Ode to hair: Ivorian women champion afros

Story highlights

Natural hair movement Nappys de Babi is growing in the Ivory Coast

The online community has garnered more than 17,000 members

Children as young as eight were previously pressured to chemically straighten hair

CNN  — 

Growing up with afro hair can be a harrowing experience, especially if forced to chemically straighten it.

“Once you are eight, all hairdressers say, oh you have to relax your hair… we can’t manage your hair, you have to relax it, it will be beautiful,” says Mariam Diaby, a hairdresser and founder of Nappys de Babi, an online community focused on promoting natural hair.

Her group, based in Ivory Coast’s capital Abidjan, encourages and supports African women to wear their hair curly, instead of using popular chemical straighteners known as relaxers.

Parisian confidence

Diaby got her inspiration from living in Paris: “I was seeing women with big afros and thinking, my hair can be like this,” she said.

“One morning I woke up and I said, okay this is enough! It was kind of a vindication.”

But upon returning to Ivory Coast, after six months of avoiding relaxers, she found no salon that could cater to her hair. She thus decided to start Nappys de Babi, reclaiming a once derogatory nickname for ‘natural’ hair and Babi, an informal name for Abidjan. Started in 2011 amongst friends, it soon became a safe zone where participants could exchange stories and tips on how best to care for hair in its natural state, and boasts 17,000 members today.

“We specifically try to help women be proud of their hair,” says Diaby.