Pressures on young black women and girls to alter afro hair

By: Tanyaradzwa Nyenwa

Many children and teenagers in London feel pressurised into chemically straightening or relaxing their natural afro hair from a very young age.

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A mum from Essex has launched a campaign to encourage young black women to stop altering their natural hair.

Lekia Lee, who has a young daughter, realised that women with afro hair are rarely seen in beauty advertising. ‘Project Embrace’ is a campaign aiming to change that.

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She said the aim is ‘to put afro texture hair on billboards all around London so that not just black women and girls, but also white women, asians, latinos can also see afro hair as normal.

A lot of women have come to me saying their children are asking for their hair to be straightened but I don’t think that’s a good premise for a girl, especially in this society where women are made to think so much about how they look as opposed to what they can do.

– LEKIA LEE
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Annie Njugana, 13, has been chemically straightening her hair since she was four years old.

She said having straight hair makes her feel ‘like everyone else’.

It makes me feel like my friends, if we all have straight hair, we’re all the same, we’re all equal. I’m not one to be different so I would love to have straight hair. I feel like if everyone has straight hair then if I have straight hair I feel pretty with it.

– ANNIE NJUGANA

The pressures she feels continue, for many, into adult life. Search ‘unprofessional hairstyles’ online and the majority of images show black women with afro hair. There are reports of women being turned down for job interviews because of their hairstyle.

Chuma Soko is a London vlogger who makes YouTube videos to teach women how to style afro hair for the workplace. She believes the stigma will only change when diversity improves.

The future is looking bright in terms of encouraging our young women to accept themselves as they are and I think there will be a huge change especially in the work place.

– CHUMA SOKO, YOUTUBE VLOGGER

Tanya is the London finalist for the Breaking Into News scheme, a mentoring programme run by the Media Trust and ITV news to give young people with limited broadcast experience an insight into the industry, and an opportunity to report on what they think is important.

Pressures on young black women and girls to alter afro hair

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