Stop Straightening Your Hair: Being Yourself Is More Powerful Than Being An Image

How can we change this social and cultural context? How can we increase these girls' self-esteem? How can we reassure these mothers?
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Because "my hair isn't coarse, it is curly. Your prejudice is coarse." -- MC Soffia, 11 years old.

Meet MC Soffia, she is the daughter of Kamilah Gomes Pimentel, hip-hop teacher at the Ncora Project located in Cotia, São Paulo's metropolitan area. She grew up with her activist mother and grandmother. "With my afro hair I send a message. That's the way," she sings. Girls love her, because they can loosen their hair without the fear of prejudice. They can dance.

No more straightening your hair. Straight hair isn't prettier than natural hair. Being oneself is much more valuable and powerful than trying to be an image. We know that the advertising industry is c-r-u-e-l when it comes to feminine beauty. We also know that the required standards are high, but do you really think it is OK to teach a child that straight hair is the beautiful hair? What about her self-esteem? Well, it is damaged.

Recently, I was in a studio photographing a campaign for a children's clothing brand. There were several child models. It was hairdressing time and the children were getting ready for it. The hairdressers often brush the children's hair because it makes their work easier if they want to make braids, buns, ponytails or other types of hair style. Two scenes usually follow. The first one features a beautiful brunette girl with wavy hair crying desperately because she DOESN'T, DOESN'T want to straighten her hair. The second scene features a beautiful red-haired girl who has VERY bushy hair and whose mother is extremely happy when she sees the hair being straightened.

Two contrasting scenes. The red-haired girl's mother confesses she constantly brushes her daughter's hair because "look how bad and ugly her hair is." The hairdresser begs her to stop doing that to her daughter's hair because she is damaging it, and the girl has such enviable hair.

"How can we change this social and cultural context?"

Unfortunately, that's reality. A survey commissioned by a huge multinational beauty products company shows that women spend an average of R$1,500 a month in hair salons. Many mothers bring their daughters to "fix" their hair because it's perceived as "too ugly and bushy." Often as a result, children are using tools and chemicals every day at home before going to school; children are using chemicals to straighten their hair in a hair salon; children are having their self-esteem crushed at school. These children end up thinking only straight hair is beautiful.

A hair salon is certainly not the best option we can offer these children, yet it is the best one the aforementioned mothers know. How can we change this social and cultural context? How can we increase these girls' self-esteem? How can we reassure these mothers?

With more MC Soffias, more movements like the "Empoderadas" (Empowered). With more beauty salons like "Beleza Natural," (Natural Beauty) a company owned by a former housekeeper and now Brazil's largest chain of salons specializing in curly and wavy hair. With online social movements like Low Poo, which encourages people to stop using chemicals to straighten their hair, to detox hair strands and to have a more natural approach to growing healthy hair. In keeping with this approach, the Embelleze brand has just launched a line of shampoos and conditioners called No Poo and Low Poo with the same proposal. There is also the new women's magazine called AzMina, targeted at women who don't feel represented by the traditional beauty market.

The greater the differences and the diversity represented, the greater the chances are of finding similarities. "When we expand the possibilities of recognition, the identification can be something empowering, because grandmothers, mothers and aunts who find themselves beautiful will certainly be able to raise more confident children," says Renata Martins of the "Empoderadas" project. This way we can build a new aesthetic model that, the more it spreads, the more it is accepted and the less it will awaken prejudice.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Brazil and has been translated into English.

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