The Guardian Weekly - 2021-05-07


The salons fighting colonial hair myths



Women kick the sand from their slippers, and ease into the cool comfort of a natural hair and skincare store in central Dakar. On the shelves are jars filled with handmade supplements of organic shea butter, coconut, castor and olive oils. In floral silk hijabs and abaya dresses, the women sit on sofas near the back of the store, discussing their hair beneath a mural of poised black women and men, wearing a mixture of classic natural black hairstyles. Khadidiatou Ba’s Afro Feewi store, which hosts community groups and free hair consultations, is the culmination of a journey that began during her childhood. Painful struggles with her hair texture and self-image as a dark-skinned black woman in Senegal led Ba, popularly called Jatouna, to start a blog on black haircare and begin experimenting with products that catered for her needs. “I grew up in a family that thought you needed to have straight hair to be beautiful,” said Jatouna, now 22. “But I learned to accept my hair and then to love it. I learned to take care of it. “It’s hard here because people are still assimilated to many things related to colonisation,” she said. “In Dakar, a lot of people still think that beauty standards are straight hair, light skin.” In her salon, young women discuss natural haircare, not to disparage synthetic or human hair extensions, Jatouna said, but to explore hair choices for black women, and to challenge misconceptions. In Senegal, women and men have to contend with a colonial legacy of beauty standards and an idealisation of Eurocentric and lighter-skinned features. Techniques such as relaxing – a common process of chemically straightening hair – is prevalent, often causing hair breakage and scalp damage. Skin bleaching is also prevalent, amplified by ubiquitous advertising from major skin brands, and cultural imagery that depicts lighter skin tones as more beautiful. In recent years, there has been a surge of women-led organic hair and skincare businesses in black majority countries and diasporas, built on their experiences navigating ideas of their own beauty. Many, like Jatouna, have grown their following via social media, where they promote a sense of self-worth for women. In Senegal, it is younger women who have led a wave of successful small to medium beauty businesses, which includes Boudoir Ophelia, Mossane Beauty Concept and Nubian Cosmetics. There has also been an rapid growth in homemade hair- and skincare products, using ingredients such as shea butter, and castor and coconut oil, long available in Africa. The products have become more commercialised. Newer innovations, such adding natural fragrances such as almond, have also driven their popularity. After relaxing damaged her hair and left her scalp sore, Jatouna spent months researching blogs and videos by black women on how to treat different types of hair, and the best natural remedies to use. Much of what she makes includes ingredients sourced from Senegal and west African, through predominantly female market sellers and traders. In the nearby Grand Yoff market, Marianne – known as Madame Marianne by her customers – scrapes chunks from a large mound of shea butter, on a stall she has had for 20 years. “I get it from Burkina Faso. They produce plenty of it there,” she said. “It’s not always been so popular. Now you see more younger people buying it. Younger women, especially. It’s not a new thing. I have used it, mixing it with olive oil – it’s good for the skin. Some people like it but complain of the smell, so mix it at home with different liquids to give it a better smell.” At the other end of the chain, products sourced from African countries are growing in market share. Ade Balogun was an architect, also working in e-commerce, in Lagos when her career took an unexpected turn. “I cut my hair and started locking it. I didn’t think anything of it, it was really a decision made to free up time. It wasn’t political, it was convenient,” she said. She quickly realised that misconceptions of locks were widespread in Nigeria. “They assume you’re into marijuana, they associate [them] with some form of rebellion,” she said. “My peers were wearing fancy weaves with bounce, and to them my hair looked boring. So I started to research different things I could do to my locked hair and blog about it.” She opened Locitude, one of the few stores dedicated to natural styles of locking and treating hair in Ikoyi, an affluent area of Lagos. Six co-workers surprise customers with the range of styles, locking hair in bantu style, complex plaits and wraps. Balogun began producing organic beauty products made with essential oils such as rosemary, hibiscus and coconut, mostly produced in local women-owned factories and by traders in Lagos and Badagry. “I use the palm rolling method, which is a completely natural method. It shocks people because they don’t always realise how easy it is for our hair to lock. “Not all chemical methods are bad, but sometimes you have methods where people have locked their hair through a combination of soaking it in coffee and toothpaste,” she said. Balogun said she works hard to break down negative stereotypes associated with locked hair. “My consultations are free because there are a lot of misconceptions about our own hair that we’ve grown up with. “One of the things I enjoy most about my work is helping people understand that some of the ways they’ve approached their hair has been completely wrong.”



The Guardian Weekly

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