Perspectives

Encrespa Geral: How Hair Impacts Our Identity

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On the 8th of October I had the pleasure of taking part as a live translator at a Brazilian Activism event called ‘Encrespa Geral’ which was organized by Saulo Galtri who is a curly hair specialist and a natural hair advocate. The event’s focus was the empowerment of women through their natural hair.

My Personal Account and Experience

I came across The Curly Look by chance on Facebook a few years ago and booked an appointment to have my hair cut and treated. I did not know what to expect as I had never gone to a curly hair specialist before. I naively thought that any hairdresser would have knowledge of all hair types, especially if they were Brazilians. After all, we have such diversity of hair in that country. But that turned out to not be so. My hair had never before been treated like that. Saulo’s work is unique. He not only works on a person’s hair cut and style but he also teaches his clients how to look after it, as well as how to love it. He taught me about hair products and how to care for my hair in the most loving way. There were no harsh chemicals and he worked with my hair natural style rather than against it, like I used to.

Brazil is perceived as a big party place; full of culture, colour and diversity. However, despite its diversity, it is a racist and sexist nation. And despite being quite aware of a lot of it, it was not until I met Saulo that I began to understand the depths of  discrimination existing in Brazil. It is still such a big part of our culture. To understand that, you have to look at the period of slavery and how colour and African features were, and still are, perceived.

As a white woman, the bullying and criticism I got for keeping my hair natural were quite mild in comparison to black Brazilian women I have met.  The difference in treatment people receive based on their colour and social class cannot be denied. However, I too grew up trying to keep my curls tamed and many times heard comments such as:

“Your hair has such a lovely colour, it would look beautiful straight.” – some friends.
“I like your hair, but it would be nicer straight.” – an ex boyfriend.
“you should get it chemically straightened. Straight hair looks more professional and now that you are looking for a job that might help with the first impression.” – a parent.

I always put on an “I don’t give a shit” attitude, but deep inside comments like these, especially the ones coming from close family members, were heartbreaking. The few times I straightened my hair I did not like it either. I felt ugly and odd. I used to put a lot of cream and products to keep it as tight on my head as possible and it was not until I came to Ireland, after a year or so, that I let it go “wild” and assume its natural form and flow.

At the event I had the pleasure to hear the personal account of many Brazilian women who, like me, began to question the beauty standard and pressure we have in Brazil when they came to Ireland. Spending time abroad can shift one’s perspective a great deal if we open ourselves to it. Encrespa Geral touches exactly on that point: shift in perspective and the need to increase awareness. The goal of the event is to create a platform where Brazilian women and, eventually non-Brazilians alike, openly share their personal journeys of self-acceptance and also share their work; work focused on female empowerment. The event is not for Brazilians or women only. It is for all of those who want to understand the importance of empowering each other to accept, love and be ourselves as we are and as we wish to be.

The process of transition is a tender one. Transition is the process of giving up chemically straightening methods and the recovery of one’s natural hair. It is a very delicate and tender process with a huge impact on self-image and self-esteem. The process of hair reconstruction is very much focused on self-discovery, self-acceptance and empowerment. I have spoken to several of the ladies in Dublin who openly shared their insight on sexism and the objectification of women, along with the racism in Brazil. The pressure lifted when they began to question things and to meet other women who have gone, or are still going, through the same process.

At a session with Saulo, you feel very protected and understood. The empathy he displays, the awareness of the importance of self-acceptance he has and his openness to talk, share, teach and, most of all, listen is healing in its own accord.

Charlot’s experience in her own words

I met my hairdresser Saulo Galtri just over a year ago and up till that day I had only been to a hairdresser 3 times in my life. Being from Denmark there weren’t many people with afro hair so my mom used to cut it. When I moved to Ireland,immigration was not a widespread phenomenon yet so the chances of finding a hairdresser with experience were small. It wasn’t until last year that a friend of mine introduced me to someone who knew how to treat my hair type.

