Afro Hair - Tanyaradzwa Nyenwa's report for ITV London
Published on 15 Jun 2017
Tanyaradzwa Nyenwa is the 2017 Breaking Into News Finalist for ITV London.
About Breaking Into News:
Media Trust and ITV News launched Breaking Into News to offer budding broadcast journalists the opportunity to learn writing, reporting and production skills. The scheme is specifically designed to support young people from across the country, that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity, to gain industry insight
Ten finalists, one from each ITV News region, are currently being selected and will be given the opportunity to work with top industry mentors to develop their own ideas and turn them into a news report for their local ITV newsroom. Each report will also be considered for inclusion on an ITV News platform.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
‘Most of the time they put you in a scarf’ – why black actors struggle in the hair-and-makeup chair
A new campaign aims to tackle the lack of experience among beauticians on set, which sees black actors frequently asked to do their own hair and makeup.
The campaigners aim to expose the mistreatment of black actors. Photograph: Warren Goldswain/Getty Images/iStockphoto
As if the scarcity of roles for black actors in Britain wasn’t bad enough, those who are cast in TV productions often find their hair and makeup needs are being ignored or at worst abused.
A new campaign to tackle inequality in behind-the-camera treatment has been launched by Peggy-Ann Fraser, a black actor. She is aiming to expose the mistreatment of black actors, and calling for better hair and makeup training, as well as greater employment for black hair and makeup artists.
Fraser, who has appeared in TV dramas including Casualty and The Bill, claims that black actors are frequently asked to do their own hair and take their own makeup on to sets. “When I’m on a set, most of the time they do not have experience doing afro hair. Sometimes they try and work around it, but most of the time they will put you in a scarf or suggest you get your own haircut.
“There have [also] been many occasions when I have been left looking ashen-faced or with a grey complexion because the wrong colour foundation and face powder have been used by makeup artists.”
Equity and Bectu aim to “plug the knowledge gap that exists among industry professionals about black skin and hair”, through a week-long pilot or taster course due to start towards the end of 2017, led by black makeup and hair-care specialists.
Black models are also unhappy about the discriminatory treatment they receive at the hands of hairstyle and makeup crews. Model Pippa Christian wrote on Instagram in March that she’d had enough of the industry not being able to “handle” her afro. Meanwhile, model and presenter Lilah Parsons revealed on Twitter that model agencies often sent out casting calls with the proviso: “Hair type: all except afro.”
Employment laws and social media have made it easier for black actors and models to publicise the demeaning practices they encounter and call out industry racism. But such negative experiences still make actors feel unwelcome, says Fraser. “You don’t feel part of a production or included. There is a real opportunity to bring about much needed change”.
As a new MP I balked at wearing my hair naturally in parliament. Now I’m launching the Black Fashion and Beauty Awards there, as we still have so far to go
• Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle Central
“Andromeda, supposedly the most beautiful woman in the world, was however from Nubia and therefore black.” My memory of this “however” in a Greek mythology textbook, it has haunted me – through my adolescence, and long into adulthood – with its assertion, both explicit and implicit, of the contradiction between being black and being beautiful.
While many in the feminist movement rightly spoke out against the objectification of white women, they largely failed to notice an entirely different exclusion – of black women. There are many valid criticisms of the fashion and beauty industry: the pressure on girls, and increasingly boys, to match unhealthy body images, the airbrushing of reality from the pages of glossy magazines, the impact of packaging on the environment – but it has an important role to play in the normalisation of blackness.
That is why I am hosting tomorrow’s launch of the Black Beauty and Fashion Awards 2017 in parliament. The awards aim to promote equality and celebrate diverse beauty, giving consumers of black beauty products a voice that can be heard clearly.
We have come a long way since I was growing up – there are now supermodels with darker skin tones, and just about every fashion advert has the apparently obligatory Afro. But there is still a long way to go.
