Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a Liberal Member of Parliament for Whitby, Ontario received a standing ovation in Parliament last week after speaking out about body shaming and hair discrimination. Her simple yet powerful statements complimented her hair, which was worn in cornrows as a statement of solidarity with girls who have felt the judgmental gaze and unfair biases of society.
“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,” the representative said to the other legislators.
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
Photo courtesy of Celina Caesar-Chavannes’ Twitter Account.
In response to the many young girls in “Canada and other parts of the world who are removed from school or shamed because of their hairstyle,” Caesar-Chavannes took a stand against hatred, “body-shaming of any girl from the top of her head to the soles of her feet is wrong.”
Her speech condemns not only the societal pressure to ‘tame’ natural hair, but also the pervasive harassment young girls receive by school administrations and teachers around the world. Reports have shown that black girls are twice as likely to be suspended in every state-and it’s not because of more frequent or serious misbehavior. In addition, due to historical and inaccurate depictions of black girlhood, and despite widespread discourse about hair discrimination, black students continue to face barriers because of their hair and body; including facing detention, being sent home, kicked off sports teams, barred from taking exams, and even expulsion.
This is not the first time Caesar-Chavannes has used her platform to advocate for women’s rights and bring awareness to important issues. Last year, she penned an honest essay about her struggles with depression in a blog post for Huffington Post titled, “I’m An MP And I’m Among Those Who Struggle With Depression.” She describes a day when her depression almost won, and she had to go to a hospital under an alias where she sat for six hours before she could see a doctor. Sharing this raw moment not only helps to alleviate the stigma of mental illness- especially in the black community, but also alludes to issues in the healthcare system, “When I finally saw a doctor — who clearly knew that I needed to be an in-patient — there were no beds. Alas, the paradox of being a mental-health patient in our health-care system.”
The Canadian MP’s vulnerability with the public and in front of her colleagues is a prime example of why we need more women in government. Her powerful statements, present and past, have brought to light issues that are often overlooked and disregarded at a government level, and has given a voice to women around the world.
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 is what makes us unique and beautiful.
Caesar-Chavennes reminded her colleagues that body shaming will not be tolerated, and that women and girls deserve respect and equality, “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 is what makes us unique and beautiful.”
And although she generally wears her hair straight, last week Caesar-Chavannes returned to a style she knows well and rocked braids in front of parliament.
“This week I have my hair in braids, much like I’ve had for much of my childhood,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll agree they look pretty dope.”
Now that is some Black Girl Magic.
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