Liberal MP Rocks Braids, Condemns Body Shaming, is a General Badass
Sam Mathers, News Editor
Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a Liberal MP for Whitby, Ontario received a standing ovation in Parliament last week after speaking about body shaming, saying, “body shaming of any woman in any form from the top of her head to the soles of her feet is wrong.” Wearing her hair in braids, Caesar-Chavannes brought light to an issue that many women with natural hair face.
Reports of young girls being pressured by teachers and administration to tame their natural hair are becoming increasingly common. Girls have been given detention, kicked off sports teams, banned from attending prom, barred from taking exams, and sometimes even expelled.
This year, 15-year-old twins Mya and Deanna Cook of Massachusetts were barred from participating in school activities like Latin club, track, and prom because of their box braids. The school claimed that the rule was in place to prevent distinguishing students who were of a higher socioeconomic background and could afford hair extensions, but the ACLU argued the rule unfairly targets students of colour.
In 2015, Lettia McNickle, a 19-year-old working at Madisons New York Grill and Bar in Montreal, was reprimanded in front of other employees, sent home, and stopped receiving shifts after coming to work with a braided hairstyle. After asking her manager what was wrong with her hair, the manager replied, “we don’t want that kind of look here at the restaurant.” McNickle filed a discrimination complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
Recent research, namely The Good Hair Study conducted by Perception Institute found that regardless of race and gender, most people hold some bias toward women of colour based on their hair. The study included The Good Hair Survey, which “assessed women’s explicit attitudes toward black women’s hair, hair anxiety, and experiences related to their own hair” and the Hair Implicit Association Test, which “assessed implicit attitudes toward black women’s hair.” 4,163 participants took the implicit association test, where rapidly changing photos of black women with smooth and natural hair were accompanied by rotating word associations. The study found that “on average, white women show explicit bias toward black women’s textured hair. They rate it as less beautiful, less sexy/attractive, and less professional than smooth hair.” If that does not tell you enough, a simple Google Image search of “professional hairstyles” and “unprofessional hairstyles” will hopefully be an eye-opener. (Seriously, do it.)
Caesar-Chavannes wore her hair in braids “in solidarity with young girls and women who look like [her] and those who don’t,” saying, “I want them to know their braids, their dreads, their super curly afro puffs, their weaves, their hijabs and their headscarves and all other variety of hairstyles belong in schools, in the workplace, in the boardroom, and yes, even here on Parliament Hill.”
Caesar-Chavannes is not new to using her platform to speak out on important issues. Last year, she opened up about her struggles with depression in a blog for the Huffington Post. Titled “I’m an MP and I’m Among Those Who Struggle with Depression,” Caesar-Chavannes discusses her diagnosis in 2015 and a particular incident where she found herself “spiraling out of control” which left her in hospital under an alias. She discusses owning her mental illness and is extremely honest about working on her mental health. She remembers thinking: “I should be on top of the world. I have a great job, husband, children and supports. Why is this happening to me? I felt like I could not get out of a deep dark hole. No matter how hard I tried, the hole either got deeper or wider, there was no getting out.”
Canadian women in Parliament have increasingly been speaking out against issues they face as female politicians. Last year, MLA Sandra Jansen used her Members’ Speech to read a list of the nasty things she has been called online. Earlier this week, Saskatchewan MP Gerry Ritz referred to Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna as “Climate Barbie” on Twitter. McKenna replied, “Do you use that sexist language with your daughter, mother, sister? We need more women in politics. Your sexist comments won’t stop us.”
We do need more women in politics. Young women and girls need to feel like they have a place at the table – something Caesar-Chavannes knows all too well: “irrespective of her hairstyle, the size of her thighs, the size of her hips, the size of her baby bump, the size of her breasts or the size of her lips – what makes us different makes us unique and beautiful.”