When my football development programme, Goals4Girls, launched a campaign called My Hair, My Identity, in the summer, I could immediately relate.
I am mixed-race. My mum is white British, and my dad is Jamaican – the one I need to thank for my curly hair! My mixed heritage has meant that sometimes I have struggled with my hair, and I have had unpleasant experiences because of my tight curls. When a 13-year-old girl on our football programme was told her hair was “too big” by a teacher at her school, it resulted in an extreme outcome.
She was sent to the head teacher’s office for not tying her hair back, told her actions were “disruptive”, and excluded for a week. After a week at home, she was reintroduced to lessons via the school’s internal exclusion room: a classroom where students sit in silence, completing work with the supervision of a teacher.
I do not personally know the girl who was excluded, but it could have so easily been me who spent a week in isolation just because I refused to change my hair. I really felt for her.
I was once told by a teacher not to wear my hair out as much because: “It’s a distraction to other people’s learning”.
I wanted to be a part of this campaign to make sure that no one with Afro hair is punished for wearing their hair naturally ever again.
Speaking with the other girls at football, it was clear they also had similar experiences. We had all had people touch our hair without permission.
That really needs to stop. I have been out walking before and had people come up to me to say: “Oh my gosh! Your hair is so curly! Can I touch it?” It does seem strange when I say that out loud, and I bet there are people who think: “Does that really happen?” But it does. It happens more often than you think. To have people touch your hair without permission is the worst, it is such an invasion of privacy.
Sharing these stories made me reflect on my experience at dance school when I was younger. I sat exams at dance school and for each one you had to make sure your hair was in a particular style. This meant having to wear my curls in a low bun and slicked back. At that time, my mum did my hair and really struggled to put it in that style. I remember we used so much hairspray once my hair looked white.
It would stay in place for what seemed like two seconds. I think then I realised that my hair was different to the others.
At Goals4Girls I’ve never felt like my hair was an ‘issue’, and I think that is because we are such a diverse group. We have girls on the team with straight hair, coily – hair that forms tight curls in a zigzag pattern from the scalp – curly and frizzy hair, girls with Type Three hair, girls with Type Four hair, it really doesn’t matter. However, when I was dancing, most of the girls were white which meant they didn’t struggle with their hair as much as I did. The rules were clearly made for them, not me.
At football, it’s different. I have been part of Goals4Girls for three years now, and I have made some wonderful friendships.
I feel surrounded by girls doing their best to empower one another – not always the easiest thing for teenagers to do.
In a lot of ways it feels like an extension of my family, I turn to my team mates when I need guidance and support, and that is because of the bond we have built playing football. The campaign has given us an opportunity to have our voices heard, and that is so important when you feel like your voice doesn’t matter.
Seeing sportswomen with Afro hair is important. I find Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce inspiring, not just because she is a phenomenal athlete – twice and Olympic champion, and nine times World Champion – but also because she fully embraces her hair on the track.