When Lekia Lée, a London resident and activist, noticed that her daughter Siirah was growing up surrounded by ads that featured straight-haired women only, she decided to take action. Lée realized that it was time for Siirah and her friends to see women who actually looked like them in popular culture, so the mom created a billboard campaign celebrating curly hair and launched Project Embrace, which encourages society to feature more women with natural hair in ads, television, and media. The message behind Lée's billboard proves why we need diverse representation in society for our daughters. Lée told the the BBC last week:
The campaign basically was inspired by my daughter because I wanted her to grow up to know that she’s OK just as she is, from her head — well, her hair actually — down to her toes. Because nowadays you see a lot of prominent black women with weaves, straight weaves and wigs and I didn't what her to think that there is anything wrong with her hair.
In order to get her West London billboard made, Lée launched a CrowdFunder campaign in 2011 and asked multiple billboard companies to support the campaign. It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Project Embrace billboards, using the hashtag #AfroVisibility, were put up by UK Billboards.
The need for more diverse representation in popular culture is obvious. As The Washington Post pointed out, women with afros, braids, and dreads have — astoundingly — been told that their natural hair is inappropriate or an unprofessional look to wear at work. A study conducted by the Perception Institute just this year found that there's still bias against black women's natural hair, according to NPR.
But luckily, the societal pushback that has begun in recent years seems to be working: hair relaxer sales have dropped, more products are available for naturally curly hair, and more and more celebrities are embracing their natural locks. And that same study that found persisting bias against natural hair also found that both millennials and women who chose to wear their hair natural were more accepting or even preferred the look.
That's precisely why we need representation in popular culture. Daughters need to grow up seeing their brand of natural beauty embraced by society and celebrated. "There’s nothing more normal in my daughter than her hair," Lée told The Washington Post. "I think it’s a shame that we have to normalize something that is just so natural to so many women."
Here's to celebrating Lée's awesome commitment to representation — and hoping we see many more of her billboards pop up around London and the rest of the world.