‘It’s about self-love’: the black girls busting elegance myths in west Africa | World-wide progress

Women kick the sand from their slippers, and simplicity into the great convenience of a all-natural hair and skincare keep in central Dakar. On the shelves are jars loaded with handmade dietary supplements of organic shea butter, coconut, castor and olive oils, sourced from throughout west Africa.

In floral silk hijabs and abaya attire, the ladies sit on sofas near the again of the retail store, talking about their hair beneath a mural of poised black women of all ages and adult males, carrying a combination of traditional organic black hairstyles.

Khadidiatou Ba’s Afro Feewi retail outlet, a “safe space” web hosting local community teams and totally free hair consultations, is the end result of a journey that commenced through her childhood. Unpleasant struggles with her hair texture and self-impression as a darkish-skinned black girl in Senegal led Ba, popularly identified as Jatouna, to start a weblog on black haircare and start off experimenting with products and solutions that catered for her demands.

Alimatou Sadiya, manager of Afro Feewi in Dakar, Senegal, organises the store’s handmade and organic products, April 2021
Alimatou Sadiya, manager of Afro Feewi in Dakar, Senegal, organises the store’s handmade and natural goods, April 2021. Photograph: Annika Hammerschlag/The Guardian

“I grew up in a household that thought you necessary to have straight hair to be beautiful, that is how they utilized to think,” states Jatouna, now 22. “But I acquired to take my hair and then to adore it. I uncovered to consider care of it.

“It’s hard here since men and women are nevertheless assimilated to lots of factors related to colonisation,” she suggests. “In Dakar, a ton of people today nevertheless imagine that beauty benchmarks are straight hair, light pores and skin. However it is modifying, it’s continue to a genuine challenge.”

In her salon, teams of primarily young girls discuss and share organic haircare, not to disparage synthetic or human hair extensions, Jatouna says, but to take a look at the growing hair selections for black women of all ages, obstacle misconceptions that carrying all-natural hair is not attractive, and to recommend on remedies and haircare regimes.

Khadidiatou Ba, known as Jatouna, owner of Afro Feewi
Khadidiatou Ba, identified as Jatouna, proprietor of Afro Feewi in Dakar. Photograph: Annika Hammerschlag/The Guardian

“When it comes to hair, you can have purely natural hair and do protecting types [such as wigs or woven extensions], and people today will believe that you really do not like all-natural hair, which is not the situation,” she claims. “You can dress in a whole lot of wigs, have your pure hair and consider treatment of it. It’s just a option. The critical aspect is to use great products and solutions.

“We seriously do the job on self-esteem, self-enjoy and self-acceptance, which is the toughes
t portion. We’re sellers, psychologists, mates,” she says, of her shop and social media posts about solutions and items for diverse types of black hair. “A ton of the information tries to train and share what we know about hair, what we know about the potential risks of stress-free the hair.”

In Senegal, women of all ages and adult men have to contend with a colonial legacy of natural beauty benchmarks and an idealisation of Eurocentric and lighter-skinned attributes. Methods these kinds of as enjoyable – a typical course of action of chemically straightening hair – is common, usually resulting in hair breakage and scalp hurt. Notions that black hair is not fascinating, and need to be improved or included are prevalent. Skin bleaching is also commonplace, as in substantially of west Africa, amplified by ubiquitous advertising and marketing from big skin makes, and cultural imagery that depicts lighter skin tones as more beautiful.

“My mother applied to straighten my hair with relaxers and it under no circumstances labored,” Jatouna says. “I would have a close friend with the exact same relaxer as me, she would have straight hair, you know quite straight, traveling in the wind, and I would have my kinky hair – ‘messy’ as people today would say – and it was so agonizing. In hair salons in Dakar, hairdressers would explain to me they required to set more relaxers. I just couldn’t do it any a lot more.”

A mural at Afro Feewi celebrates natural African hair
A mural at Afro Feewi celebrates all-natural African hair. Photograph: Annika Hammerschlag/The Guardian

In latest decades, there has been a surge of women-led natural hair and skincare organizations in black bulk countries and diasporas, crafted on their activities navigating concepts of their personal attractiveness. Quite a few, like Jatouna, have developed their next by using social media, exactly where they encourage a perception of self-truly worth for ladies. In Senegal, it is youthful girls who have led a wave of productive compact to medium beauty corporations, which features Boudoir Ophelia, Mossane Elegance Idea and Nubian Cosmetics.

