The eyes of the world were on Meghan Markle last weekend as she tied the knot with Prince Harry in an elaborate ceremony at St George’s Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Like many of us, I was keen to see Meghan’s look on the day too, but I wasn’t so much interested in the American actress’s dress or make-up - I was looking at her hair.
As a mixed-race woman, Meghan hasn’t been seen with her natural densely curly hair since she was a child - so I wasn’t surprised when she walked down the aisle with the smooth hair she’s known for - apparently, using a semi-permanent hair straightening treatment called Brazilian Blowout.
Of course, she looked beautiful with her trademark ‘messy’ bun, albeit a very slick one. But wouldn’t it have been amazing if she’d made a stand and embraced her Afro roots? After all, the former Suits star is proudly mixed-race, with a white father and African-American mum - so why does she not let her natural heritage shine through?
Of course, it’s not Meghan’s fault - I’m not pointing any fingers here. Meghan is simply conforming to the norms of Western beauty - that straight hair is beautiful and that Afro and curly hair is less ‘groomed’. If she had worn her hair in its natural state would she had got the praise she did with her hair straight?
After all, there’s a dearth of high-profile black and mixed race women rocking natural locks - from Rihanna to Beyonce, they straighten, they relax, they wear wigs, weaves and hair extensions, anything but their natural curls.
In conforming to Western beauty standards women are burning their scalps with chemicals, losing clumps of hair and getting bald patches from too tight weaves and extensions pulling on roots. Sometimes the damage to their hair follicles is permanent. They’re spending a fortune and hours to disguise what they were born with because of the cultural and aesthetic pressures they feel.
Where are the trail blazing role models, who embrace their curls, kinks and frizz? Why are the likes of Lupita Nyong’o in such a minority? Attitudes towards Afro-Caribbean hair are changing - look at the furore when Grazia photoshopped out Lupita’s natural hair last November - but not quickly enough.
There’s still prejudice and misunderstanding when it comes to natural afro hair.
When my daughter was in year seven, she came home one day so upset and sad. It turned out one girl had spent the whole day taunting her and repeatedly saying: “Ugh, your hair is not normal! Your hair is not normal!” My daughter is fiercely proud of her hair and found herself trying to explain that her hair was more than normal, it was totally natural. But it really upset her.
And last week, at a workshop I was running, a woman came up to me afterwards in tears. She wanted the confidence to embrace her natural curls after straightening her hair for years. That morning on her way to the workshop, with her natural curly hair, she got to the front door, opened it, then turned around. She went right back inside and straightened her hair. She just couldn’t go out in public with curly hair - it almost brought tears to my eyes too, it was so emotional.
We just don’t see enough women with naturally curly or afro textured hair, whether that’s in films, on TV, on social media, on the catwalk, in magazines or in adverts. Beauty representation is so dangerously narrow and that can negatively affect self-esteem of especially young girls with curls.
As a result, I’m trying to improve this lack of visibility with my latest Project Embrace #Afrovisibility campaign.
I launched the Project Embrace Billboard Campaign last year with one billboard in London featuring four everyday women and two children with afro hair - but this year, we’re going bigger.
This weekend, we’re unveiling huge digital billboards featuring real life women in cities across the UK, including London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and more to celebrate the beauty of natural afro textured hair.
These billboards feature powerful images of real women with Afro textured hair, including the likes of a teacher, a student, a receptionist and an HR partner all happily wearing their afro hair in natural, unapologetic styles, with the caption: “Proud to be me.”
After all, the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is still fresh in everyone’s minds as a powerful symbol of the power that outdoor advertising can have.
Even if we just make small steps and just get people talking, at least these billboards can open the conversation and make people aware - whatever their race, or type of hair - that black hair is beautiful too. We celebrate diverse beauty and for women to feel comfortable, confident and empowered in the skin they’re in and the hair that they wear.
But ideally, I want to reach millions of people across the country as well as send the message to all black and mixed race women - including Meghan Markle, the new Duchess of Sussex - that with your natural hair: You. Are. Enough.