be prepared. Just like any other job, in any other industry – be prepared/ equipped to do your job. Some argue it’s laziness but I also think it’s ignorance. Part of a solution to the problem is to just have more ethnic make up artists, who understand skin of colour and different hair textures. We don’t just need diversity on the runway but behind the scenes too!
Discovered while she was at school, twenty-something model from London, Leomie Anderson, modelled for Victoria secret, Tom Ford, Chloe, Moschino, and Vivienne Westwood. Leomie has been very vocal about her black model experiences in the fashion industry and felt compelled to help her fellow models out, buy laying down what’s in her ‘model survival kit’.
Hairdresser at fashion show: “Why do you think you need different products from everyone else?”
Leomie Anderson: “Babes, ’cause I’m a totally different race, of course I need different products!”
Pictures: Premier Model Management
After modelling for around six years, Leomie dishes out what she believes are the top 5 products every black model needs to survive at fashion shows.
Snippets of an African legacy from a colourful perspective
When the Guardian Newspaper brought to light that a Globeleza carnival queen lost her title because she is “too black”, I was shocked.
I still am; actually I feel sadness more than anything.
Racism and its cancerous child, colourism are such primitive constructs, but their foundations seem unshakable.
The video below, reminds me again that colourism, is very much a part of black culture in the diaspora.
In Brazil, a country reported to contain the highest proportion of black people outside of Africa – a carnival samba queen who won by public vote, was subjected to racist comments online, by white, mixed and black Brazilians! Following the abuse that she suffered, she was then stripped of her crown without explanation. Later replaced by a lighter-skinned samba queen, who didn’t win by public vote.
I’ve been to Brazil and I noticed a socio-economic colour divide. I saw more brown skinned people when I visited the favelas than I did while walking through the pretty suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. I remember some of the surprised looks from hotel staff when they saw me walking through the hotel; maybe they were not used to seeing black people in hotels on the Copacabana beach front. Some people thought I was Brazilian, so maybe that’s what threw them off.
You can hear how the carnival queen, was stripped of her crown and how she felt in this video.
It’s enough that other races see black people at the bottom of the food chain, but how do we see ourselves?
The samba queen above was ridiculed because of her skin tone by black Brazilians too. I’m not giving a pass to some people of other races who may have an habitual disdain for dark skin, but we are also perpetrators in this colourism crime.
The inception of the trans-Atlantic slave trade solidified the perception that dark skin women are less ‘beautiful’ and even less human than their white and lighter skinned counterparts.
White supremacy notions of beauty and superiority have been propagated from generation to generation by black people to their children, because of oppression. Not surprising as this is what we’ve been taught. We’re still subjecting ourselves to these negative stereotypes consciously and/or subconsciously. Dispelling such stereotypes seems to be a never ending PR exercise, but will become an impossible task if we’re complicit in keeping those ideologies alive. A waste product of being divided and conquered.
The US, is another country with a large proportion of black people and probably has the most famous civil rights history in the world. When rapper Kendrick Lamar, casted a dark skinned girl in his music video Poetic Justice, nearly three years ago, it became a talking point, within the black music culture community.
Why would casting a dark skinned black girl in a hip hop music video even be a cause for discussion?
This isn’t a pity party, yes there are black women who are given opportunities, like Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o. However, the fact that their prominence was such landmark moment when it happened, during the millennium, shows there is still some way to go.
Snippets of an African legacy from a colourful perspective
“Fight for your rights!” – a slogan that the black people (and other minority groups) wherever they reside in the world can relate to. It seems like controversy is just part of black culture?
Known as the crowning glory for women and men, hair is also wrapped up into this notion called beauty – which the majority of us are intrigued by. Consciously or sub-consciously. However, like most things associated with ‘beauty’ the emphasis is usually disproportionately projected onto women.
Black people (women more than men) seem to have a love hate relationship with Afro hair; a subject which provokes fascination (from others) and discussion.
Afro hair has a chequered history, a controversial present and unwritten future. Who knows if we’ll be having the same conversation in 5 years time?
At one point Afro hair was seen as the epitome of black identity and defying white oppression.
Afro hair is making a comeback; most recently displayed on high fashion Western catwalks and photo shoots. Last year W Magazine’s spread, featuring models with natural hair caused waves on social media.
In recent years, natural Afro hair has been stretched, pulled and debated more openly. Some may argue that it’s becoming more ‘acceptable’ now.
In south/Latin American countries where being of African descent is usually something to be ashamed of and hidden, people are starting to embrace their African heritage. In another bold fashion step, Jourdan Dunn is on the February issue of Vogue Brasil (with an Afro wig); a country who has struggled to accept her African heritage and subscribed to European beauty standards for decades, despite reportedly having the second largest black population in the world.
Despite the preference for straight hair among most races over the years, curly/afro hair is met with fascination, curiosity, approval and disdain. In the video below, un-ruly.com spoke to women about how they feel when asked the question many naturals dread, “can I touch your hair?”. This video was inspired by Saartjie Baartman, an African woman who was displayed across Britain by Hendrik Cezar between 1810 and 1814, because she looked ‘different’ (to the Europeans who displayed her, like an artifact in a museum).
Whether its here today or gone tomorrow, it seems natural hair still ignites controversy. We can’t forget when pop singer Zendaya Coleman was accused of “probably smelling like weed”, by a TV presenter when she wore a dreadlock hairstyle to last years Oscars.
