An ode to Black hair: Teen writes book to help young Black girls love their curls
'It's so common to hate your natural hair in the society that we live in,' author says
Aisha Boubacar's quarantine hairstyle experiment quickly turned into a bona fide writing project.
While many were trying to cope with being separated from their trusted hairstylist during the lockdown period, Boubacar, then 14, embarked on what she calls a love story with her Afro-textured hair by writing a children's book, Crowned in Curls.
"I started thinking a lot about why I didn't love my natural hair, which is a part of me," she said.
The rhyming story inspired by her childhood follows Imani, a young girl, who celebrates having curly hair after overcoming her insecurities about it.
The Toronto teen partnered with Montreal publisher Paper Dog Press to release the book.
Boubacar, who says she always wanted to write, thought publishing a story based on her newfound appreciation for her natural curls could help Black girls develop a stronger self-image.
"I want people to accept that they're beautiful, and they don't have to fit into Caucasian beauty standards in order to feel beautiful," she said.
"Other Black girls would go through something similar to what I was going through because it's so common to hate your natural hair in the society that we live in."
Looking to fit in
Attending predominantly white schools pushed Boubacar to think her hair was a problem, not a beautiful attribute.
"I was really insecure because I wanted to fit in," she said.
"Whatever part of my identity that was not like the people around, I felt like it was inconvenient and started to not like it," she said.
"When I would go to school, people would talk about their straight hair, and I started to envy that."
Boubacar's mother started relaxing her hair when she was seven years old because, she says, it was "difficult to manage."
But in March 2020, the teen author decided it was the perfect time to chop off the relaxed strands and allow the rest of her hair to grow, untethered by chemicals.
She took time to scour the internet for articles and videos explaining how she could take care of her natural hair. Learning about how to maintain her curls — and why she should value them — inspired her to capture Afro-positivity in her book, which she also illustrated.
"When I was drawing her, my intention was to draw a 10-year-old," she said. "I can draw a few things here and there, but I'm not naturally artistic … I knew I wouldn't be able to do it by hand so I did it digitally."
Although she's not against hair relaxers, Boubacar says she hopes young girls who read her book will embrace the natural hair on their crown.
"It's just like with makeup," she said. "I'm not against wearing makeup — I wear it myself, but it's important to love yourself in your natural state."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
with files from Sudha Krishnan and CBC Radio's Let's Go