Are women with 4c hair represented?
Afro hair is becoming more popular in mainstream spaces, but we question whether there still remains a hair hierarchy in society.
Last year an online row erupted when a young girl with 4C hair appeared in an advertising campaign for clothing brand H&M. 'Black Twitter' were up in arms at what they perceived to be neglect on the part of the creative team, claiming the styling was 'inadequate', 'disrespectful' and 'unruly.' Writer Ashley Reese offered a critical hypothesis of the social media outrage that was brewing, pointing to a subconscious bias that many still harbour towards Afro hair despite recent strides in the natural hair movement. “The embracing of natural hair over the last decade has come with some caveats,” she wrote. “It’s clear that the most acceptable form of natural hair is still long and/or ultra-defined and well coiled. If it’s coarse or on the short side, then those edges better be slicked down with a jar of Eco- Styler and deep conditioned with a gallon of coconut oil... The fact that this child has been the target of online scorn from black adults for having the audacity to look like a child is distressing.”
Ronke Adeyemi, founder of online beauty platform brownbeautytalk.com, believes that the mainstream media still has a long way to go when it comes to representing the full spectrum of blackness. “I feel that 4C hair is massively under-represented in the media, whether it is mainstream media or black. The impression I get is that loose curl patterns are what people still aspire to and that is wrong. What we need to see are campaigns that feature black women all of skin tones and with different types of hair.”
But with some major retail brands choosing high profile models with kinkier hair types to front their campaigns, is the tide finally starting to turn? These include Lupita Nyong’o, who has forged a long and high-profile synergy with titan beauty brand Lancôme. Some of its past campaigns have featured the actress rocking her trademark short natural crop.
Elsewhere Adut Akech was crowned the 2019 Model of the Year and wears her natural 4C hair in an array of short crops reminiscent of Grace Jones' signature flat top. Beauty journalist Ateh Jewel believes things are changing but agrees that more still needs to be done: “At 41 I still gasped when I saw a model with 4C hair modelling for a Zara fashion campaign," she says. "I think light-skinned or mixed heritage models with looser curls have been used in advertising to give a nod in the direction of diversity."
Black beauty is rich and diverse - and this should be celebrated and reflected in all types of media. Rather than accept the dominant beauty standard, various platforms have emerged in recent years that are committed to changing the narrative. Founded by Lekia Lee, Project Embrace is a movement challenging the narrow ideals of beauty and encourages women of African descent to love and embrace their natural hair. Lekia says, “The proximity to European features have been, for a very long time, an indication of how beautiful one is perceived to be. The more European features you have, the more beautiful you are seen to be, and hair is not exempt. Many of the products designed for Afro hair are still dominated with models who have mixed heritage hair and the advertising points to how to achieve the appearance of looser curl pattern - hence the obsession with the almighty twist out.”
With Lekia’s organisation and the likes of World Afro Day forging ahead to create new paths that foster inclusivity, these dynamic movements are committed to being the change we need to see so young black girls will grow up in a world knowing that they are beautiful. And what's more, that their crowning glory is an integral part of that beauty landscape. “With Project Embrace we intend to continue doing what we started doing few years back – to keep creating the representation we need to see with the #Afrovisibility billboard campaign," says Lekia. "We want to encourage everyone to embrace difference instead of fearing it. Conformity kills imagination and if we are to create a forward-thinking and innovative problem-solving society, we have to bring our differences to the forefront.”
Find out more about Project Embrace here.