Either way, natural hair is here to stay; and there are afro naturals all over the world who are embracing their natural hair. To them this is more than a fashion statement, its a normality!
Courtesy of ‘Black Girl with Long Hair’…Naturals living in the Caribbean/USA…
Nykhor Paul’s Instagram post probably made some so-called make-up ‘artists’ blush when she put them on blast a few days ago! The South Sudanese model has put race and make-up back on the catwalk in a post she put on her Instagram page: @nykhor
Dear white people in the fashion world!
Please don’t take this the wrong way but it’s time you people get your shit right when it comes to our complexion! Why do I have to bring my own makeup to a professional show when all the other white girls don’t have to do anything but show up wtf!
Don’t try to make me feel bad because I am blue blackits 2015 go to Mac, Bobbi Brown, Makeup forever, Iman cosmetic, black opal, even Lancôme and Cliniquecarried them plus so much more. There’s so much options our there for dark skin tones today.
A good makeup artist would come prepared and do there research before coming to work because often time you know what to expect especially at a show! Stop apologizing it’s insulting and disrespectful to me and my race it doesn’t help, seriously! Make an effort at least!
That goes for NYC, London, Milan, Paris and Cape Townplus everywhere else that have issues with black skin tones.
Just because you only book a few of us doesn’t mean you have the right to make us look ratchet. I’m tired of complaining about not getting booked as a black model and I’m definitely supertired of apologizing for my blackness!!!! Fashion is art, art is never racistit should be inclusive of all not only white people, shit we started fashion in Africa and you modernize and copy it! Why can’t we be part of fashion fully and equally?
There isn’t much I can really add to this apart from, YES! Nykhor Paul sums up the frustrations of many women of colour (WoC) with vivid memories of scouring make-up counters for products that complement their shade but to no avail.
Within the mist of this ethnic beauty discourse, it’s important to remember that make-up does not make women beautiful. Confidence and embracing your own natural beauty is the foundation; make-up just enhances natural beauty (which is already present) and is fun to experiment with it.
I don’t wear make-up often but I do have those memories of walking into stores, seeing a shade and hoping it will compliment me. I’ve sat in the make-up chair (as you do) allowing the shop assistant to brush all over my face and then it comes…. that sinking feeling when the mirror is flipped around and I think; “this looks terrible”.
There has been an increase in brands catering for darker skin tones but due this frustration, I became numb to make-up adverts; experience has taught me that ‘I don’t really fit’ with many of these products.
However, one of my clearest memories of make-up advertising that made me actually walk into a shop and spend money without hesitation was as I strolled through Herald Square in NYC, and saw an advert for Maybelline with Jessica White. When Lupita Nyong’o became the first black ambassador for Lancôme, a brand which had never even entered my mind (to use for myself) i thought “hmm that looks good on her, so it could look good on me too”…
Two years ago Jourdan Dunn, who earlier this year became the first black model (since Naomi Campbell in 2002) to have a solo cover on UK Vogue Magazine, spoke about how a make-up artist felt uncomfortable doing her make-up because she was black. Like any profession make-up artists should hone their craft, especially if working in the international fashion industry and should be prepared to work with all types of models. View the video below from 7:28 seconds:
Nykhor Paul’s condemnation is of make-up artists who are supposed to be at the top of their game, highlights the psychological hurdles black models face when going to fashion shoots, where they have to worry that a make-up artist will prefer not to work with them making them feel that there are ‘wrong’ in some way, where their white counterparts can just turn up, without that extra worry. It’s a psychological slap in the face for WoC who have to become adept researchers when buying make-up, otherwise left feeling like they are the problem, their skin is wrong because it doesn’t fit. Any woman can feel like this regardless of social status.
In a recent article by Reni Eddo-Lodge in Stylist Magazine, I came across the UK based website Brown Beauty Talk providing a platform where WoC can find, make-up tips, events and much more. Sites like this can be a saving grace, providing a space where WoC don’t have to apologise for the ‘inconvenience’ of the skin tone. In the same article, Stylist declared their beauty pledge, promising to work with modelling agencies to ensure that women who appear in the magazine have a variety of skin tones and hair textures. To do this, they want OUR help; by telling them how this can be achieved (email: email@example.com). Just like Nykhor Paul and many women who have spoken out about this issue, the rest of us need to do the same, if we don’t nothing will change.
Even if the beauty industry starts to listen by adding more variety to their palettes, this ‘problem’ can become an opportunity for WoC to empower themselves:
Become the cosmetic scientist who develops beauty products…
Become the make-up artist who applies these beauty products…
Create the magazines and forums which discuss these beauty products…
Set up businesses that sell these beauty products, creating reasonable prices for the consumer…
One of the basic concepts of economics is supply and demand. When a product such as foundations for darker skin tones is scarce, but demand is high, the the price of that product will be high. This is why many WoC, complain about having to spend more money on premium brands who provide suitable products. If supply increases to meet demand over time, prices for the consumer will be more competitive.
It can be done.
Whether it’s foundation, blush, face powder, lipstick or eye shadow the demand has and always will be there so there is no excuse for darker skin tones to be ignored. The belief is that black goes with anything, but will the beauty industry ever fully embrace women of colour? Maybe black isn’t always in fashion afterall.
If you’ve been searching for the right shades for your skin tone then I would say YouTube should be your new best friend (if it isn’t already). Here are some beauty vloggers with tutorials for WoC, and there are lot more on YouTube: