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Decolonising Curls

There I was, innocently watching an episode of One Born Every Minute when the latest television advert for John Freida’s Frizz Ease Dream Curls appeared before my eyes. The stunning model on screen touches her unruly and artificially teased out hair and exclaims, ’So we didn’t win the hair lottery’. She then proceeds to snap her fingers and – as if by magic – her hair is transformed into perfectly tonged ringlets courtesy of John Frieda. I immediately felt rage bubbling up inside me, the kind of rage I had felt time and time again growing up.

I came into my curly hair during puberty; it felt like it suddenly appeared one morning. I went from having wavy tresses to managing a mane of ringlets and at the time my world felt like it was collapsing around me. I had no idea how to control it and in my naivety went to multiple different hairdressers who assured me that – for a fee – they could coiffure my follicles into submission, but alas no dice. I was not alone; there were at least ten other girls in my class at school who were investing all of their allowance into buying the coveted GHD hair straighteners so as to singe the life out of the corkscrews in their hair. Lost and alone, weeping into my ever-growing pile of hair taming products, I realised I would never be Rachel Green.

I still cannot buy usable hair products in mainstream high street shops and even now find myself ironing my hair straight so that I can look more ’acceptable’ at formal events. This may seem inconsequential to many but it speaks to a much wider issue. My inability to accept that my curly hair could be deemed beautiful throughout my formative years taps into a world where Western standards of beauty are at the ultimate pinnacle of what is considered aesthetically pleasing and therefore the only market that is catered for. We also live in a world where physical attributes of people of colour are only considered beautiful when they are seen on white people – curls that are created are better than curls that are curated. It is easy to think that race has nothing to do with curly hair but only fifteen per cent of people who are of Caucasian European descent have the curly hair gene and you are significantly more likely to carry it if you have African, Central or South American, or Asian heritage. Positive representation of diversity is important and you need only reach as far as your issue of Critical Muslim: Beauty to see how pivotal it is.

As a light skinned mixed-race Asian woman, I have not encountered the prejudices that others have but I still do not see my likeness reflected back to me as beautiful by the world in which we live. This is not an issue of triviality; this is an issue of representation and sensitivity. It is an issue that companies such as John Frieda need to consider before telling thousands of people across Britain who were born with curly hair – and are more likely than not from ethnic minority backgrounds – that they drew the short straw and will have to work that bit harder to be beautiful.