When the film industry birthed Black Panther, Deadpool 2, and Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse earlier on this year, I rushed to Twitter to tweet about them, as it’s so rare to see natural black, afro or mixed hair shown front and centre of blockbuster films!
The underlying impact that stories have on us all
Stories are a powerful and critical part of how we as humans communicate and find purpose. Storytelling is everywhere in the media we engage with: books, films, TV shows, radio, the news, but also in our day-to-day conversations. When we tell or listen to stories, we connect them to familiar emotions and experiences, which is why they are so impactful. So, seeing yourself physically reflected in a story enhances that feeling and what you take from it.
This is why something as seemingly mundane as hair can be so impactful, and why it was so important to me and for many other Black Asian and Minority
Ethnic (BAME) people whowatched those films this year.
The stories we’re told growing up, and experience throughout our lives add to how we view ourselves and the world around us. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TED talk and highlighted that an unintentional consequence of reading British and American books that she loved, was her belief that neither she nor anyone like her, could be in these stories.
Similarly, I remember very innocently dressing up as Snow White as a kid for a birthday party – mask and all, yet I never questioned the clash in skin colour between Snow White’s face and mine, or the clash in her hair on the mask and mine.
I was just so used to princesses and protagonists not looking like me that I never questioned it.
So, why is seeing familiar hair such a big deal?
This is about much more than hair. In this context, hair is just a gateway to seeing and understanding different cultures. That glimpse of familiarity (hair in this case), is a hint that we’re about to witness a different culture and view on the world and this is what means so much. If we saw more cultural perspectives through the stories around us, we would all better understand and appreciate the true richness that comes from sharing our diversity and differences. As you can see, stories can play a big part in who we become and what we understand, so as long as different types of people and cultures aren’t represented, too many stories will be left untold and left understood. This lack of understanding is what can drive divisions between people in society because we as human beings often fear or dislike what we don’t know or understand.
Representation has unbelievable power and can cause positive and long lasting effects. Seeing you and your culture reflected outside of your family, can be hugely empowering and inspire you to strive for things that you may not have without it
This being said, Western mainstream media often only shows traditional ‘white hair’ as that’s what ‘beautiful’ is considered to be which results in many black and mixed women wearing wigs and weaves to replicate that. Weaves and wigs are awesome but in addition to this it would be great to see more black and mixed women and girls embracing and exploring natural hairstyles – to see natural hair as beautiful too rather than something to hide or change.
By the time I got to secondary school I must have subconsciously decided that my hair was just ‘different’ and that that was that. It’s only years later that I really started to appreciate how cool and important my hair really is – my hair not only represents where I’m from but is part of what makes me, me. These things combined are what makes hair so personal, so powerful and so much more than just hair.
Someone like you
The fact that we are all so different is exactly what makes us all so interesting. We already engage and relate to innate human emotions and experiences in the stories we come across everyday, so just imagine the power of seeing more stories that reflect different perspectives and cultures. The more this happens, the more we can learn about each other – and who knows the positive ripple effects that this could have.
The picture below was originally for myself, but I felt so inspired by those films that I decided to share this picture on Twitter earlier this year. I thought to myself how cool it would be if even just one person saw it and thought “wow, she has hair just like me”.
So – here’s the power of my hair. I hope that 2020 will be the year that teams across the film, media and communications industries rush to be the ones to start the natural hair revolution.