I learnt about the true impact of colonization on our culture and mental wellbeing, on our religious beliefs and social institutions and it was not good. I learnt that Africa and anything associated with her was generally relegated to the unworthy or inferior heap – and in the world of beauty nothing was different.
By changing the natural texture of my hair, I felt I was agreeing with the thinking that African features are inferior when I straightened my hair. I may not lift my nose or lighten my skin, but I still subscribed to the fact that there was a beauty ideal better than mine. I felt I was agreeing to all the other negative associations with people of African descent – that we were second class citizens, of inferior intelligence and of inferior beauty. It made me feel so ashamed to endorse this thinking by disguising my texture. Then after a while I felt angry, really angry that I had ever contemplated changing my hair texture to a supposedly more beautiful one. I cut off my processed hair and the sense of pride I felt was great.
However the desire to really do something about it other than cut my processed hair off, came after I had my daughter. The love I felt for this little being was so strong it made me cry. As she lay there in my arms fresh into the world, it dawned on me that as she grows up she is going to be bombarded with messages that tell her she is less than perfect.
Who dare talk to my beautiful daughter like that?! Who dare tell her she is not acceptable because of the features she was born with? Who dare make her believe she has to change her looks, her hair, to conform and fit in and be acceptable and adored? Unfortunately the society dares, and if I don’t do something about it she too will believe the lie. She too will feel the need to change that which she has been blessed with, she too will see this blessing as a curse, She too will have an unhealthy dependency on texture-altering chemicals.
I couldn't bare to think that she will be a mimicking another’s beauty, be a copy-cat instead of owning her own beauty.
Well I had a choice – complain or do something. Hence Project Embrace was born. No more am I going to play along to this single idea of beauty. Not only is it damaging to our mental well-being but also to our physical health. It is a dangerous message being perpetrated by the media that there is only one way to be beautiful, only one way to have beautiful hair, and our young girls are carrying the brunt of this lie as they damage their follicles to wear “beautiful hair”. Why wear a wig/weave when you have got hair? Was my question to a teenager, she laughed and said “my hair can never look beautiful so I have to help it”.
I refuse to accept that the only way to have beautiful hair is for it to be long and straight. Our universe is diverse and so should the idea of beauty because we are not one homogeneous set of genes, we are a beautiful blend and mixture, coming out in different colours and hair types, not one is superior to the other.