Featured Storyteller

SWEDEN: My Beautiful Curly Hair Affirms My Authentic Existence

Catherine Djiemo
Posted October 21, 2021 from Sweden
Photo courtesy of Catherine Djiemo

After moving to Sweden and experiencing discrimination at a hair salon, Catherine took matters into her own hands to advocate for Black women and affirm natural Afro hairstyles. 

“Our organization is building and restoring self-confidence in many young girls who have hated their curly hair for a long time.

Moving away from my homeland of Cameroon to Sweden was a joint decision between my husband and me. We thought we would be able to raise our children in a society where prejudice and injustice were less prevalent. That was until the reality of living here became a fight for my basic existence as a Black woman.

Even my beautiful curly hair became a question to my identity. I felt very proud of my curly hair but the societal beauty standards in Sweden are not inclusive. I was constantly advised to straighten my hair to make it more manageable.

I walked into a hair salon for a hair wash and I was told, "Vi behandlar inte denna hår typ,” meaning “We do not treat this hair type.” 

As I tried to explain myself, the hairstylist said, "Vi behandlar inte SVARTA PERSONS HÅR HÄR I SVERIGE,” or, “We do not treat Black people’s hair here in Sweden.”

My luscious curly hair, outstanding in its texture, glowing in its originality, was attacked. I felt pushed against a wall with no escape other than to fight back. 

“Why can’t you wash my hair?” I asked.

“You will have to ask my teachers where I studied my trade,” the stylist replied. 

The whole place was quiet for a moment. I stood tall, affirming my hair as a work of art, steadying myself as I asked to be treated equitably. 

"I am overdetermined from without,” I murmured, quoting from Frantz Fanon’s world-renowned book, “Black Skin, White Masks." “I am the slave not of the ideas that others have of me, but of my own appearance and opinions of myself." 

I asked the stylist, “What is the name of the institution where you studied?”

Then, I gathered my courage, and I reached out to the institution to get an answer. It took me two years and three months to get a full response. 

“There is no study plan for curly Afro hair," the vocational training inspectors in Sweden wrote. “But we welcome suggestions.” 

I took matters into my own hands, learning to braid, style, and do natural treatments on my hair at a vocational college. My grandmother’s oil recipes came in handy as I advocated on behalf of Black people and curly Afro styles in Sweden.

Today I run a registered NGO called Working Across Borders Empowerment Center (WABEC). 

We teach everyone who cares to know about the beauty of natural, curly hair. We teach young girls, along with mothers and fathers who are biological and adopted parents, how to care for their loved ones’ curly hair. With these training sessions, we are seeing noticeable changes in people’s attitudes toward natural hair. 

Our organization is building and restoring self-confidence in many young girls who have hated their curly hair for a long time. The feeling of being racialized by your hair or other characteristics is an everyday battle for many young people with African heritage in Sweden and within the E.U. at large.

Our organization empowers women on matters beyond hair, however. We also offer career development through motivational speaking events and other collaborations with the local chapter of the United Nations in our community of Kramfors, Sweden. 

For my kids and many kids born and raised here, to be Black is to stand out in a society where Blackness is a racial marker as a counter-position to whiteness. To be Black in a country where you don’t have ancestral roots is to be called coconut kid (Black on the outside, white on the inside). Belonging becomes a confusing in-betweenness.

WABEC has worked with more than 300 boys and girls and more than 50 parents, with plans to reach even more. It’s powerful to witness young people embracing their natural Afro hair. 

I’ve come to a place where my beautiful curly hair helps me affirm my personal being as well as others. My hair creates tangible links to an authentic existence and acceptance from self and others. I am a complete representation of my beautiful curly hair. 


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of World Pulse's Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 41

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megsmueller
Oct 22
Oct 22

Hello Catherine and congratulations on your story award! I remember reading this and I enjoyed every word. Thank you for keeping it real!

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 22
Oct 22

Thanks Meg, it warms my heart to know we are not alone in this.
Mvh
Catherine Djiemo

Jill Langhus
Oct 22
Oct 22

Hello Catherine,

Congrats on your story award and for your inspiring/empowering story... love it! Go you for standing up for yourself, and for paving the way for so many to embrace their heritage and unique beauty. Keep up the great work. You're making a big difference. XX

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 22
Oct 22

Thanks Jill for such kind Words.
Hugs

Jill Langhus
Oct 25
Oct 25

You're welcome, dear!!

Hope you have a great week.