The norm remains white, even for me. When I was first elected as an MP in 2010, I did not feel I could wear my hair in its natural curly state in the chamber. I thought it would not be seen as “professional”: my expectation of normality was set, like Andromeda’s beauty, on white terms. It was only after a (white) constituent insisted I looked so much happier at home in Newcastle with my hair “out” – rather than scrunched up and straightened in the chamber – that I finally screwed up the courage to go natural.
And there were obstacles even to that, whether it was being labelled a “moptop” by internet trolls – or the more subtle reaction of mainstream beauty salons. I was told that none of the (many) hairdressers in a large salon could cut my hair as that wasn’t part of the standard training; it was only on the advanced course, apparently, that hairdressers learned how to “do” Afro hair. Just last week, when trying to book a salon appointment over the phone, I was informed a blow dry was obligatory for “health and safety reasons”.
This denigration of blackness has consequences here, in the way that black people can still struggle with their sense of self-worth – and this can be linked to the disproportionate levels of mental health issues in the black community. It is also reflected in the way black people are described, and indeed trolled, online. On social media racist memes regularly compare black men and women to apes of one kind or another, while the vitriol heaped on Diane Abbott during the election campaign was often rooted in her appearance.
And it has consequences globally. In developing countries, supposedly reputable cosmetic firms maximise their profits by claiming to make their customers whiter – Garnier Men’s PowerLight and Unilever’s Fair & Lovely for women are just two examples.
Global companies are making billions feeding racial stereotypes, while in the UK alone it is estimated that black and Asian women are forced to spend on average £137.52 more per year on beauty products due to lack of choice.
It is particularly appropriate to launch the Black Beauty and Fashion Awards in the new parliament that has followed the general election. While there is certainly more progress to be made, today’s Commons is more diverse than it has ever been, with 51 black and minority ethnic MPs, 25 of them female. We have a range of black images and representations, many variations of black beauty and black hair, just as in the country that we seek to represent.
But it is true that the chamber does still not have a full-on Afro. I may see if my hair is up to it.
It never occurred to me that I had a choice. I endured the pain of a chemical relaxer every four weeks to get my natural afro hair straightened. Mine was four weeks as against the recommended six to eight weeks because my hair wouldn’t ‘take’ to the relaxer. It didn’t matter that I had sores on my scalp as a result, or that the pain was like putting acid on my skin, or that I got my earlobes burnt every single time despite the thick layer of Vaseline.
To the uninitiated, you will be forgiven for wondering if having straight hair is worth all that pain? 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.
And hence we live for the day our bad hair day will end, it’s like a right of passage of sorts. Mine was at 16 (some as young as four) and my mother took me to a salon to have the jheri curl – extremely greasy and smelly. The grease soiled my cloths and pillowcases but it was worth it because my hair had changed. I didn’t believe that my natural hair could be as beautiful if not more, until…
I started my journey of self-acceptance and self-love. I had gone through all my life believing and giving in to the idea that I was born with undesirable features. I didn’t really like myself. I was good at makeup (I think), I bought stylish clothes and of course had straight hair. To the outside world I appeared confident and happy, stylish looking even, but the disguises weren’t changing the way I felt about myself. After going through depression, I knew something had to be done, because I couldn’t going on living like this … literally. I phoned a therapist and cried all through our 30 minutes telephone conversation. I couldn’t afford to pay her but she got me thinking and I started reading relevant books.
I started learning to love myself, to love and appreciate my size, height, body shape, my talent, but there was one a part of me that was still ok not to love, still ok to discriminate against, one part that embracing it actually produced negative reactions…my hair. That just didn’t sit down well with me. Why would embracing myself not include my hair texture?
And this is where society fails black girls and women.
From early 20th century images of afro hair being depicted as ugly and undesirable to the 21st century images were the most popular and desirable black women sport mostly straight hair to the complete absence of natural afro hair in shampoo adverts, afro hair has been stigmatised.
Despite this there has been some progress, with Victoria Secrets featuring its first natural afro model Maria Boyes in 2015 to British models like Poppy Okotcha and Toyin Toni proudly wearing their afro textured hair in magazine shoots and on runways.
