Category: Crown and Story

Articles that tell the stories of afro hair and black experiences…

A father’s crown

Losing my dad at the beginning of 2021 was the hardest loss I’ve ever faced.

During a time of turmoil for the entire world, many people were losing loved ones to the pandemic and as much as I knew it was very serious, no one can prepare you for the day you lose someone… and I lost a parent. Although my dad passed from other complications, it was still a huge shock to us all but from that shock and grief I wanted to produce something special in his honour… so I did.

Crown & Story

If you’ve not read my previous blogs, I created the Crown & Story category to talk about black and brown people’s experiences and how I use them as inspiration for my designs. In this blog, I will be honouring my dad, what he means to me and the importance black dads or father-figures which lead to me designing a special greeting card.

This is the card I designed to celebrate black kings, whether that be fathers, brothers, uncles or father-figures, past or present. I wanted to create a design that would help people let a king know that they are celebrated and valued on any occasion – birthdays, anniversaries and particularly, Father’s Day.

As a special link to my dad (other than creating an illustration that resembles him), I’ve decided to donate £1 from each sale of this card to Unique Football Academy because my dad was huge football enthusiast – Manchester United in particular. Unique Football Academy provides elite training at grassroots level for children and young people in London and beyond. The money raised will go towards supporting the academy and providing free training to those from underprivileged backgrounds.

My dad would take my brother to this academy and supported the work they do for young people.

Black Fathers

Although my parents aren’t together, my dad was present and very supportive of my goals; he would always say “You’re going to be a star!” and I know he was proud of me. I am very blessed to have had this relationship with my dad (and to gain a beautiful step-mum, brother and sister too), so I want to make sure that people who also have this positive relationship have something to show their love this Father’s Day (20th June 2021).

Etsy Bestseller
Raising money for grassroots football
For older fathers

The above cards are available to order from my shop now, so I hope you feel connected to one and can give one to a special person. Unfortunately, many of the fathers I have spoken to recently feel that Father’s Day isn’t celebrated enough and it’s sad to hear when great fathers feel this way. Society celebrates Mother’s Day far more, but I think dads should get just as much recognition for the love and support they also give their children. You don’t have to give a physical gift or card, but an acknowledgement of his presence will always go a long way because black fathers in particular, are unfortunately tarred with a stereotype of not being in their children’s lives but there are plenty of examples that show otherwise!

I love seeing organisations like Dope Black Dads and Stand Up Black Dads who are ‘inspiring, educating, healing and celebrating black fathers’ and aim to ‘educate, empower and transform the stereotypes of the black dads’ and will do my best to promote these positive narratives.

Thank you

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who reached out to me during this difficult time – I appreciate you all greatly! It’s definitely not the easiest to talk about (especially as someone with introverted tendencies), which is why I decided to write about it.

My way of dealing with grief tends to be keeping busy and expressing my emotions creatively, and I hope these outlets help people who may have also gone through a similar loss. Losing a parent is so hard, especially when it’s sudden and I’m by no means an expert on how to deal with loss but my humble advice would be to do what works best for you! Everyone deals with it differently and there is no right or wrong way, but try to do it in a healthy way.

Wishing all the fathers out there a Happy Father’s Day – we appreciate you. We celebrate you on the day and every day!

Give Blood, Spread Love

At the beginning of 2020, I started my Crown & Story campaign after my mum was diagnosed with leukaemia and lost her hair during chemotherapy treatment. Many people with leukaemia rely on blood donations (for new stem cells), as do people with sickle cell disorder to stay as healthy as possible, so I have teamed up with the Sickle Cell Society and their Give Blood, Spread Love campaign to bring you this new blog post…and there’s an extra incentive to register as a donor at the end!

Donating blood can save lives

The Sickle Cell Society (SCS) is the only national charity in the UK that supports and represents people affected by sickle cell disorder. Sickle cell disorder mostly, but not exclusively, affects people from African and Caribbean backgrounds. Approximately 15,000 people in the UK have this disorder and the Sickle Cell Society works alongside health care professionals, parents, and people living with it to raise awareness and empowers them to achieve their full potential.

What is sickle cell disorder?

Sickle cell disorder affects the haemoglobin in the red blood cells. Haemoglobin is the substance in red blood cells that is responsible for carrying oxygen around the body and people with sickle cell disorder struggle with complications during this process. It can only be inherited from both parents each having passed on the gene for this particular disease.

1 in 76 babies born in the UK carry sickle cell trait. 

