Being an African girl, my hair has always been a big part of my daily life and a source of both frustration as well as pride and joy.
The idea for writing the Big Hair Parade came to me last year just before Black Lives Matter movement shook up the world. The story follows Aisha, a black girl with big afro hair along with her friends Priya, Carla and Aisha who all have different hair, learning about their uniqueness and celebrating their hair's super power!
I really wanted to showcase a little bit about the process that goes into styling afro hair, the oiling and plaiting - a ritual that takes a long time, but also makes for such a wonderful bonding experience.
When I first moved to England I was the only black girl in my class and didn't really like my hair. Cartoon heroes didn't have my hair, dolls and toys didn’t have my hair, and no one at school had hair like mine. Only I had this big different hair!
I remember walking into school one day and having girls in my class play with my hair and model it into all sorts of shapes. Whilst it was playful, it also was a bit of an isolating experience having to explain what was on my head with increasing awareness of how different it was from anything anyone had ever interacted with up close. It certainly amplified the feeling of being different, the “otherness” of being African.
I grew increasingly frustrated with it, especially when it came to those self conscious teenage years when I couldn’t have the flowing locks that everyone around me had and didn’t know where to look to get that confidence in my natural hair.
Fast forward to being a grown up, and luckily, benefiting from the increasing number of role models and celebrities showcasing all sorts of natural hair styles on and off screen, I began to embrace and appreciate all the possibilities and identity hair like mine represents. I just wish I had embraced this hair love earlier!
This story was really written for the younger me - telling her to celebrate what she looks like and love her hair, because being different IS beautiful. It was also a way for me to share this experience with other little children who don’t have afro hair, to help them understand and see a little bit about it - how it is looked after, what it is like to have afro hair and how beautiful it is!
Showcasing these differences in books like Hair Parade and toys like the Mari doll, creates a great platform for children to begin to ask those simple questions that lead to some understanding of complex topics such as race and racial difference. It is a gentle and accessible gateway to learning about and appreciating diversity.
What I love about the Mari doll especially, is that it’s not just a doll that showcases and celebrates Big Hair, but also the power of voice, and using your voice, no matter how young, to start movements that can change the world! That really resonates with me and my beliefs.
It is important for every child to interact with toys, read about characters and see role models in their daily life that reflect who they are and what they look like as these help them to understand themselves, and the part they play in society and in the world. Seeing this happening more and more gives me such joy and hope for the next generation of girls and boys growing up! They have the opportunity to grow up embracing diversity and celebrating difference and the richness it adds to life.