You see the problem is not that we appreciate beauty but that the definition of beauty is so narrow, too narrow to include afro textured hair, so while society is waking up to the damaging effects of its narrow definition of beauty, advocating for body acceptance, even skin colour acceptance, hair discrimination still goes largely unopposed.
According to a recent study by the Perception Institute, black women face social stigma for having textured hair with black women facing far more hair anxiety than white women. Their research also showed that when the stigma towards afro hair is internalised it can undermine the ability for black women to be their full selves, affect their professional trajectory, social life, and self-esteem. The anxiety caused by this social stigma has also lead to unhealthy and damaging hair practices leading to girls as young as four suffering traction alopecia.
In an interview I conducted with Dr Barry Steven of the Trichological Society he said: “Routinely using hair extensions and chemical relaxers on school children can lead to permanent baldness by the age of 20.”
In my attempt to dismantle narrow definitions of beauty and hair and to help myself, my own daughter and other girls like her fully embrace their image, I started the Project Embrace billboard campaign to showcase more diverse images.
The need to widen what it means to be beautiful and have beautiful hair is crucial to many girl’s and women’s self esteem. We live in a beautifully diverse society and we need to reflect that.
Just like I will no longer wear shoes that ruin my feet, I will no longer wear hair styles without considering the impact no matter how great it looks. You could call it an age thing; as an adult I make informed choices and weight up the consequences. But I’m aware that for many, especially school girls it works the other way round; beauty no matter the price is the norm.
So much so that when asked how angry I was that top-performing Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Massachusetts (USA) was banning girls from wearing their hair in long braids (I’m the author of the recently published book: How to Grow Longer Hair whilst wearing Weaves, Wigs & Braids, Like I did.), my response wasn’t what was expected. Have a listen here:
Because of the discrimination suffered by black girls and women who want to wear their natural hair, the motive of schools and places of work have rightly come under great scrutiny and is thus the main focus.
So for now, until the dust settles, I’ll continue whistling into the wind.
“I really do think this is an important issue that needs to be addressed. I hope my story will help young professionals to take a stand and be brave enough to go to work with their natural hair despite what people may say.
This is what Project Embrace’s soon-to-come event, Working While Natural, is all about.
‘Wear a weave at work – your afro hair is unprofessional’
By Rozina SiniBBC News
15 May 2016
What happens when your work is acceptable but your hair is not?
Leila – not her real name – says her London employer has told her on a number of occasions not to turn up for work with her natural hair.
She says she has been encouraged to wear a weave to disguise her afro hair.
It is not the first time that work dress codes have come under scrutiny.
But unlike Nicola whose petition calling for a change in dress code laws for women has reached 130,000, Leila says the pressure to conform to western ideals of beauty has become a struggle that she has learnt to accept.
“I am West African, and I work at a consultancy firm in London. I am always being made to feel that my natural hair gives the impression that I am unprofessional”, says Leila.
“A few years ago I had my hair styled in cornrows and I was asked quite blatantly by my boss how long it would be before my hair was back to ‘normal’.
“I was taken aback. I could not believe what I was hearing.
“Although shocked, I did change my hairstyle – I did not want my hair to be the cause of problems for me at work.”
“I had a weave so that my hair looked more like my colleagues. But surely I should be able to show my natural hair?
“I don’t mind having a weave but it’s just that I do not have a choice and that is unfair. It’s as though with the weave I am seen as an equal and I fit into a visible mould.
“Without it I am simply not taken seriously. I have now learnt to adapt and accept this but sometimes I wonder why.”
“I have thought about raising it as a grievance but it’s just not worth the trouble.
“On one occasion on the train, my colleague pointed out a woman in the carriage with afro hair.
“She began talking to me about how horrible and unprofessional the woman’s hair was. Did she not realise my natural hair was the same?
“But this is not a unique situation – my friends and I will often discuss how colleagues react to our hair.”
