HairOnPurpose Annual Conference seeks to Empower Women

Participants at the HairOnPurpose Conference. Photo by Savannah Miller.

HairOnPurpose hosted a day-long conference aimed to, “engage, educate, and empower girls between the ages of 8-17,” through “hair education, activities, dynamic speakers, coaching sessions, and a styling suite.” On Saturday, August 25th, they brought its annual health and beauty conference to Washington, D.C., under the theme “The Eye of the Beholder.”

According to HairOnPurpose young girls today are met with over 5,000 advertising messages each day, enforcing the industry’s standards of beauty. Over time, research has shown that 66 percent of teens have begun to internalize these messages, and find themselves inadequate in comparison.

Although these messages might be coming at the youth at a higher rate, this quest for a beauty regimen and a positive self-image has been an issue for young girls across generations.

“The conference celebrated all black hair types from relaxed to natural. It was beautiful to see all all hair types being recognized and labeled as beautiful,” said Na’ima Jenkins, a volunteer with HairOnPurpose.

Many of the adult volunteers identified with the young girls and would have appreciated a conference like HairOnPurpose for themselves when they were younger. In fact, one of the driving inspirations behind the non-profit organization stems from the founder’s own difficulties growing up.

“It’s something that I definitely needed when I was young. I grew up with just my dad who didn’t know what to do with my hair, or with me or with me, or with anything,” said Olubunkola Ojeifo, founder and executive director of the organization.

Hair types vary greatly from one person to the next, and young girls often lack the hair care guidance they need. With the time and money this trial and error process consumes, it is common for young girls to struggle throughout their adolescence while they learn how to properly manage their hair. This frustrating journey can be discouraging to young girls and their self-esteem.

“Comparison is a real big thing. When I was a teenager, if I got bullied, I got to disconnect and go home…Unfortunately, teens nowadays don’t get to disconnect and it follows them. If they did something embarrassing after school, chances are somebody got a video,” said Ojeifo.

HairOnPurpose believes, “education is the key to power” and giving girls the “power” to embrace their hair encourages them to walk confidently in their journey. Anique Hameed, a board member for HairOnPurose, is proud of the organization’s growth. “We have a lot of community support, and we’re hoping to do more work locally,” said Hameed.

Attendees met with professional hairstylists in ‘The Empowerment Styling Suite’ to gain valuable and honest information from licensed stylists about their hair and how to care for it. With Do it Yourself (DIY) hair mask stations and tutorials, the girls learned things they could do on their own this upcoming school year.

After creating a safe space and grabbing the girls’ attention with beauty tips, they opened the floor for some deeper conversation centered around the social issues they face. In this conversation the girls touched on bullying, and feeling inadequate.