In the 21st century, beauty standards are seemingly defined by Instagram models who garner thousands of likes and followers for their posts, celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and runway models. Long, straight hair, small noses and light eyes dominate the idea of beauty in the eyes of millions across the world.
Black women and men are commonly excluded from the idea of ‘conventional beauty’ because of their historically wide noses and curly/coily hair, leading to people of colour facing issues such as hair discrimination in schools and workplaces.
This is where Leika Lee steps in, founder of Project Embrace. Lekia challenges the strict western views on beauty, by increasing the visibility of traditional African hair and features in the media.
Project Embrace is a remarkable campaign that aims to positively represent African features in today’s culture. Starting with two billboards in 2017, Lekia has been working persistently to change the unfavourable narrative surrounding African hair and features in public spaces such as schools and workplaces.
Lee said the Project Embrace started because: “I wanted my young daughter to see positive representation of her own kind of beauty”. She added: “the lack of positive representation for afro hair in the media whether it be adverts on TV or magazines, TV shows or movies, helps underpin this idea that afro hair needs to be changed or covered”.
Although, in today’s culture, society strives to be more inclusive and accepting of each individual’s differences, Lee has acknowledged the challenges that she has faced whilst working on Project Embrace’s campaign.
She identified her main obstacle as: “getting sections of society not affected by hair discrimination and bias to understand that it is a problem and how deep the impact can be”. Lee continues to work against these challenges by sharing the stories of POC affected by these biases, offering real, relatable experiences for black professionals who operate inside these public spaces.
Despite the obstacles that Lee faces, Project Embrace has grown hugely within two years. The campaign grew to 72 billboards across the UK in 2018, with 60 being donated by Nottingham City Council and 60 by advertising company, Clear Channel. And Project Embrace’s success continues to grow as Lee said: “…thankfully Clear Channel is committed to continuing to support our campaign and will be providing space on their billboards for our 2019 campaign”.
Lekia has big plans for the future of Project Embrace, as she aims to diversify beauty standards, not just across the UK, but globally. Five years from now, she sees the campaign as: “celebrating the unique beauty of Afro textured hair all around the globe”. She added: “Taking billboards spaces in different countries and creating the visibility our hair and beauty deserves in Brazil, Nigeria, Jamaica, United States and many more countries…”.
Project Embrace looks set to continue the amazing work and positive representations that it has become known for. By continuing its fight against the entrenched societal prejudices that circle around afro hair and features, Lee and her campaigns are giving a voice to those who face these challenges in their everyday life.
The campaign is doing more than just putting images into the media, they are actively fighting the racism that hinders many men and women of colour from reaching higher positions in the public sphere.
With a upcoming campaign debuting in 2021, Project Embrace is continuing to showcase the beauty and versatility of afro hair, by recruiting members of the public to represent the cause.
Project Embrace and Leika Lee show no signs of slowing down, as their crusade against societal prejudices and hair discrimination continues unwavered by any obstacles.