There’s a huge amount of inequality in the advertising industry.
Just take fashion – only 34% of models in the Spring 2018 advertising campaigns were people of colour, and that low number is actually a big jump from previous years.
Not only this, but when you do see black women in advertising, their natural hair is often covered up by wigs and weaves. This sad reality spurred activist Lekia Lée to launch Project Embrace, which champions afro visibility.
Lée’s campaign is a series of billboard posters featuring black women proudly showing off their natural hair.
Historically, black women’s hair has been a topic of stigma, with many straightening or relaxing their hair to fit in with the white, Eurocentric notions of beauty. Lée realised the need for such a project when she saw that the only black women her daughter Siirah would compliment had straight hair.
So we went from 1 billboard in 2017 to 72 in 2018. Celebrating Afro hair on probably the largest scale ever in UK! Thanks to all the fiercely passionate and generous individuals that made this possible. Look out for one near you!#afrovisibility2018s #MotivationMonday pic.twitter.com/bQlfHgmJCM— Lekia Lée (@Project_Embrace) May 28, 2018
Lée says: “When you feel empowered, you can achieve anything. This is how we want black women and girls – and anyone else with curly hair – to feel after seeing our billboards.
“We want to inspire them to feel confident in the skin they are in and the hair that they wear.”
0ver 60 outdoor spaces dedicated to the celebration of Afro textured hair. This is for every woman or girl who has felt 'unpretty' because of her coils or curls. We are @Project_Embrace and we validate your beauty. #afrovisibility2018 #proudtobeme #iamenough pic.twitter.com/GB1T2bVcKU— Lekia Lée (@Project_Embrace) May 28, 2018
The campaign doesn’t feature celebrities, but instead relatable people that were cast in an open audition: a teacher, a finance manager, a writer, a receptionist, a student and an HR partner all declaring they are, “Proud to be me.”
Meet Kizzy, receptionist, “Natural hair is so important for me as a black woman, and what it represents is so valuable.” 60 billboards nationwide celebrating afro hair, tell us when you spot one. See more at: Visit https://t.co/Nukv2dtBcR pic.twitter.com/zR92zMt0Ds— Lekia Lée (@Project_Embrace) May 27, 2018
Project Transform collaborated with Quiet Storm on the posters. Quiet Storm’s founder Trevor Robinson says: “This feels like a really positive step forward in a very complicated subject. Lack of black representation in the media and how that affects our kids – my own being a perfect example – is obviously an issue close to me.
“When you’re constantly bombarded with Caucasian perfection and there is nobody out there similar to you it’s hard to feel good about yourself, and we can’t underestimate the effect this has. We’re extremely proud of this campaign but we feel there is still a very long journey to embark on.”
Lée isn’t the only person trying to challenge our perceptions of natural hair. At the end of last year ex-Saturdays star Rochelle Humes took to Instagram to tell the world that she was embracing her natural hair. Like Lée, this was because of her daughter, who said she didn’t like her own curly hair.
Humes wanted to set a better example for Alaia, and wrote: “It then dawned on me that maybe this issue started closer to home because, all she has ever known is her Mummy to style her hair straight, when in fact mine is naturally curly too.”
Meet Leanna, HR Business Partner, “I was struggling, not knowing how to handle the lack of confidence or pressure in the media regarding images of what beauty looks like.” 60 billboards nationwide, the idea of beauty is about to change#afrovisibility2018 https://t.co/Nukv2dbZOh pic.twitter.com/1EdyKsOCrt— Lekia Lée (@Project_Embrace) May 26, 2018
Since then, Humes has been celebrating the beauty of curly hair – both hers and other women’s.
Whilst women of colour have been reclaiming their natural hair with pride for years, it’s still rare to see high profile people doing the same or to see afro hair in the media. Now, you’ll be able to see women unapologetically showing off their natural hair on billboards across London, Birmingham, Southampton, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow.
- Press Association