Love Thy Self!
Peace Corps Volunteer Tisania wondered why the young women in her community bleached their skin and straightened their hair. We are in Africa, she thought, shouldn’t a Black woman’s natural beauty be appreciated?
After reading a book about loving your hair created by a Black Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Swaziland, Tisania wanted young Liberian women to feel that they do not need to change who they are because they stem from generations of naturally beautiful women. She wanted them to understand their physical attributes are priceless, and there is no need to use chemicals to change that. Excited about the idea, Tisania pondered the ways to spread the message to “Love Thyself.” She realized she couldn’t carry out the workshop alone, so she reached out to Abigail, Darrell, and Latisha, other Black Volunteers serving in Liberia, who were excited by Tisania’s idea. The next step was to develop the idea and figure out the best, most effective way to share this vital, beautiful message.
In collaboration with Peace Corps/Liberia’s Rise2Raise Mentoring Program, the Volunteers conducted a two-day workshop for 23 girls from around Liberia. Addressing colorism, the prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone (typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group), the history of oppression rooted in slavery in the United States, and how the founders of Liberia (lighter skinned freed slaves) brought with them the same ideologies that dark skin is inferior, which led to racial injustices and self-loathing (internalized oppression and internalized dominance) for native and darker skinned Liberians.
During the session, “Effects of Using Chemicals on Hair and Skin”, they reviewed how skin bleaching and perming (a chemical process used to straighten curly hair) can impact one’s body and how colorism leads to people of color feeling the need to alter their appearance. The widespread promotion that the physical attributes of people of color were undesirable, led to the creation of chemical remedies by multinational companies—primarily owned by White people—claiming these products can turn undesirable dark skin to lighter skin and make kinky and curly hair straight. Now all over the world, people of color spend millions of dollars to change the color of their skin and the texture of their hair. The Volunteers showed the participants how the use of chemicals on their hair and body could lead to permanent damage to skin tissues and hair follicles. In most cases, the damage is beyond repair.
After the history and the damage of these practices were discussed, it was time to focus on “How to Reverse the Misconception” that the skin and hair of people of color are inferior. The Volunteers demonstrated to the young women how to wash, style, and treat their natural hair without chemicals. The girls practiced using locally available remedies such as coconut oil, avocado, lime, and honey, produced in Liberia, which can be safely used on hair and skin.
People of color have a long
history of being oppressed, which has led to many Blacks wanting to fit the
mold of what society promotes as the “standard” of beauty, which is white skin
and straight hair. Creating a safe place to discuss where these beliefs stem
from, and why you should love the skin you are in, is the ultimate message that
the Volunteers wanted to take root in the young women as they returned to their
communities. It was evident that the issue of accepting your black skin and
hair was a topic the young women had never discussed. After the workshop, one
of the participants shared what she learned. She said, “Black is beautiful.
Once others around you see how much you love yourself, they will learn your
values of appreciating being Black. I love my color and no one can tell me
different. I am very beautiful.” To be
honest, Volunteer Latisha reflected, this was something she had to learn for
herself over the years.
To reach more young girls, the Volunteers are writing a grant to hold more “Love Thyself” trainings. Volunteer Latisha said, “We hope more men and women of African descent will start loving their black skin and kinky hair. We also want to empower our brothers and sisters by boosting their self-esteem through knowledge.” At the end of the workshop, the young ladies ended the day dancing and singing a song by Flavour called “Your Black is Beautiful.”