Lekia Lée is from Nigeria, and lives in London; she is the founder of Kouture Afrika and Project Embrace… Today in Facebook London she hosts a panel discussion on the subject of #afrovisibility; Working While Natural and here are 5 inspirational interview questions for Lekia…
1) What pressure do black women face to change their natural hair in the work place? Black and mixed race employees are often told by their bosses to straighten their hair if they are to get in contact with high-end clients. Based on their experience, even older black women tend to advise the younger ones to wear straight styles if they are to find employment. Many black women will wear a straight wig to interviews to hide their natural Afro textured hair, and this pressure is further added to by images in the media showing professional women with straight hair further strengthening the idea that straight hair is the best way to present your hair for work.
2) Are these pressures just present in western societies? Unfortunately, no. I remember being told to wear a wig if I wanted people to take me seriously when I went to Nigeria to organise a fashion show in 2013. Both men and women in Nigeria wondered why I would leave my hair in its natural state if I didn’t have money problems and was educated. As mentioned earlier the acceptability of the European look has been deeply internalised by black people all over the world through the constant bombardment of a single idea of looking beautiful or acceptable which has been happening continuously for centuries since colonisation and slavery.
3) Your billboard campaign launched in March 2017, challenges the under-representation of diverse images of beauty and beautiful hair in advertising and the media, how is it being received? I was surprised at the overwhelming positive reception the campaign received. In the first 24 hours, the BBC News story had received almost 100k views. I have been getting messages via social media thanking me for addressing an issue that is not generally highlighted, but that adversely affects so many women and girls. Young women have told me how I have helped them love their natural hair. Mothers of black and mixed race girls have told me how the campaign has helped boost their daughters’ self-esteem.
4) Tell us a little more about Project Embrace? At project Embrace we aim to inspire black young women and girls to embrace their natural hair and beauty and feel confident about how they look. So, everything we do is about giving them the confidence to say I am enough and truly believe it. Apart from the awareness campaign that will put images of women and girls with their natural Afro hair on billboards, we will carry out workshops that help inspire self-confidence and unconditional self-love, events like the Panel discussion.
5) #Afrovisibility is your hashtag, but do you think it is still okay, if women wish to wear their hair more European too, out of choice? Of course, women can do whatever they want to do with their hair or bodies. Many women do not think they have a choice in embracing their natural hair and Project Embrace is saying there is another way to be. A fitness trainer will encourage people to avoid certain foods and eat others but not necessarily saying you cannot eat a piece of cake. Over time wigs, weave, relaxers and heat straighteners are damaging to the hair and scalp so we are giving women the option to know that they can wear their hair in another way, in its natural state and still feel beautiful.
Here’s a link to an ITV news story I contributed to explaining the pressure: