MANE LIFE: The Curl Talk Project

Curly hair has well and truly hit trend status with leading professionals talking texture for years now. A vibration of the world’s welcome respect for ‘individual,’ humans are walking hair high with curl, fro, frizz and for some, fortune – many beauty giants calling up (and cashing in) on the people who made it popular. But it hasn’t always been a spotlight of sensation for our curly haired friends, discrimination, misunderstanding and a constant call to conform a daily reality.

A new photographic exhibition created by Johanna Yaovi aims to challenge beauty standards through exploring the relationship between natural hair, femininity, female empowerment and race, showcasing portraits of curly haired women. Titled The Curl Talk Project, each image is paired with a short story detailing the highs, lows and loves of living with texture.

“Most of us made our hair go through damaging relaxing and straightening procedures, but I couldn’t find women testimonials explaining why we would make our curls suffer as such. I was convinced that this was going beyond aesthetic or practical purposes,” Johanna says.

“I hope people understand that we are all important and deserve concrete representation, whatever our hair type, skin tone, sexuality or condition is.”

Here is a glimpse of the exhibition that will take place 6th-9th March at Hoxton 253 Gallery in London to mark International Women’s Day. Tickets are free

Tatiana, France

The main problem with curly-haired women is that many of us don’t know how to ‘handle’ it. With social media, girls now have a better understanding of the way they can style their hair and internet continues to be a great source of knowledge and empowerment.

The way I perceived my hair changed quite recently, I assume it is linked to the fact that the media are getting more black people involved.

I will always remember the day when Solange Knowles started rocking her afro. It was seen as different, but she was making such a hairstyle accepted, or at least made people think about it. I was still relaxing my hair at the time and her entering the mainstream like a storm made me accept the fact that my hair is naturally close to hers, and that I should accept it, just like she did.

Younger, I suffered a lot from having curly hair. I was 7 years old when I asked my mum to let me go to school with my natural afro. It was my hair at home so why couldn’t it be at school too, where I used to have it braided most of the time?

The result of this decision was awful to me… I sat down in the front row, the teacher looked at me and said: ‘’just go at the back, no one can see because of your hair, it’s too much hair’’. Everyone laughed and I cried.

I couldn’t imagine that I would one day love my hair the way it is. But now I just love curls, volume and the versatility linked to it! I am embracing myself and am happy to do so!

Maisie, UK

My profile can trouble many people, but I am also conscious that some are ready to take advantage of it. I am particularly referring to the fashion industry here.

I am a trend at the moment. I look ‘ethnic’ but not ‘too much’ which, according to brands, means that I have a high selling potential … The way I look can now be marketed, just as freckles can be bought as makeup!

My piece of advice to all the girls who struggle to accept their hair would be the following: if people keep talking negatively about your hair, it’s simply because they don’t have anything else to do than to watch you!

Take every look, every stare as a compliment.

Soraya, France

My hair differentiates me from other people and is a representation of my identity.

It’s funny when you think that in secondary school I genuinely hated it! In my opinion, my hair was too much and was adding up to the fact that I was already much taller and thinner than the average.

From primary school, there was also this idea at the back of my mind that I didn’t want to look like my mother.I hated her frizzy hair and struggled to find her beautiful because of it. And above all, I was listening to people who were saying that my mother wasn’t beautiful.

One day, I came home, hid under the living room table, looked at my mum and said: ‘you’re ugly, you’re dark skinned and you have curly hair’.

This sentence sheds light on the conflictual relationship the younger me had with curly hair, and shows what I would associate curls with.

Luckily, it didn’t last forever and I can now look at my mother and see how beautiful she is.

She was obviously very hurt by this, but despite these painful words she succeeded to tell me that in life you are who you are and can be whoever you want to be, no matter what people say.

This was a real life lesson and something that the younger me desperately needed to hear.

Amélie, France

I love my curls, they are part of me! I tried a couple of times to straighten them but I could see that it wasn’t me anymore … People are also very surprised to see me with straight hair, they feel like I am suppressing my strongest personality trait.

Relaxing my hair wasn’t the result of a desire to hide who I am. I simply wanted to give it a try and what I understood is that it’s not only damaging your hair, it’s also changing who you really are.

Interestingly, people never considered my curls as being natural, always asking me how I made it look that way.

I am not sure if it’s linked to the lack of representation of curly haired women in the media, or with the fact that curly hair still appears to be something different and abnormal.

Self-acceptance is a growing trend at the moment at very different levels, including the acceptance of your naturally curly hair.

However, I feel like more could be done as so many women continue to think that they don’t look good unless they have their hair straightened or chemically relaxed.

Ornella, France

My mother used to criticise my wash and go’s saying things like: “this isn’t professional, you will scare white people away” … I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

These things she was saying were basically showing that as a black woman, there are boundaries linked to my look that I shouldn’t cross … boundaries that I can’t control in any way.

I don’t understand why hair takes such a big place in society. Why is there so much pressure for us to feel like we need to tame it, hide it or wear it in a presentable manner?

Experiencing microaggressions because of our hair is not OK, but it still happens on a day-to-day basis for many women.

Example? A friend went to school wearing her natural hair one day and heard the following words coming out of the teacher’s mouth: “you better fix this, we are not in the jungle here”.

Bongee, Tanzania

Hair has always been a strong element of identity for me but I only remember embracing it in its natural state during my last year of high school.

I relaxed my hair at age 13, not because I felt pressured to do it but because everyone around me was doing it. I simply saw it as the next thing to do and didn’t realise how bad it was for my hair. Sometime afterwards I decided to cut it.

Going natural is such a learning experience. Once you cut your hair you really need to educate yourself when it comes to what your hair needs and unfortunately this wasn’t something I could get from my mother as she didn’t know how to take care of such a hair type. Even simple things like combing it needed to be learned. It’s a process that is full of discoveries.

The Internet helped a lot obviously. I wouldn’t have imagined that one day I would have been able to search ‘how to do twists’ on Google and actually find relevant results!