These Artists Are Changing The Way Young Black Women Feel About Their Hair

Photographed by Creative Soul.
From childhood, young Black women are taught to believe that their hair is "unkempt," "unmanageable," and even "unprofessional." It's banned in schools and workplaces, targeted in relaxer ads, and even keeps many teens from participating in physical activity. And Regis and Kahran Bethencourt of CreativeSoul Photography want to change that.
The visual storytellers went viral on social media in 2016 for their striking AfroArt photo series, which depicts young girls proudly wearing their natural hair in intricate and breathtaking styles. "We feel that it's so important for kids of color to be able to see positive images that look like them in the media," Kahran tells Refinery29. "Unfortunately, the lack of diversity often plays into the stereotypes that they aren't 'good enough,' which often leads to low self-esteem."
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Recently, the Bethencourts signed a book deal to bring their powerful series to the masses. Check out their work, and the inspiration behind it, ahead.
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Photographed by Creative Soul.
Where did the idea for your AfroArt series come from?

"Around 2014 is when we started to photograph kids with natural hair... They would come to us with their hair straightened, because [parents] felt like straight hair was needed to break into the fashion industry. I thought that was a little weird, so we started doing our own personal projects where we would take a few kids with natural hair and show them in high-fashion attire to bring out their inner royalty. After a few shoots, it became our niche."
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Photographed by Creative Soul.
How did you come up with the project's various themes?

"I'm always inspired by everything around me. But through our brainstorming for themes, we realized that certain looks — Steampunk, Baroque, and Queen of Pearls for example — aren't often portrayed on people of color. So, we thought it would be cool to put our own twist on them. During the shoot is when the magic happens; we don't pre-plan everything. We like to bounce ideas off everyone involved, playing around to see what works and stretching our creativity as artists."
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Photographed by Creative Soul.
Did you put out a casting call for the models?

"Originally, we didn’t do an actual casting for AfroArt. We let the process happen naturally. We said that we'd be in multiple cities across the U.S., and parents were able to sign up for different themed sessions based on the location we were at. Doing that allowed us to open the series up to anyone and everyone — not just experienced models."
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Photographed by Creative Soul.
"Although our campaign is mostly focused on girls, we did also allow boys to participate because we feel that they often go through the same issues surrounding their hair. Similar to our message with the girls, we want boys to be empowered to love their uniqueness as well."
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Photographed by Creative Soul.
What was it like to work with the kids who were featured?

"Some of them were very new and weren't used to wearing their hair in big Afros. So for them, I think it was good that they got to see themselves in a different light. Photographing kids gives us the opportunity to really empower them and shape how they feel about themselves at an early age. A lot of times, kids come in and they seem a little shy or reserved. But by the time they leave, they appear much more confident. It was really exciting for us to be able to bring out these kids' regalness with the series. And now with the popularity of the AfroArt calendar, they've become celebrities in their own right."
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Photographed by Creative Soul.
What has been the public response?

"Aside from media outlets from around the world picking it up, we've had a lot educators reach out. They've asked to use our work to inspire confidence in some of the kids they teach. It's been an amazing — more than what we could have ever asked for."
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Photographed by Creative Soul.
You recently signed a book deal. Can you share more details about what it will look like?

"St. Martin’s press reached out in either November or December of 2017; they too believed in what we were doing. Together, our main goal is to put out something in Fall 2019 that portrays, in a positive light, kids all over the world who have Afro hair. The thought of having our work not only online but also in stores where kids can flip through it and take it home is really exciting!"
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Photographed by Creative Soul.
"The book itself will be separated in three sections: the past, the present, and the future — which gave us lots of different themes to cover. Around 80% of the images in it will be new, but we'll also be using some of the ones from our previous collection. My hope is that we're able to help normalize natural hair, dark skin, and our culture. I want our kids to feel and be accepted just as much as anybody else in society."
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Photographed by Creative Soul.
After that, what's next for CreativeSoul?

"We're wanting to expand our brand so that it's more of a global empowerment brand for kids. Right now, a lot of it is only focused on photography. But we want to turn it into something bigger."
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