There has also been an speedy development in homemade hair and skincare solutions, making use of ingredients such as shea butter, and castor and coconut oil, prolonged accessible in Africa. The items have steadily come to be additional commercialised, primarily in the course of lockdowns when younger women of all ages have experienced far more time on their hands to make products and solutions at residence. More recent innovations, this kind of as mixing shea butter with organic scents this sort of as almond, have also pushed their reputation.

Immediately after stress-free destroyed her hair and remaining her scalp sore, Jatouna spent months exploring weblogs and films by black women on how to take care of unique styles of hair, and the very best all-natural therapies to use.

“It’s the two the items we need to use, and how to use them,” she suggests. A great deal of what she makes consists of elements sourced from Senegal and neighbouring west African nations around the world, via predominantly female current market sellers and traders.

Colourful hair bonnets for sale at Afro Feewi
Colourful hair bonnets for sale at Afro Feewi. Photograph: Annika Hammerschlag/The Guardian

In the nearby Grand Yoff marketplace, Marianne – recognized as Madame Marianne by her buyers – scrapes chunks from a huge mound of shea butter, on a stall she has experienced for 20 years. “I get it from Burkina Faso. They make loads of it there,” she says. “It’s not often been so well-known. Now you see far more young people obtaining it. Youthful girls, specially.”

Shea butter operates well for people’s pores and skin and hair, she suggests. “It’s not a new matter. I have utilized it, mixing it with olive oil – it’s very good for the skin. Some people like it but complain of t
he smell, so mix it at household with diverse liquids to give it a better odor.”

Even with the growth in reputation of shea butter, the proceeds for traders have improved only marginally, Marianne says, even though at the other conclusion of the chain, solutions sourced from African nations are rising in marketplace share.

Alimatou Sadiya, manager of Afro Feewi in Dakar, Senegal, 21 April 2021
Merchandise at Afro Feewi use organic substances, these as natural and organic shea butter and olive oils, sourced from across west Africa. Photograph: Annika Hammerschlag/The Guardian

Ade Balogun was an architect, also doing work in e-commerce, in Lagos when her vocation took an unexpected convert. “I lower my hair and started out locking it. I did not think just about anything of it, it was really a conclusion manufactured to free of charge up time. It was not political, it was effortless,” she states.

She promptly realised that misconceptions of locks were widespread in Nigeria. “They suppose you’re into cannabis, they affiliate [them] with some sort of rise up,” she claims.

“My peers ended up wearing fancy weaves with bounce, and to them my hair seemed dull. So I started off to research diverse points I could do to my locked hair and blog about it. I realised there are so a lot of ways you can use and model locks, curling it and so on.”

She opened Locitude, one of the couple retailers focused to pure variations of locking and dealing with hair in Ikoyi, an affluent region of Lagos. 6 co-personnel surprise prospects with the array of styles, locking hair in bantu design, elaborate plaits and wraps. A growing choice of on the net films and blogs instruct about locked all-natural hair and how to care for it.

Ade Balogun, owner of Locitude salon in Lagos, Nigeria
Ade Balogun, operator of Locitude salon in Lagos, Nigeria Photograph: Courtesy of Locitude

Balogun commenced manufacturing natural splendor products created with crucial oils these types of as rosemary, hibiscus and coconut, mostly manufactured in regional girls-owned factories and by traders in Lagos and Badagry. “I use the palm rolling strategy, which is a fully natural process. It shocks men and women for the reason that they really don’t generally realise how simple it is for our hair to lock.

“Not all chemical solutions are negative, but at times you have approaches where by people have locked their hair through a combination of soaking it in coffee and toothpaste,”
she suggests. Other usually employed products, like wax, can also weigh hair down, and damage and break it.

Balogun states she operates really hard to break down destructive stereotypes affiliated with locked hair. “My consultations are no cost simply because there are a ton of misconceptions about our very own hair that we have grown up with.

“Hair is so advanced and loaded. You can search at someone’s hair and see no matter whether they’re ingesting enough h2o, if they’ve been working with unsafe products.

“One of the items I appreciate most about my work is encouraging people fully grasp that some of the ways they’ve approached their hair has been completely improper.”