Susu Mohamed
Oct 22
Oct 22

Dear Catherine,
congrats on story Award, wow I loved the nature of your Hear " you have confident in the beauty of your hair" we proud to be a African Woman's.
Much Love
suu

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 22
Oct 22

Yes definately Sisu.
Hugs

Grace Iliya
Oct 22
Oct 22

Congratulations on your story award dear. I love your daughter's hair. Thank you once again for keeping it real

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 22
Oct 22

Thanks Ceegrah
Hugs

Annick BG
Oct 22
Oct 22

This is so powerful, a real inspiration about how every single person can plant the seed to make a change. You can be very proud on your organization. You make the difference!

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 22
Oct 22

Thanks Annick for your wars feedback .
Hugs

himani deswal
Oct 22
Oct 22

Congratulations on you Story award

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 22
Oct 22

Thanks Himani.
Hugs

Deborahajala1
Oct 22
Oct 22

Congratulations Catherine.

You're doing a great job @ WABEC.

It's a great thing that the black girl can now be proud of her colour and hairstyle because of what you do.

Your story is very inspiring. I love your confidence and optimism.

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 22
Oct 22

Thanks Deborah,
Hugs
Catherine Djiemo

CarynW
Oct 23
Oct 23

Hi Catherine,

I must say, you look astounding. I totally love your story. Firstly, I can relate to curly hair. I am from South Africa, Growing up I had very curly hair that was a struggle for my mom and through the years my hair was treated. This day its still not straight but I must say at the time it did make me have a low self esteem and confidence. I have built more self confidence in me and not in my hair and appearance. My twins have very curly hair and it can get hard to manage, today in fact I blew their hair out and as usual it does not stay in. I am not bothered but I can see at times how my mom goes all judgmental and its hard for her to embrace and being in a new and foreign country I can only imagine what you may have felt. I am so inspired and glad that you took it as an opportunity in the market in Sweden to make a difference and build self-confidence and empower especially young girls. I was in Sweden twice (my first International experience) and fell in love with the country so your place is so close to my heart. Career Development, growth, empowerment, identity, self confidence is vital for so many young people even those of any age. I am a firm believer that we need to continually empower others through our knowledge and skills. I hope to stay connect and would love to hear more about your country these days and ways to inspire them through virtual connections. Keep up the amazing work...Sending lots of love from South Africa.

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 24
Oct 24

Hej Caryn,
Thanks on such an embrace on my experience and Most especially seeing yourself in it. It wants my heart to know we are not alone doing our every best to re-educate people on our curly hair.
Absolutely, Sweden is a Lovely country especially in the northern country side where i live. It will be my pleasure to connect. Send me a mail .
Hugs
Catherine Djiemo

Duru Edith
Oct 24
Oct 24

Wow wow wow! We are truly whom we choose to be not what others label us to be.
Keep up with the amazing work sis

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 24
Oct 24

Hej Duru,
We are whom we personally believe we are !.not what people think of us.
Hugs my dear.
Catherine Djiemo

Tamarack Verrall
Oct 24
Oct 24

Dear Catherine,
What a tremendous story of empowerment and creating social change...in attitudes prevalent in a whole country and surrounding countries. How brilliant to go to the source, demand change, be that change by teaching the next student hairdressers, witness young girls with beautiful, curly hair be able to love their beauty and escape from what you experienced. You show the power of what one determined woman can do!

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 24
Oct 24

Thanks Tamarack för such encouraging words. Am humbled to be a part of worldpulse.
Hugs
Catherine Djiemo

Felicitas Wung
Oct 24
Oct 24

You fought so hard.
More grease to your elbows

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 24
Oct 24

Thanks Felicitas,
Hugs
Catherine Djiemo

Oluwatimilehin Alonge

This is really fantastic. You are doing a great job, weldone on your effort at WABEC. It's really encouraging. Moreso, congrats on your story award.

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 25
Oct 25

Hej Oluwa,
Thanks on your kind words .
Hugs
Catherine Djiemo

Gustav Nordström
Oct 26
Oct 26

Värt att läsa, och... Grattis till priset! mvh//Gustav

Catherine Djiemo
Oct 26
Oct 26

Tack, Gustav,
Mvh
Catherine Djiemo

Sheroo
Oct 29
Oct 29

Hello Catherine,
Well done for your Story Award! Your story is so inspirational, keep inspiring! I like the part when you say you took matters in your own hands, sometimes that's what is needed for change to happen!

