Put 100 curly-haired women in one place, and you’ll get at least 100 different stories about their curls. That’s why Johanna Yaovi created the Curl Talk Project; a “portfolio of experiences” about the curly-hair experience.
While beauty tips for curly hair abound, Yaovi was seeking a more meaningful dialogue with deeper answers, interviewing 100 curly-haired women from a range of countries, backgrounds and ethnicities about their natural-hair journeys. The results explore the connection between natural hair and societal notions of identity, femininity, race, diversity and representation.
Says the 28-year-old London-based marketing professional:
My main goal is to empower curly-haired women; showing them that they are not alone in this hair acceptance journey. All these years, I tried to understand my hair better, but also tried to understand why I was making my hair go through damaging relaxing and straightening procedures. I became convinced that these rituals were going beyond aesthetic or practical purposes.
The Curl Talk Project is a place where no one shies away from the occasional pain and struggle of the natural-hair journey; whether the wounds in the battle to love the skin and hair you’re in are societal, self-inflicted or, sometimes, both.
For instance, Elsie, a French millennial originally hailing from Martinique, says she can often tell that people feel uncomfortable, “like my hair is nothing but a violent and aggressive expression of my personality and identity for them.” Meanwhile, Elsie’s mother, an office worker, is often asked if she’s unwell if she dares come to work wearing her hair in its natural texture. Elsie questions why her mother can’t just have the option to change up her work style without suffering a whiff of scandal instead of a sigh of relief.
But love for the beauty and freedom of natural hair is heard here, too: “For the past couple of years, I started to see my hair as a clear representation of my womanhood and my blackness. It’s a great tool that shapes my identity and gives me great confidence,” recounts Samantha, also from the United Kingdom. Her natural style has an artsy vibe, capped by a short, bleached and tapered curly ’fro, cropped close on the sides, with soft, undulating clouds of blond curls.
Also a millennial, Samantha talks about facing her mother’s bias about what a professional woman should look like; natural hair was definitely not an element in her mother’s style bible.
Resisting naysayers at every turn—including friends and family—in the choice to go natural, talk in this virtual salon for curly storytellers is frank and painfully true. No one here pretends that the day you go natural, the respect and regard of loved ones automatically transfer to a new look.
Ophélie, from France, who wears her short shock of kinky black hair pulled back off her face, tells it like it all too often is for women who are happy to go nappy. “Family members played a strong role in this natural-hair journey. Some of them had a positive impact, while some others couldn’t understand my decision to go natural. For them, it was just a decision that would make me ugly.”
Embracing a natural-hair journey is both an exercise in self-acceptance and an unspoken insistence upon a broader range of beauty. As Ophélie says while challenging no less than Beyoncé to show herself in all her natural glory: “We live in a society that glorifies light skin and straight hair. It makes a big difference in the way we perceive each other. Such lack of representation makes us believe that we aren’t the norm, that we aren’t beautiful.”
The Curl Talk Project is just another way in which millennials and Generation Z are taking back the power to define themselves—this time, naturally—using the internet to shape public opinion. As Yaovi writes: “Many might think that being an advocate of textured hair is ridiculous, but we are here talking about a characteristic that says a lot about our cultural heritage. We are talking about a characteristic that has for so long been represented as unruly, unpresentable, abnormal and unprofessional.”
But it sure is beautiful.