Why it’s so important this powerful billboard campaign features proud women with afro hair

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.

(Leanna Newman/PA)

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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

#GoingBackToMyRoots 🌀My four year old little girl Alaia has been telling me for a while that she doesn't like her curly hair, at first (as us Mums do) I didn't think it was a big deal. Once I realised this wasn't a phase I asked her why she didn't like her curls. It broke my heart when she told me it was because she didn't look like a Princess, and I quote "I don't Mummy because Elsa and Rapunzel have long straight hair". 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. So moving forward into the New Year I've decided to finally embrace everything that makes me ME. She is already over the moon that we have 'matching hair'!! My curls are a far cry from what they used to be but, I'm hoping with less heat and a little TLC they will come back to life. So this is for you Alaia-Mai, Mummy's hair IDOL 🌀👸🏽 #curlslikeus

A post shared by R O C H E L L E H U M E S (@rochellehumes) 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.”

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

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