Keep going, you are light to many! Thank you for being you

Olanike Adesanya
Oct 30
Oct 30

Catherine! .
I give it you, a standing ovation.
Congratulations on your published Story by WP.

Two, I wish I could access the WABEC training program on Maintenance of African curly natural hair... smiles...but I mean I.

3rdly, I admire this,
"The feeling of being racialized by your hair or other characteristics is an everyday battle for many young people with African heritage"
And this,
But,
"To be Black in a country where you don’t have ancestral roots is to be called coconut kid (Black on the outside, white on the inside). (Belonging becomes a confusing in-betweenness.)
I beg your pardon!
... because now, after reading your story, *Belonging to the Black race with my curly hair becomes a thing of BEAUTY AND PRIDE to be Black and to stand out in a society where Blackness is a racial marker as a counter-position to whiteness, to be Black in a country where you don’t have ancestral roots, and even within Africa society where growing your naturally curly black or grey hair is gradually becoming "out of fashion".
Thanks to World Pulse for bringing you up.

And if I may ask, can you extend WABEC TRAINING PROGRAM to my region?
World Pulse, thank you for this one.
I love it.

Olanike

Catherine Djiemo
Nov 12
Nov 12

Hej Olanike,
Appologies for replying this late. Thanks on a very Good inside and am flattered sis. It will be a pleasure to give some of our tips on hair oils. You wouldn't believe it but our blackseeds used in our hairgrowth oils are imported from Nigeria . WABEC is very Open to collaborations that empower us together.
Hugs
Catherine Djiemo

Olanike Adesanya
Nov 12
Nov 12

Oh really!
Interesting.
Thank you sis, for your patronage... smiles

Charming
Nov 02
Nov 02

Congrats on your story award and for your Empowering story

Catherine Djiemo
Nov 12
Nov 12

Hej Charming,
Thanks alot on your Words of encouragements. I appologize for replying this late.
Hugs
Catherine Djiemo

CherylSmith
Nov 10
Nov 10

Hi Catherine.

Congratulations on all you have achieved and I really enjoyed reading about the work you do. I love the way you talk about your hair and how it represents you.

All the best for the future

Cheryl

Catherine Djiemo
Nov 12
Nov 12

Hej Cheryl,
Thanks alot for taking out time to read my story and for such Words of encouragements .
Hugs
Catherine Djiemo

Irene Kalulu
Nov 10
Nov 10

I love how you were brave enough to stand up for yourself and others like you.

Catherine Djiemo
Nov 12
Nov 12

Hej Irene,
Thanks on such kind Words. Have a Lovely weekend. Appologies for a late reply .
Mvh
Catherine Djiemo

Oluwatobi Musowo
Nov 12
Nov 12

Wow! This is really inspiring.
I look forward to learning more from you

Arlaedxsis
Nov 18
Nov 18

Hi, Catherine,
Congratulations on your story award! I can't tell how good it is to see the natural beauty of your hair!!!!!!!
I can identify with your story, I was told the same thing when I walked into a hair salon in Toronto, Canada 1987. Bravo for your courage to bring about change.
I am the product of the Diaspora, my hair is the combination of curly/kinky.
I wear my hair natural, but struggle to find products that I can use to show it's natural beauty. Can you make any recommendations? Any product I use must be as natural as possible, the less preservatives the better.

Catherine Djiemo
Nov 18
Nov 18

Hej sis,
Thanks and am humbled by your kind words of encouragement.
A very simple receipt is get
-a table spoon of cloves seeds,
-a tea spoon of Rosemary leaves,
-half a cup of olive oil and
-half a cup of coconut oil.
- Optional is cocobutter solid butter -that is if you prefer the oils to become like pommade and maybe if you need that cocobutter scent aswell .
I usually add orange scented Essentials oil but any scent you prefere works perfect.
Let me know how it goes.
NB grind all you dried ingrediens and then add your oils, store for 2 weeks for it to infuse, the longer the infusion time ,the better your oils will be .
Store at room temperature and ecpose to natural light like the sun to help with the infusion process .
Mvh
Catherine Djiemo

Rocio Montalvo
Nov 26
Nov 26

Hello Catherine! First, I wanted to tell you that I love your hair! It's gorgeous! I have curly hair too, not as curly as yours, but I know how hard it is when people don't know how to manage your hair, and they want you to style it in a certain way that you don't like, it even makes you feel like they are limiting you. I'm so glad to hear that WABEC exists and all the work that it's doing! Keep up the good work!