A London mother just wanted her daughter to grow up thinking there was nothing wrong with her healthy, puffy Afro. So she found a way to put up a larger than life positive image.
Lekia Lée began Project Embrace when she realized the only black women her daughter Siirah would complement had straight hair. She recognized the beginnings of the poor self-image so many black girls struggle with. So two years ago she launched the campaign to get little black girls to embrace their hair, launching a CrowdFunder to erect a tribute to natural hair.
“You see while some people might have a bad hair day once in a while, as a black girl you are born with a bad hair day, or so society makes you believe,” Lée wrote about her crusade.
The billboard in West London features coils, twists and puffs in all shapes and sizes. The images purposely feature real women of various ages because “girls look up to their mums, aunties or older women in their communities to show them how to love themselves,” she told Quartz. Lée’s 11-year-old daughter’s face lit up as the billboard is unveiled.
“Nowadays you see a lot of prominent black women with weaves, straight weaves and wigs and I didn’t want her to think that there is anything wrong with her hair,” Lée also told the BBC.
The billboard will be up for two more weeks and Project Embrace hopes to erect the advertisement in other UK cities and bring the message down to schools.
If a billboard seems extreme, consider the lengths black women have gone to hide their natural hair, applying eye-watering chemicals to melt away the kink or fueling a lucrative global hair trade for weaves to cover their own hair.
White and Asian woman also use chemical treatments on their hair and wear extensions, but these are rarely as a result of a historical social rejection of their looks.
And who could blame professional black women for hiding their own hair? A recent controversy involving Google’s image search results page for unprofessional hair confirmed to some that their dreadlocks and Afro hair were not welcome in many offices.
Like people, algorithms aren’t born racist. The search result was likely influenced by the numerous blog posts on the issue, but it does reflect the views and clicking habits of the people who use it.
While there are an increasing number of black women wearing their hair naturally, it is still seen a political statement rather just a convenient healthy choice. Many have agonized over the decision, slowly transitioned from straightened to natural hair (sometimes for as long as a year) or went for the “big chop” and cut everything off to start over.
If it’s this hard for adult black women, imagine the burden on little black girls.