Risk of discrimination against black employees
Anna Birtwistle is a partner at specialist employment and partnership law firm, CM Murray LLP.
“The most common pitfalls for employers in this area are religious and gender discrimination but it is entirely possible that a case might be brought on grounds of race or nationality”, says Anna.
“While employers have the right to apply dress codes, an employer who prohibits afros in the workplace risks the allegation that they are discriminating against black employees, and would need to objectively justify that policy by reference to the job in question.
“Justification for ‘grooming’ policies are often made by reference to health and safety issues or corporate image.
“It is certainly difficult to see any legitimate argument why afros should run counter to the image of a professional workplace.
“In addition, an employer is going to struggle to justify that position if, for example, it can be shown that white employees with curls are permitted to wear their hair natural.”
Black woman applying for Harrods job told she had to ‘chemically straighten her hair to get job’
A report published on Wednesday claims that women are still being forced to wear high heels, make-up and revealing clothes by some employers
“She pointed to a black girl who was being interviewed and said, ‘You can’t work for me unless you have your hair chemically relaxed, because your hair, as is, is not professional enough.’ We just sat there and nodded and agreed because we needed the job. People did what they were told.”
A black woman applying for a position at the high-end department store Harrods was told by an external agency to chemically straighten her hair if she wanted the job.
Black women are under pressure to remove braids or to use chemical relaxers on their hair to make it look “professional”, a Parliamentary committee has heard, as MPs urged the Government to clamp down on sexist workplace dress codes.
A report published on Wednesday by two parliamentary committees, for Petitions and for Women and Equalities, also claims that women are still being forced to wear high heels, make-up and revealing clothes by some employers.
The report, which was launched following the experience of Nicola Thorp, a receptionist at PwC, who was sent home without pay for not wearing high heels, concluded that current laws to prevent discrimination are not “fully effective”.
Ms Thorp launched a petition last year that received more than 150,000 signatures and triggered an inquiry by the Women and Equalities Committee.
She told MPs that the discrimination women faced was not purely a feminist issue.
In evidence presented to the Petitions and Women and Equalities Committees, she said: “I have worked in retail before, notably at Harrods. They are really quite bad and I ended up leaving as a result of that.
“In fact, in one of the interview sessions that I attended, the woman who held the interview – who was working for the agency, so Harrods might have diminished responsibility – would go around the room and say, ‘You need a makeover, you need a makeover, you’re fine, you need a makeover’. She pointed to a black girl who was being interviewed and said, ‘You can’t work for me unless you have your hair chemically relaxed, because your hair, as is, is not professional enough.’ We just sat there and nodded and agreed because we needed the job. People did what they were told.”
Harrods denied the claims. “As with many luxury retailers, all Harrods sales staff are subject to a dress code which they sign up to on joining the company. It asks, in general terms only, that both male and female staff maintain a high standard of personal grooming and has been revised in the past five years to ensure the comfort of our staff while seeking to maintain the standards we expect from those representing our famous store,” a spokesperson for Harrods told The Independent.
Suzanne Horne, partner and employment lawyer at law firm Paul Hastings, said: “In certain sectors, dress codes are a thing of the past. But for other employers, the report is a prompt to revisit their dress code policy, bring it up to date to reflect to the current societal attitudes and minimise their exposure to a claim of sex discrimination.
“However, it should also be noted that it is not discrimination to require your employees to dress appropriately and professionally for the workplace. What you wear at work is not an opportunity to express yourself. The question now is what does ‘appropriate’ mean in the modern workplace?”
Julia Wilson, a partner within the employment business, at legal firm Baker McKenzie, added that an instruction to women to wear high heels in an office environment “isn’t necessarily sex discrimination” under current law.
She said: “An instruction for a woman to wear a revealing outfit when a man has not been required to do the same clearly has greater potential to be sex discrimination. If MPs want clear rules and fines for companies in relation to dress code practises that is likely to require a change in the law.”
