Growing up, I could not wait to get my first relaxer. I begged and begged my mom to put a Just For Me boxed perm in her shopping cart whenever we passed by the hair-care aisle at the drugstore, and sang the catchy jingle ad nauseam around the house. And every few months I watched with wide-eyed marvel as my grandmother, a licensed cosmetologist, would give my aunts relaxer touch-ups in the kitchen. It was fascinating to me. After applying a magic, smelly concoction on their curly roots and washing it out, they'd emerge from underneath the kitchen faucet with silky straight locks, just like on the front of the box. Naturally, the fictional role models I was obsessed with had straight hair, too. Belle, Anastasia, and Arielle were all my heroines with long, smooth locks.
...how far would it go — wanting someone else's body, lips, eyes, eyelashes, talent, charisma? The list is endless...
It's not uncommon for young, impressionable girls to take their cues from what they see in front of them. I don't remember having any natural-haired heroes until later on in life, when Scary Spice burst onto the scene. Unfortunately, this still hasn't changed. We've got way more natural and curly characters for the younger set to look up to, but sometimes, our girls tend to gravitate towards the LSLH archetypes that have saturated the media for forever.
Lekia Lée, who launched Project Embrace, knows that feeling all too well. The London mom found her 11-year-old daughter, Siira, solely complimenting Black women with straight hair. "I didn't want her losing her childlike wonder and love for herself," Lée explained on Project Embrace's website. "If she saw straight hair as the only hair that is worthy of compliments, then it was only be a matter of time before she would wish that her hair was straight and how far would it go — wanting someone else's body, lips, eyes, eyelashes, talent, charisma? The list is endless."
Instead of waiting around for a change, Lée made one herself. The former broadcast journalist and image activist, with no background in advertisement, created a campaign to erect a billboard that celebrates the beauty of natural hair, dark skin, and curvier figures. The effort was fueled by a Crowdfunder, where she raised roughly $677 US dollars in 30 days to help with funds. She also held her own open audition, bypassing area modeling agencies. With her sleuthing, she was able to find nine women, flauting 'fros and protective styles of all lengths. The ad, created with the hashtag #AfroVisibility, will remain stationed in West London for two more weeks, but you already know that Lée's work is far from finished.
"This campaign is for every Black woman," she wrote in her Crowdfunder description. "Because no matter what you choose to do to your hair, we all still have our natural hair growing out of our scalps. This is for every Black girl. This is for everyone who believes in and supports diversity and equal value for everyone. This is a time to be loud."