Curly hair is unprofessional
Why does afro hair still not look normal?
As she grew up, Ateh Jewels' locks were described as difficult, unruly, and unprofessional. In her role as the new beauty columnist for Balayage.xyz, she talks about colorism, a penchant for European-looking features, within the beauty industry and beyond.
When my daughters were 3 years old, a lady saw us on the street and told me how beautiful my daughters were, but that my daughter was more beautiful with lighter skin, 3B loose curls and lighter skin. I informed him that my two daughters were beautiful and got off quickly. My daughter, who is darker with a thicker, defined 4A curl, turned to me and said, "Mom, did this woman find my sister more beautiful than me because she has peach skin and blue eyes?" I told her the truth, "Yes, she thinks these things, but she's wrong." On this day my 3 year old daughters learned first hand what colorism - the discrimination against people with darker brown skin and the preference for people with more European characteristics - really means in everyday life.
For those who don't know, hair is classified by texture within the industry. From grade 1, it's straight poker hair with a straight wave known as grade 2B or 2C. This is followed by the 3A-C locks and locks that resemble my fair skinned daughter and can often be seen on those with mixed or Irish heritage. People with darker skin tend to have tight locks known as 4A or 4B locks, and my own tight locks are known as 4C.
As a half Nigerian / Trinidadian woman with dark skin, curly hair, luscious and curvy, my body, skin tone and hair are seldom featured in advertisements or geared towards strength and luxury. Growing my hair has been described as difficult, unruly, bushy, unwieldy, messy, and unprofessional. It hurt and damaged my self-esteem and soul.
Nobody looked like me in boardrooms or like the protagonist of the film. She had the hair of maids and women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. If Julia Roberts, with all her curls and charisma, couldn't land her husband in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” when she took on the naive, straight-eyed blonde Cameran Diaz, what chance did she have?
Equality of talking about colorism and curls and bobs is something I have fought for during my 20 year beauty career. Twenty years ago I had to ask her to add a deep curl conditioner to my magazine and now things seem to be finally changing.
My 4C coils are often considered to be the bottom of the curly world. I have spent decades torturing and fighting my natural hair texture to advance my career in the world of beauty and be seen and reconciled with power. The techniques, tools, and ingredients used to groom and replenish juicy spirals and curls were stolen along with slavery. The invisible poison gas of racism makes you believe that you are less than your most authentic self. Having "good hair" in the past has meant having soft, loose curls that blow in the wind instead of growing right against gravity like my coils.
It wasn't until I became the mother of my mixed heritage twin daughters, who are now 9 years old, my husband looking like a Viking, a 6'2 blonde with blue eyes, that I decided that I should start my own cycle of straightening hair had to interrupt hair. When I was 8 to 37 years old, I parted my naturally frizzled hair. My mother from Trinidad had a softer, looser curl texture for me. He couldn't stand the usual screams and tears over broken comb teeth and hours of frustrated untangling. When she was 8, she chemically relaxed my hair for the first time. For the next 30 years I developed a love affair with "creamy crack" or hair straightening.
The visualization of the black women we see around us in fair-skinned black models with loose curls, similar to a “black barbie”, is ridiculous and dangerous.
When you love the hair that grows on your head, it's about identity and self-esteem. I have just been appointed to the advisory board of the British Beauty Council, which is so important for the younger generations watching me. I mean, your skin and coils are ready for the boardroom. In my role, I will be committed to ensuring that all stylists learn how to cut and maintain textured hair at the NVQ. Right now it's not and thousands of stylists are leaving college with no idea how to take care of my hair. Why?
Not all hair is created equal. Cutting curls and bobbins and learning to bang them is a special skill. Only classrooms like Headmasters and Aveda offer their own education. Charlotte Mensah, Subrina Kidd @subrinakidd and Paulette Blake @blake_paulette are also black stylists and are characterized by excellent spirals and curls. The world has changed since the BLM and Covid-19 and people are now opening their eyes to the colorism, double standards, micro-attacks and racism that have always existed. This is not a moment, but a movement, and I look forward to a new world of beauty that recognizes the beauty in all of us.
* To join Ateh's fight to promote diversity in the beauty industry, sign the petition to include textured hair formation in the NVQ salon. *
Ateh products for structured hair:
Flexible Curl Activator and Moisturizer, Revlon Professional, £ 12.30
Protects the natural volume of your curls and preserves the color.
Dry Remedy Hydrating Shampoo, Aveda, £ 24 for 250ml
The Healthy Curls and Coils Foundation is a great shampoo for adding moisture. I love this one from Aveda for my 4C coils. It's smoothed with buriti and olive oil and isn't full of synthetic scents that make my scalp itchy.
Medium paddle brush, Charlotte Mensah, £ 22
The winner of the multi-award winning Afro Hairdresser of the Year Award created this amazing paddle brush. The air-cushioned head protects the scalp and is great for untangling my thick spirals and girlish curls.
Ultimate Curl Kokum Avocado Smoothie, climbing £ 21 for 200ml
This weightless leave-in formula is great for defining girl's hair. I like to apply it when her hair is wet after a bath, and I do what I call "bedtime braids" to help maintain hydration and prevent her locks from becoming tangled and tangled.
Shea Moisture Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Conditioner, Superdrug, £ 12.99
I use this conditioner or a conditioner as it is certified organic shea butter. Mafura and baobab make my hair soft and supple.
* Ateh Jewel's new book, Coils & Curls: The Ultimate Guide to Loving Your Hair, is available now. For more information, please visit @atehjewel on Instagram. *
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