by Beverly Aarons
In the wake of three states passing the CROWN Act, groundbreaking legislation which bans discrimination against Black women wearing their natural hair, some Black women are joining the vanguard in a movement to destigmatize kinky, coily hair. Afro-Caribbean filmmaker and photographer, St. Clair Detrick-Jules is one of those women. St. Clair is preparing to debut her photography book, Dear Khloe, May 5, 2020.
Dear Khloe features vivid color photographs and interviews showcasing 101 Black women embracing and loving their natural hair. But most of all, Dear Khloe is a love letter and affirmation ballad to St. Clair’s younger sister, six-year-old Khloe, who has struggled to love her natural curls.
“I have three little siblings who are almost 2 decades younger than me. They live in France with my dad and stepmom,” St. Clair said. “I was finishing up my last semester of college when I got a phone call from my dad saying that my little sister Khloe was feeling really upset about her hair. She didn’t want to go to school that day because she was feeling so self-conscious about her afro. It turned out that she was being teased and bullied about her afro at the majority white elementary school she attends.”
That self-conscious feeling was familiar to St. Clair. She knows what it’s like to feel ashamed of her hair. She’s been there and she has the hair stories to prove it. For 20 years she battled her own tresses in an effort to look more like the white girls who attended her elementary school. It’s a battle of self-loathing she doesn’t want her little sister Khole to face. So right after graduating Brown University, just two years ago, she sprung into action collecting the photographs and stories of natural Black woman across the country. She wanted them to tell and show Khloe just how special she is just the way she is right now. Little Khloe doesn’t get the opportunity see that often—not in her community and not in the media.
“She’s watching Disney princess movies but most of the princesses are white. And even if the princesses are Black, they have straightened hair,” St. Claire said. “Princess and The Frog is great bit even Tiana has straightened hair. Khloe just isn’t seeing representation so my thought process was that if I can show her all these women with natural hair my little sister would realize that she’s not alone.”
But the uncomfortable truth is that even within the natural hair movement, many tighter coiled naturals find themselves alone when they’re wearing their natural hair, a fact that frustrates St. Clair. Many of the most celebrated natural beauties have hair that’s more aligned with super definition and silky strains than hair that’s drier with poof and frizz. St. Clair spoke of her struggles wearing type 3 hair naturally in all white environments but she also notes just how rare it was to see women with type 4 hair wearing afros or other styles that didn’t require manipulation or braided extensions even in her Black and Hispanic high school.
“I can’t remember anyone at my high school who was natural, most of the girls had braided extensions or straightened hair,” St. Clair said. “…The closer your hair is to blackness, 4a through 4c, the less accepted it is in society. And I really think that those women are the ones who should be at the forefront of the movement because I think those are the women who sometimes have the hardest time.”
In her photography book, Dear Khloe, St. Clair works hard to feature all naturals especially Black women with type 4 hair. Fortunately there were many women eager to put their curls and stories in the spotlight.
“It’s incredible how many of them agreed to be in the project for my little sister who they have never met before but they were so willing to help her,” St. Clair said.
When asked about her favorite hair story in the book, St. Clair insisted that there were many. But there was one hair story that stood out as the most uplifting one.
“The last person I interviewed is a natural hair influencer who is only 9 years old,” St. Clair said. “She was the only person in the book who had always loved her natural hair. She spoke about how she was confused by the question “when did you learn to love your natural hair” because she’s always loved her natural hair…that really speaks to the natural hair movement that will teach little Black girls from an early age that their hair is beautiful.”
Featured image by St. Clair Detric-Jules