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Four Afro-Italian women on their journeys of self love and hair care

Let it fro, let it fro

Four Afro-Italian women on their journeys of self love and hair care Let it fro, let it fro

For black and brown communities hair has always been something that is deeply symbolic with socio-cultural & self-expressive connotations that serve a larger purpose. We’ve seen it with icons of today like Traces Ellis Ross, Lupita Nyong’o, Solange, Janelle Monae and others who own Afro hair as a form of black self love. 

 

Regardless of this great sentimental value, this wasn’t always the case. Traces of hair oppression still exist in modern day society and, as a minority in a predominantly white country like Italy, this experience is twice as difficult, not only because of the absence of role models, but also as a result of being brought up in a society that was not necessarily built for you. In order to hear first hand experiences, nss G-Club had a chat with four black women living in Italy, on their experiences, the relationship with their afro hair and their hair-care routine. 

 

Lina Giselle, 28, Colombian

Digital Specialist and model @gs.elle

What does your hair mean to you?

For me my afro means the acceptance and recognition of my heritage and my African roots. I have one of the curliest types of hair, the most difficult to take care of according to the black community, but I love my hair, I love how versatile it is and the many things I can do with it. Growing up it wasn’t like that: in Colombia I lived in a predominantly white area so being black and having an afro wasn’t as easy as people may think; when I came to Italy I started to have more black friends and I recognized I was being brainwashed by eurocentric and white Colombian beauty standards, so I decided to learn more about what it means to be black, and that included my hair, and I really fell in love with the process. It was also very helpful to watch videos by natural hair Youtubers like WestafricanbabyShanique BuntynNapp QeenChazz Carter.


How did growing up in a predominantly white society influence the way you viewed your hair and identity? 

Eurocentric beauty standards really messed me up growing up. I had to live with Colombian beauty standards which saw a cult liking towards plastic surgery: at fifteen, girls would get liposuction or breast implants for their quinceañera; you also had to have very long straight thick hair to be aesthetically appreciated. So for me, a black, chubby girl with freckles and ‘kinky’ hair it was terrible growing up, not only because for my peers and people in general I was kind of a monster due to the fact that black people with freckles weren’t so popular back in the day, but also because my self perception was really bad. I hated myself, I hated my hair and my freckles. Eurocentric beauty standards damaged my relationship with myself and my family because I didn’t want to be us, I didn’t want to be the weird kid that everybody made fun of, I wanted to be “normal”, unnoticed. It was really a painful period. Fortunately as I grew, I came to my senses and stopped depending on others for my self worth, starting to understand that it was up to me. Now I don’t use any foundation on my face and If I’m not wearing braids, I let all my glorious afro out for all the world to admire. 

Have you ever suffered any type of discrimination because of your hair type?

Of course, growing up kids would say that my hair looked burnt, or when I had braids they would say I had snakes in my hair. Now that I’m an adult, I wouldn’t say I have suffered blatant discrimination for my hair type, but I’ve had some bad experiences regarding the hairstyles I wear, like people calling me “ghetto” for wearing blond braids or friends exposing the fact that I was wearing hair extensions to people I just met or exes that used to tell me that I looked ugly with my natural hair. 

What are the basic steps of your hair care routine? 

My hair routine depends on if I have my afro or braids. When it’s my afro, every morning I use water, leave in conditioner and I spray water before bed; every two days I put a mix of olive oil, coconut oil, black castor oil and tea tree oil and let it stay overnight. When I have braids, every morning and night I put water, leave in conditioner and coconut oil. I also use gel for the baby hairs. The most important thing for me is to put on a satin/silk scarf or bonnet when I sleep. It is very hard for me (or any black person) in Italy to find the right products as you can’t find them at the supermarket or the classic hair shop. I buy some of my products at the Chinese or African shop or I buy them on Amazon where afro hair products are usually overpriced. My favorite are the conditioner Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil and As I Am leave in conditioner.

 

Sarah Misciali, 22, Nigerian

Fashion student @samisc 

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Do you practice what you preach

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What does your hair mean to you? 

My afro is a huge part of my identity and culture that represents a precious gift of my African ancestors, a testimony of their strength and a symbol of rebellion. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case: when I was a child I wondered why I wasn't born with the 3c curls like my brother. It has only been in recent years that I have rediscovered my value.


In your opinion is there enough knowledge and attention to afro hair in the world, and specifically in Italy?