At first I was skeptical, which is understandable considering my experience to date. So when Saulo said he knew how to take care of it I just couldn’t believe him.

After much discussion we finally decided to meet up. I was pretty excited and curious as to what would happen. I showed up and Saulo took good care of me. He described every step of the process and gave me advice for my hair that I had never considered before. The treatment took some 3hrs to pass, and when my chair was turned to face the mirror, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Here was the girl who believed her hair was ugly and this hair that I couldn’t recognize was just staring back at me with its radiant curls. I couldn’t even count how many curls there were but for the first time ever each one of them looked so precious.

During my hair treatment I opened up a lot to Saulo, about my experiences growing up in a country where not many people looked like me. At times it got very emotional but I could tell Saulo had done this many times before, beginning with himself.

To some people hair is just hair, but to me, it’s something very personal, something that brings back a lot painful memories. Saulo is no ordinary hairdresser, he’s more like a therapist, who understands your pain and is doing his best to help you love your hair again.

When he invited me to Encrespa Geral (an event organized by him) a year ago, he asked if I could talk about my experiences. I remember being pretty nervous, just like anyone would be if they had to share something personal with complete strangers. But sitting there, opening up old wounds, I quickly realized that each and everyone in the room was in the same boat. You could feel the nods when you mentioned something relatable. My story was in no way unique, it was the same old story each of us had lived through and that many more would come to do.

When I was transitioning I never had a space where I could speak freely and be understood. This was really my first time feeling like I belonged somewhere.

So it’s not surprising that there was no hesitation when the next Encrespa Geral’s event was announced this year.

The event was much bigger this year, with a lot of performances ranging from music to theatre. Everyone had their own way of expressing their stories. While I didn’t take part in the performances this time around I really enjoyed being surrounded by people who looked just like me again. When you think about it, it’s like a healing method. You see all these people with curly hair who look happy with themselves and it starts affecting you. I really believe that Encrespa Geral helps you recover from your experiences because the people are really supportive and understand that It takes a lot of emotional support to build self love.

Sometimes it can be hard when you are on your own, especially when you decide to go natural. It can be a lonely experience because a lot of us don’t know anyone who has gone through the same thing. I remember quite well when I first started wearing my hair naturally, there was not a single person like me. No one could confirm what I was feeling, no one to encourage the choice I had made. It was hard not seeing others like yourself but instead eyes staring right back at you, puzzled and confused as to why someone would like to have hair like this.

At Encrespa Geral you no longer think you’re that strange girl with unusual hair. On the contrary, you feel just like a normal girl with normal hair, not funny or ugly but beautiful because everywhere you look you see yourself and you see the confidence in those who have gone through the same. It’s incredible the reward you get when you start practicing self-love. My own self-esteem has only gotten stronger by being around others who love their hair too.

To Finalize

Hair is not just hair. It is a form of expression, it carries with it heritage and with it the weight of our history filled with culture, mixing, love, pleasure and pain. Embracing one’s natural hair is an act of embracing all that goes with it. To choose to look in a way that is still unfortunately stigmatized and heavy with prejudice against it is indeed an act of revolution. To stand on your own two feet and choose to block the voices that constantly put you down based on your gender and race is a tough and empowering act. It is a conscious choice to learn to love ourselves as we are for who we are.

With this piece we are not trying to say that straightening, colouring or doing whatever to your hair is a bad thing. On the contrary, the freedom to choose to do as you like is what we are focusing on here. Our point is: respect, inclusion and representation of diversity is very much needed and of extreme importance.

The goal of events like this is to shine a light on the pressure that a lot of people feel for having been born with certain racial characteristics over others. My personal goal is to learn from, and with, one another how to respect and appreciate the diversity that we encounter in this vast place called Earth. We are so different and yet so similar. We all need to feel accepted, understood, welcomed and valued for who we are, as we are and choose to be.

You can learn more at The Curly Look’s instagram, facebook or their website.

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