Photos from Dove's Reclaiming School Picture Day campaign. (Photo: Dove)
Remember picture day at school? Your parents made sure your hair was slick and your uniform extra clean and ironed for that picture that would last a lifetime. Not everyone looked forward to it, though. For some children it was (and still is) a reminder of the way the world sees them – differently.
Many Black and mixed-race women with afro hair will say they either skipped their school picture entirely or felt the need to alter their look on photo day, due to race-based hair discrimination.
In fact, new research by Dove found one in three (28%) Black and mixed-race women missed their school photo because of the discrimination that 42% of them experienced at school, while a whopping 84% altered their hair to fit in.
It’s these glaring statistics that prompted Dove to launch a new campaign to relegate race-based hair discrimination to history, rather than an every day classroom experience.
Reclaiming School Picture Day sees Black and mixed-race women who missed out on their school photo or feel it didn’t represent their authentic self given the chance to take a new shot, as adults, with their hair exactly as they’ve chosen.
Author and influencer Stephanie Yeboah is one of those taking part.
“When I was younger, my head of school forced everyone to shave their afros off because they deemed them unkempt, unruly and not smart looking,” Yeboah said.
“I used to try and chemically straighten my hair to try and fit in with the Eurocentric ideals of beauty at the time. It’s taken me some time to get there but since then, I now embrace my afro and wear it unapologetically,” she added.
The campaign also includes a powerful film featuring eight women, including a school teacher, a foster carer and the author and activist Emma Dabiri, each sharing their own stories of experiencing race-based hair discrimination in their formative years – and the long-lasting hold this has had on their lives.
“I think we still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding Black hair, how it grows and the significance of its difference when compared to European hair textures,” said Dabiri, who is campaigning to amend the UK Equality Act to explicitly protect afro and textured hair and put an end to race-based hair discrimination in schools.”
“These differences can result in varying styling practices and techniques for Black or mixed-heritage students, and it’s important for teachers and those in positions of power to be aware of this, so those pupils aren’t penalised for how they wear their hair.”
The campaign comes in the same week that a Tweet calling for an update on the young Black models who featured on hair relaxer kits in the early 2000s went viral.
Responses to the callout highlighted that most of these women have now gone natural with their hair as adults.
i remember wanting to be the face of a hair relaxer so bad pic.twitter.com/T0HxnO9EZ2
— 𝓢. (@prettiestluxury) October 2, 2022
I heard y’all were looking for the hair box girls…here I go 😂 I was the original ORS perm box girl pic.twitter.com/gMYiX6ThvS
— Justshaunnn (@chigirlmakeup) October 4, 2022
Natalie Githu a former model told Buzzfeed News that she felt honoured that her image has been seen by Black girls around the world. She stopped chemically straightening her hair in 2018.
“Black hair and Black texture wasn’t the norm at all,” Githu said. “It was a very taboo topic, and my hair was something I didn’t feel comfortable with, because I didn’t fit societal norms at that time.”
Firdaous El Honsali, Dove’s global vice president or external communications and sustainability, said: “Appearance-based discrimination and restrictive beauty standards make it difficult for Black women and girls to express themselves freely.”
The research is clear: Black women and girls are disproportionately affected by race-based hair discrimination. But as El Honsali added, “The individuality of hair should be celebrated, everyone should feel beautiful in their natural hair, which is why we are taking action to ensure that we end race-based hair bias and discrimination.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.