In Italy? Absolutely not, what people think of as afro culture is a result of the racist stereotypes that have evolved over time, which is completely ignored, and thus feeds a negative perception. For what I have seen, having a mother who’s a hairdresser, not even in schools for hair-related professions do they educate kids on the Afro topic in depth. The incredible lack of diversity in the creative industries does not make things better: several times on set of photoshoots I’ve had to do my hair myself before arriving.

What are the basic steps of your hair care routine?

The mantra for my hair is the LOC method, that is to leave it under a hot shower (essential advice for low porosity hair), with a mix of oils that you like best and cream - my favorite is the Double Butter Cream of As I Am. I try to make a mask every weekend and it helps a lot to nurture it, but the essential things are water and love.

Where and how do you find the right products?

In Italy, the source for essential hair and styling products is the African minimarkets, the rest I usually find online. It would be a really strange dream to find a deep conditioner or a co-wash at your local Tigotà. This and many other aspects of Italian society and media show me that there is no interest whatsoever in a market that exists but is still ignored. 

 

Perla Isabel Ventura Hidalgo, 23, Dominicana

Model @perlamystica

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Between work

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What does your hair mean to you? 

My hair is an act of rebellion against Eurocentric beauty standards. In my afro hair the soul of my African ancestors lives, it feels like it's feeding my spirit, culture and stability, and connects me to my roots. I feel so powerful when I wear my Afro, I feel free and unapologetic. In the past I hated it, I was judged when I just wanted to blend in and be accepted, but growing up I’ve become more conscious and that’s how I started the path towards self love. 

How did growing up in a predominantly white society influence the way you viewed your hair and identity? 

The idea of beauty, that is implanted in our minds by the media and the global culture is a product of white supremacy & colonization, that are the basis of nowadays society. My insecurities were a reflection of the beauty beliefs that were subconsciously internalized since I was a girl. In Dominican Republic, where I come from, the standard of beauty for a woman is long straight hair and fair skin, even if most Dominicans are black. Most of them don’t know about their African heritage or deny it, they see Spain (who colonized the country) as motherland, due to years of black oppression. This led to self hate, and trying to be as Eurocentric as possible, even to the point of skin bleaching. 

In your opinion is there enough knowledge and attention to afro hair in the world, and specifically in Italy?

There is definitely not enough knowledge on black hair in Italy, not even in the fashion industry: most of the time I have to take care of my hair during jobs because they don’t know how to handle it or could even damage it.             


What are the basic steps of your hair-care routine? 

My hair care routine is full of love and natural products. I wash it twice a week, with a coconut silicon free shampoo and shea butter with different oils to detangle. I massage the scalp everyday with cinnamon, aloe vera & avocado oil to keep it moisturized. In the past I’ve had problems finding products in Italy and that’s why I shifted to natural treatments, but I’ve found that now there are more products in shops than before.  

 

Eva Lavigna, 24, Italo-nigerian

Model @eva.lvgn

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Twas a good fro day

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What does your hair mean to you? 

My hair is a big part of who I am. Before I went natural six years ago, I had no idea what my natural hair texture was like, I had been getting my hair permed for as long as I can remember. My current relationship with my hair is pretty great, I love it, I feel like it is an accurate expression of who I am and the growth I’ve gone through.

How did growing up in a predominantly white society influence the way you viewed your hair and identity?       

Growing up in Italy, where I’ve never fit into the standard of beauty, I always felt inadequate. I internalized it so much to the point where I always got perms and straightened my hair, but still always felt out of place. Having no representation of women with their natural hair around me made me feel like my hair was ugly and I kept asking myself why couldn’t I have pretty hair, straight hair, like all the other girls in my school. 


In your opinion is there enough knowledge and attention to afro hair in the world, and specifically in Italy?

I feel like there is in a lot of countries like America and the United Kingdom, but not so much in Italy. Just to find hair products that cater to our hair types we either need to order them online or go to African stores where they might possibly  sell them. 

What are the basic steps of your hair care routine?

I am pretty lazy with my hair care routine, I do the bare minimum. I wash it, detangle it with a conditioner and then do braid outs. I find that this routine works well for me. I feel like for afro care you need a really good hair conditioner and hair creams, as afro hair can be really on the dry side if not handled properly. For example, I use Shea Moisture products, that can be easily found online.

 


Illustration cover by Raveena Goswami in exclusive for nss G-Club