My documentary ‘Black Hair’ speaks about growing up as a predominantly African woman in a whitewashed and Eurocentric Caribbean society. I address racism, hair-shaming, and overcoming adversity by cutting off my hair in this 20-minute film.
* First your first and last name and location.
My name is Gabriella Bernard and I live in Trinidad & Tobago, located in the Caribbean.
* Can you walk us through what was going through your head when that incident happened? What were you thinking and feeling as they were doing the hair and as you were asking them to consider alternatives?
At first, I was very determined to go home because my hair meant the most to me, and I told the producers that upfront on my application form. It took me about 30 minutes of crying and thinking to finally get to the decision that I made. I felt the need to expressly state my opinion and stand up for myself because truly I believe in promoting natural beauty and there were alternate methods that could have been taken to get my hair straight (wig, weave, blowout, keratin, flat iron). Furthermore, it is a Caribbean show and it is sending a message that we should conform to Eurocentric standards, as perpetuated by every other TV show, movie, magazine cover or whatever it may be, that tells young black women, and the world for that matter, that black people with kinky curly hair are not as good as unblemished porcelain white skin with perfectly straight blonde hair. That the beauty standard is something that we as ‘unfavorable’ black people could never achieve in this lifetime, lest we use cake soap and chemical relaxers. And then EVEN THEN when we conform, we will never be ‘truly’ as beautiful as what we have been brainwashed to believe is the standard. Especially in the context of Jamaica, where the film was produced, where it has been reported time and time again that skin bleaching is a common trend, what sort of message are you perpetuating as an industry leader? It broke my heart and shattered everything I knew when I realized someone who I had looked up to so much would do something as mentally damaging as chemically relaxing my natural hair that I had taken 3 years to grow. The decision stood even after I had told them I had it straight for most of my life and when I decided to go natural I loved myself more for embracing who I am as God intended… I had 2 options: conform and see what success I could achieve, possibly winning a contract to be an international model, something that I have always dreamed and prayed for, or break away and see how this may have been detrimental to my career. I had already left my job, I always looked up to Wendy, modeling was everything for me, and I came to compete… I had to go all the way or forever ask myself ‘what if?’ Though I mentally made the decision, I spent about 10 minutes disassociated from the world, mentally disconnecting myself from my hair and what I was about to do. My hair has always been a part of my identity, and as women, we know all too well how much emotion we have attached to our hair. My hair has always been part of my identity. I had my pretty little girl phase, then I shaved half of it off, I grew it back out and processed it straight. When I decided I was finally going to go natural I went out with a bang by dying my hair blue, purple and blond. I knew it would get damaged but it would be able to grow out. I’ve always expressed myself through my hair, and now they were going to take away something that I had groomed for so long, which was more to me than ‘just hair’, take it all away in a second. And chemical relaxers are permanent, I’m not sure if everyone understands that part, but it’s not something that can be reversed and I had to cut off all my hair after the show because it was now permanently straight and damaged…
The feeling of being stripped of my personality, my uniqueness, like Sampson without his hair…
* When you looked at yourself in the mirror after it happened, what were you feeling?
When I looked in the mirror, I saw the 16-year old version of myself watching me back in disappointment. I had lived most of my conscious life with straight hair and at 16 I wished I had the guts to go natural. I hoped that it would all be worth it in the end… but we all know I came 3rd. My reaction, however, was pure acting. I knew that I couldn’t be the girl who kicked up a fuss in the salon AND sulked over her makeover that she didn’t want to do in the first place. I told myself to let go of my emotions until after the show, and I gave it my best – my all, to try and win the competition. I was determined and I sacrificed a lot, DOWN TO MY HAIR, for a CHANCE to win, and came out deeply disappointed. If I knew then what I know now, I would have definitely walked off, or not have signed up at all. But at that moment, I was too close to my dreams to let it slip through my fingers.
* Is your hair still affected by the treatment they used?
My hair is somewhat affected – some parts haven’t grown into their curls just yet and are straighter than other parts. This is also attributed to previous years of chemical relaxing and I noticed that from the first time I cut my hair.
* What’s been your response to the continued interest at this moment on social media? Were you surprised by the support and reactions?
I was genuinely surprised by the reaction and support received from 95% of people on social media. I didn’t think that people would get it and I feared that it would be perceived negatively and seen as unimportant because I was dismissed so casually in real life, but people went through the same emotions as I did on the set, it seems! So many people were touched and started to reach out to me from other parts of the Caribbean, the US, the UK, Australia, and various countries across Africa and Asia. They shared their stories with me and I am so glad that we are having a global conversation about the reevaluation of the beauty standard. Beauty comes in all shades, shapes, sizes, and cannot be contained by 1 set of standards alone. More and more people are finally loving themselves for who they are and being comfortable in their own skin. I don’t understand why anyone would be against that, but I am so appreciative for those who understand the overarching message and are supporting my efforts. I hope that they too are living their most authentic version of themselves and creating change in their own lives and communities.
More and more people are finally loving themselves for who they are and being comfortable in their own skin
* What about that moment ultimately inspired you to keep fighting and speaking out?
The feeling of being stripped of my personality, my uniqueness, like Sampson without his hair… I don’t want anyone to ever have to go through that to learn the lesson that I did. I want people to continue to stand up for themselves despite what other people may say because they don’t have similar experiences. Our black ancestors before us did not stand up and fight for us to come in this modern day and age to yield to outdated, colonial rules. So many times people have ridiculed me for my hair, on the street, at work or professional settings, and at school… So many times people have been racist or prejudiced towards me because of the color of my skin or how my hair grows up to the sky. So many times I have been affected because of society’s twisted misconceptions and stereotypes that are casted upon us and eventually accepted. This time, I say no more. As I continue to live my truth, I will prove to myself and everyone else that I am a professional, that I am beautiful, that I am competent of doing anything that I put my mind to. I refuse to let my skin color and hair texture ‘hold me back’ from these opportunities in my life, because they are not an evaluation tool of my professionalism, capabilities or intelligence.