The report may have been launched over a pair of shoes but it has revealed a lot about sexism in the workplace.
Here are four things you need to know as an employee and employer:
Employees do not feel able to challenge dress codes
When Ms Thorp challenged her employer’s dress code, she was laughed at by her manager and sent home without pay.
The investigation found that her experience echoes that of many women.
Emma Birkett, a female employee cited in the report, said that after questioning the dress code required by her employer, she was laughed at and met with a “quip” that she would have plenty of time to rest her feet if she were unemployed.
She was only allowed to wear flat shoes to work after an ankle sprain. Although Ms Birkett was aware that there were organisations she could have turned to for support, she did not contact them.
She said: “There is always that fear that if you do that, you will be pushed out of your job. When you really need that employment, you have to weigh up how much fuss you think it is worth financially to you.”
The existence of a health and safety risk
The Committees received written evidence from the College of Podiatry.
The College said that women who wore high heels for long periods of time had reduced balance, reduced ankle flexion and weaker muscle power in the calf.
This significantly alters the mobility of the foot and puts the wearer at a much greater risk of associated disabling pathologies over a long period of time.
Footwear is clearly documented in scientific literature as being a primary cause of foot pain and pathology with a direct link between women who wear ill-fitting footwear and disabling pain.
Employees feel sexualised by their employers
Requirements to wear makeup, short skirts or even dye their hair blonde made some workers feel sexualised by their employer and deterred their career progress, MPs found.
The Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading charity promoting gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life, told the inquiry that requiring women to abide by gendered dress codes, often of a sexualised nature, sent out the message that their appearance was of more value than their skills, experience or voices.
“There have been statements from women expressing that being asked to look ‘sexy’ in the workplace leads to the uncomfortable realisation that the business they work for is profiting from their bodies,” said the campaign group.
The Equality Act is not adequately protecting workers
The Government said that the dress code imposed on Nicola Thorp was unlawful – but requirements to wear high heels remain widespread.
It is clear that the Equality Act 2010 is not yet “fully effective in protecting workers from discrimination”, the report concludes.
The report recommends that a publicity campaign be launched to ensure that employers know their legal obligations, and that workers know how they can complain effectively.
It suggests that guilty employers should be required to pay compensation to every worker affected by their discriminatory rules.
Just weeks before summer recess, 17-year-old Jenesis Johnson was told by her teacher at North Florida Christian School in Florida that the afro she’d been wearing for the past seven months needed to be “fixed,” WCTV reports.
“She said that my hair needs to be fixed, it was not neat and needs to be put in a style. My hair is fixed,” Johnson told WCTV of her teacher’s comments. The school district declined to provide comment to HuffPost. Johnson had not provided HuffPost with a comment at the time of publication.
Jenesis said the teacher told her that her hair was a distraction to classmates, despite the fact that she said she sits in the back of the classroom. She said the teacher asked her how long she’d been planning to wear her hair in an afro while in front of other students.
Jenesis’ peers then began asking their own questions about her hair.
Johnson told the station she was told to report to the assistant principal’s office two days later. View a video of the report above, or head to WCTV.
“[The assistant principal] said: ‘Your hair is extreme and faddish and out of control. It’s all over the place,’” Johnson said.
According to WCTV, the school’s handbook states that hairstyles can be deemed unacceptable by the school.
“No faddish or extreme hairstyles, and hair should be neat and clean at all times,” the book is said to read. “The administration will make the decision on any questionable styles.”
But Johnson’s mom took that to mean something else in her daughter’s case.
“You might say that it didn’t fit the handbook,” Lisa Johnson said. “But what she heard is a woman telling her is that she’s not pretty; her hair does not fit society.”
According to Ms. Johnson, the school said Jenesis was allowed to finish her last week at the school but the school told her that if her daughter didn’t change her hairstyle, they’d be giving Ms. Johnson a refund for the next school semester.
This story comes just weeks after two Massachusetts teens were sent to detention for wearing braids.