World Afro Day: Going with the ‘Fro

With World Afro Day on the calendar, Cathy Hudson, enei's Marketing, PR, and Communications Coordinator explores the significance of the occasion. Once associated with stigma and a sense of inferiority by some, the afro is an aspect of Black cultural identity that is now celebrated and admired.

Image features a watercolour illustration of the head and shoulders of a black female, facial features are indiscernible aside from a dark red pout, well-defined eyebrows and of course a beautiful luxuriant afro. She is placed in front of a globe on which the words "World Afro Day" appear.
Illustration by Cathy Hudson.

My childhood identity was shaped by the people surrounding me. Growing up in a Blasian (mixed Black – Asian) household with an Indian matriarch was a challenge. I was always in envious awe of the glossy, straight tresses of my relatives which they wove into Rapunzel-like plaits that trailed down their backs, while my hair grew only up and out. Aside from the afro puffs iconic of the time, my mother had no idea how to style my hair, so took me to the hairdressers and requested for me the same short afro hairstyle sported by my dad and brother.

One of my earliest memories is trailing a towel over my head and swishing it around, enjoying the movement of my pretend ‘hair’, imitating the white dancers on Top of the Pops.

Black female representation in the early 80s was pinned firmly on the shoulders of Floella Benjamin and no shade at Baroness Benjamin, but her pretty beaded braids were a poor substitute for a little black girl whose beauty ideals had been shaped by European standards.

Cathy Hudson, Marketing, PR, and Communications Coordinator.

For many women, hair is important; it’s her crowning glory, representing her individuality, culture, sexuality, and femininity. For so long, the media had taunted Black women with commercials for hair products featuring beautiful white women with cascading, shiny locks which we were led to believe were synonymous with health and vitality. What is a girl to do when she sees herself as the opposite of everything which is deemed beautiful? A five-year-old me informed my mother that I was going to paint myself white so I could marry the little boy I had a crush on. 

In 1980s Portsmouth, you could count on one hand the number of resident Black families. It comes as no surprise that there were no stores which catered for people of colour. These days, I’m like a kid in a sweetshop in Superdrug and can easily spend hours revelling in the many shades of brown stocked by major make-up brands, but back then, there were just three shades of Caucasian.

Cathy Hudson, Marketing, PR, and Communications Coordinator.

As the Black British population increased, so did the amenities which catered for women with my hair type and so began my chemical journey into hair acceptance.

In the intervening years, I sported waist-length braids, twists, canerows, long weaves and big weaves, relaxed hair, permed hair, eventually settling on a daily rendezvous with GHDs. For many Black women, the objective was to blend in, to fly under the radar of the disproportionate unwanted attention and hostility our hair attracted; the microaggressions of being told our hair was “frizzy”, “unprofessional” or “untidy” – even in a time when white women would spend hours to achieve the “just-woke-up” look.

The natural hair movement changed all this. From around 2009, Black women in the US and UK collectively turned their backs on chemical relaxants and began embracing their natural hair. Social media played a part in the movement and our Insta feeds were bursting with ‘How-to’ videos and fellow coilies sharing tips and products on how to achieve perfectly defined curls.

The media was suddenly full of Black representation in the film and music industry, celebrities going natural – Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keyes, Lupita Nyong’o, all beautiful Black women in who we could see ourselves. The false ideology of white being the beauty benchmark was being challenged, as full lips and big hips became all the rage.

Businesses responded to this shift and equipped us with lotions and potions to protect and moisturise. The UK black hair industry is now worth an estimated £88 million with Black women spending three times more on hair care products than their white counterparts. Black hair is high maintenance, but it’s worth it when we feel we can be accepted as our authentic selves, rather than trying to shoehorn ourselves into a space we don’t fit.

My hair is symbolic of freedom and identity and my journey has shaped who I am today. It’s not all just superficial and it runs far deeper than just hair. It’s about acceptance, confidence, and self-esteem because finally, as L’Oreal have been telling us for fifty years, we know we’re worth it.

This blog post was written by Catherine Hudson, enei Marketing, PR, and Communications Coordinator. It was posted on 14 September 2023. 

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