* What do you hope viewers at home might learn from what you went through and your response?
I hope that viewers at home will see that it is okay to stand up for yourself… I sacrificed all my hair, and for what? I did everything I could to appease the judges, but all in vain. Social media quickly took to Instagram to voice that I was robbed when I was eliminated. You see, we can change ourselves to fit someone else’s mold, but that does not mean that we will be liked or accepted. It’s only wisdom that can now allow me to look back and say that I wished I stood my ground. I would have both my dignity and my hair. I feared that others would judge me and say that I was truly an unprofessional model for walking off the show. But I’ve learnt that the most important opinion is the one you have of yourself… Always stand your ground; do not yield.
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I REFUSE TO LET ANYONE TELL ME HOW TO BE BEAUTIFUL. I am pleased to announce that a 20 minute documentary that I have starred in and directed alongside @trinidadandtobagorocks has been selected to screen at @ttfilmfestival! Hair is more than "just hair" and living in a society that idolizes Eurocentric features and demonizes African features makes it that much harder trying to live my truth in all my melanin glory. Join me as I open up about racist incidents, living my truth, being whitewashed as a cheap reality show stunt, and still overcome it, all the while cutting off that trashy, outdated, straight hair and starting over my natural hair journey AGAIN. I will be counting on YOUR support to help me win the People's Choice Award 🏆🏅. FYI: Research shows there has been a 40% decline in relaxer sales over the past 8 years. It ain't a fad or a style. BIH, IT'S A MOVEMENT. ✊🏽✊🏽✊🏽 — — Pre-lime 🍤🍻: Fri Sep 7 @ Drinks Bistro, Woodbrook from 7pm — — Airing dates 🎬: Fri 21 Sept, 5.00pm, The University of the West Indies ** Fri 21 Sept, 6.00pm, MovieTowne POS Screen 8, Q+A ** Mon 24 Sept, 4.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago ** Tue 25 Sept, 6.00pm, MovieTowne San Fernando — — Photo Creds: Model: @gabigabz_ Designer: @benecaribe Photographer: @moderndaycaveman Art Director: @rackedstudios — — #model #international #caribbean #ttfilmfestival #trinidadfilmfestival #film #documentary #naturalhair #natural #melanin #queen #straighthairissotrashy #overit #movement
* I noticed that you’re working on an upcoming documentary and continuing to use your social media as a way to speak out against what happened. Why is it important for you to continue this mission? What’s your ultimate hope with sharing words of encouragement regarding hair and calling for change?
My documentary ‘Black Hair’ speaks about growing up as a predominantly African woman in a whitewashed and Eurocentric Caribbean society. I address racism, hair-shaming, and overcoming adversity by cutting off my hair in this 20-minute film. It has been screened at the Say It Loud Film Festival in Washington DC in July, the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival in September, The Baltimore International Black Film Festival in Maryland from Oct 2-8, the ArtCity Film Festival in Cameroon in Oct, and Kurlz on Film in Los Angeles in Spring 2019. I’ve also started a GoFundMe to submit my documentary to festivals across the world so that people can hear my story: http://www.bit.ly/blackhairdonate 100% of funds will go towards paying submission fees to enter the film, which is currently estimated at USD$3,100. My message is important because it is not just about hair. My message is letting people know that they should live their lives being comfortable in their own skin, in their own appearance, and that we need to look past colonial remnants in our culture that tell us ‘white is best and only white is best’ If all races, particularly the white race, could come together and agree that we are all equal and treat each other equally, we could live in a much better, more advanced society. We have so much more in common than what ‘separates’ us. The sooner we realize that the sooner we can evolve into a more loving era of humanity.
* What other things do you have planned in the wake of this? Are you still modeling? Do you still want to continue talking about this in the future? What are your goals?
I want to continue spreading my message of self-love and positivity. I am still modeling and ultimately I would be elated to become an internationally signed model and walk for Victoria’s Secret. However, I haven’t put all my eggs in one basket and I am also focusing on my background in Marketing and Events Management. I definitely want to continue being an activist for change and I am currently involved in community development programmes in Trinidad & Tobago. I plan to use my influence and education to eventually become a person with political power in the future, such as the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago. We can do a lot to get our economy back on its feet with people who think as progressively as I do, and want to see an actual improvement of the nation. Especially in the wake of the dying oil industry, there are several things that we can do. We can invest in sustainable energy for a greener and cleaner future, especially having the luxury of living on an island that sees an abundance of sun, wind and natural waves for the majority of the year. We can also implement a refugee programme for the Venezuelans coming across to the country whereby they can find shelter, work and make a contribution to our society. Food manufacturing is an industry that can create even more jobs for our citizens and increase our food security. We can also look into reforming the education system by exposing students to new career paths and allowing them to pursue studies tailored to thriving and upcoming industries where there is a huge demand. Construction, mechanics, engineering, plumbing, and other vocational/technical education should be at the forefront as opposed to making people go into debt for an education that they may not be able to use in the future. My ultimate goal is to impact positive change on the world, and I’ve started that by living the best life I can every single day. Some days are good, some days are bad, but I am grateful for every moment of my experience so that I can share it with others and hopefully be a guide to them in their own way.
#HAIRSPIRATION#nappylifeblack modelsnappy featureNappy Life
My message is important because it is not just about hair. My message is letting people know that they should live their lives being comfortable in their own skin