We spoke with the founder of The Curl Talk Project, Johanna Yaovi, on her experience of creating the crucial ‘portfolio of experiences’, exploring the links between curly hair and the notions of identity, femininity and race.
Amidst the Fashion and Beauty industry’s repetitive use of terms such as ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’, the Curl Talk Project is providing a genuine effort to make a necessary change for women born with curly hair in today’s society. Setting itself apart from the crowd, The Curl Talk project is not targeting bloggers, celebrities or social media stars but is instead amplifying the voices of those who are most relatable: everyday women. The women interviewed for the project revealed their individual experiences with curly hair, from how they are judged professionally, or how they are represented in the Beauty industry. With the mantra ‘The women behind the curls all have a story to tell.’, the project serves as an important progression in the natural hair movement to re-educate Westernised ideals forced upon everyone and break the rules of beauty. And so, the continuing project built upon the personal experiences of women from a variety of backgrounds and careers is opening up an honest conversation on curly hair to dismantle it’s existing connotations.
Was there a certain moment in time/memorable event that made you want to begin the project?
I started the Curl Talk Project when I realised that I needed more in my life than a simple marketing office job. I’ve always been interested in topics such as representation, diversity, race, and culture, but, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything with these passions. And so, as a curly-hair-obsessed person, creating something that would link textured hair to these notions was an obvious decision for me. I tend to think that your interests should lead to somewhere or something concrete, and, if it doesn’t come to you, you need to create it yourself. Instead of being a personal weekend hobby interests can be translated into something purposeful and helpful to many.
Do you have a personal story with your curls in today’s society?
From a very young age, I quickly understood that my hair wasn’t seen as the valued type and did everything I could to alter it in order to feel more accepted. Luckily, as I got older, the more comfortable I became with myself and with the way I looked even though some people made a point of highlighting my ‘difference’. It’s never enjoyable to have people trying to touch your hair without your permission, or to cross path with individuals who compare your curly afro to a carpet, or even having friends saying to your face that Solange Knowles’ afro looks messy when your hair is close to her hair-type. Curly hair is still seen as ‘exceptional’ and as it continues to be understood in that way, people will feel entitled to comment on it -positively or negatively. When I decided to go natural, I could see that the way I felt about my hair was different from Paris (where I’m originally from) to London. In France, we have this tendency to be very judgemental and loudly express our opinions, however, London is more of an open-minded place where you can be whoever you want to be without even thinking of other’s opinions. I believe this contrast helped me a lot during my hair acceptance journey. These two cities gave me two different experiences and pushed me to choose what I wanted to get out of it; the result is nothing but positive.
Have women so far been passionate about being involved and have you had any comments on how the project has made them feel?
Women have been very supportive and happily took part in the Curl Talk Project. For many, the curly hair experience wasn’t a topic they had the opportunity to talk about before so it happened to be liberating for them to address this issue. Many other women told me how the first stories of the Curl Talk Project reminded them of their own experiences. I am glad to receive such positive and meaningful feedback. The Curl Talk Project is also a way to say to many curly-haired women that they are not alone, that this pressure to alter their hair nature is something most of us have experienced, as much as under-representation and microaggressions.