"Oi, picky head...your hair's picky, man."
You'd be hard-pressed to find a single Black woman in the UK who hasn't received comments relating to her hair. Afro, textured and curly hair demands attention for its unique boldness, vitality and beauty but it has also been a central negative bias and for many, hair discrimination in the UK is a reality.
A 2017 study found that one in five Black women feel social pressure to straighten their hair for work and are much more likely than white women to feel anxiety over the issue. Emma Dabiri, a social historian and author of Don't Touch My Hair, wants this to change.
For Black History Month, Dabiri is presenting a taboo-busting documentary called Hair Power: Me And My Afro by Channel 4 and Pulse Films (co-funded by Dove and Unilever Entertainment) which aims to tell the story of how hair shapes Black experiences in modern Britain.
Dabiri speaks to young women, girls and men about how afro-textured hair has often been hidden, disguised, plagiarised and stigmatised. As well as exploring hair journeys and exploding stereotypes, it looks at afro hair's extraordinary history and discusses how the hair that grows from our heads can shape the direction of our lives.
From looking at the impact of afro-textured hair on popular culture to beauty routines which are a rite of passage and a source of empowerment for many, to feelings of otherness and rejection, the film cracks open a subject that too often has been off limits, such as the history of hair, salon experiences, microaggressions and the natural hair movement.
Shingai Shoniwa, known professionally as singer-songwriter Shingai (and who you may recognise as the vocalist and bassist for UK indie rock band, The Noisettes), shares her experience of her hair journey in the documentary.
She tells Refinery29 that her natural hair journey was a positive one. "It was important and exciting for me to embrace my natural hair through my musical and creative journey because there's so much art and creativity that goes with these arresting hairstyles," she says. "My hair is my birthright, it's my crown, it's my friend, it's my foe and it's a journey I'm happy to be on. I look forward to passing down what I learn about my hair journey to future generations."
My hair is my birthright, it's my crown, it's my friend, it's my foe and it's a journey I'm happy to be on.
She continues: "I have learned that personally, identity and self-expression are two things that are definitely interlinked. I've also learned that there is a beautiful interconnection between Black creativity and Black adornment. It's important that we celebrate those who are in their natural way of life."
Shingai adds that she loves how Black hair culture allows people in the Black community to have these conversations. "We get to have wider chats about identity and stories about the past – which aunties and uncles had what kind of hairstyles and how they like to present themselves. You get a lot of knowledge about different Black people in the community.
When I'm wrapping my hair, it's like poetry in motion.
"I really love that a lot of knowledge is passed down in hair salons and barbers. I love that it's a ritual. I love doing my hair or someone else's, it brings out creativity, it's like doing a painting or writing a song. When I'm wrapping my hair, it's like poetry in motion.
"There's a feeling that you get when you're confident enough to be able to wear your hair naturally as a person of colour. It's kind of part of your mane, part of your armour. I feel like I'm embracing something that keeps me rooted in a really long tradition of Black female expressionism," she says.
Don't let them tell you you're too dark, too smart, too large, too much for you.
Shingai adds that she hopes the documentary will help young women and girls to feel comfortable in their own skin. "We're often told we're too something in society; this doesn't just relate to hair but it extends to personality," she says. "We're often told you have to dumb yourself, play down your intelligence, under-express yourself to make other people feel comfortable because they possess a different canon of what the idea of expression means to them. Self-expression is so important, not just for young people but for established artists."
She continues: "It's very parallel to a song I've written called 'Too Bold'. I'd say: 'Don't let them tell you you're too dark, too smart, too large, too much for you.'"
Hair Power: Me and My Afro in partnership with Dove, airs on Tuesday 27th October at 10.15pm on Channel 4. Also available on All 4 after transmission.