The red blood cells of people with sickle cell disorder change shape after oxygen has been released, causing them to stick together. This can lead to blockages in small blood vessels which causes painful episodes referred to as sickle cell crisis. Another common symptom of sickle cell disorder is anaemia.

How does sickle cell anaemia affect people’s lives?

Sickle cell anaemia can cause a lot of pain. This can be a chronic or constant and/or spikes of sudden debilitating pain leading to fatigue. The pain is often treated with strong painkillers such as morphine.

People living with severe sickle cell will often spend a lot of time in hospital and over time they can experience damage to organs such as the liver, kidney, heart and lungs and are at risk of complications such as strokes. 

Living with sickle cell disorder can also have a negative impact on the mental health of patients and may lead to depression and anxiety.

How does giving blood help?

A single blood donation can save or improve up to three lives. 

People suffering with severe sickle cell disorder, often need regular blood transfusions which can help prevent crisis and treat anaemia and other severe symptoms.

Currently, only 1% of blood donors in the UK are of black heritage.

We need more donors of black heritage because we want to ensure more blood-type matches. Closely matched blood makes it less likely to be rejected by people having frequent blood transfusions.

Ro sub-type
The Ro sub-type of blood is 10 times more common in black people than in white, so in order to increase the chance of finding matches for people with this sub-type we need more donors from black heritages.

Does giving blood hurt?

Following needle insertion, you should be comfortable during your donation. It will pinch for the second it takes to insert the needle, and then it will feel like a dull ache at worst. Most likely you will stop noticing it within a few minutes.

Giving blood is quick, safe and easy. A full blood donation is 470ml and will usually take between 5 and 10 minutes.

The whole donation process from start to finish takes only about an hour.

Are there any reasons why people couldn’t or shouldn’t give blood?

Most people can give blood if they are generally fit and healthy.

You need to:

  • Be aged between 17 and 66
  • Weigh between 7 stone 12lbs and 25 stone
  • Not have had a blood transfusion since 1 January 1980
  • Not be pregnant and
  • Not have sickle cell disorder. People with the sickle cell trait are still able to donate blood. 

You can find the full list here

If I can’t give blood, how else can I help the cause?

Ask others
If you can’t give blood, you can still help by encouraging your friends, families and colleagues to donate.

The Sickle Cell Society’s blood donation projects; South London Gives and Give Blood, Spread Love work with organisations, community groups and individuals to raise awareness of the need for more black-heritage people to give blood. 

We have a growing community of volunteers and social media users, ‘The Give Blood Squad’, who represent and share our message, with the aim to eradicate negative perceptions around giving blood. The squad is predominately made up of blood donors and people living with sickle cell disorder.

Educate yourself and others
If you aren’t able to donate, you can still educate your networks around the urgent need for black-heritage blood donors.

Quick links to support

Extra perk!

I hope this blog helped you understand more about sickle cell disorder and what you can do support those who need your donations. Here’s a little further incentive to register…

Have you registered to give blood? Get 30% OFF business card designs with me! Simply contact Give Blood Spread Love for the discount code (offer ends midnight 14th February 2021) and get in touch!

Don’t JUDGE My Hair

In the Black community in particular, our hair is a huge part of our identity – it is our crown – so the way we choose to wear it often comes with connotations, which can make us feel judged. For example, the Afro was deemed militant and the weave was (and still is) considered by some a signifier of self-hate! 

Personally, I have tried it all; I’ve had relaxed hair, weave and extensions. I’ve even had blue highlights at school to match my blue braces – I know, what I was thinking!? Now, I wear my hair in locs and, for me, it’s been the best decision, not only for the health of my hair but also my self-confidence and current idea of beauty, but I was fully aware that I may be judged for it – we all know what that news anchor said about Zendaya!

Don’t touch or judge

Afro hair is indeed beautiful and magical but strangers should know by now, that touching it (and just people in general) without permission is a big no-no! There are many songs, books and hashtags that have warned the world about touching but in an image-conscious world, unfortunately some of us are still being silently (or not so silently) judged. 

In this article, I will be exploring how and why this happens through an interview with Cristina – a mother of a young boy with long hair. In the Western world, it is deemed ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ for boys to have short hair, so I wanted to find out if there are any challenges he and his mum face for having a crown that’s outside the ‘norm’.

Meet Cristina & Joylen

Cristina is a mother of two, journalist and documentary filmmaker, originally from Cape Verde Islands. Her hobbies include reading, watching documentaries, baking, and spending time doing fun activities with her children. 

Her son, Joylen, is four years old and he enjoys playing football, dancing to African music, baking delicious cookies, watching cartoons, drawing and playing with his older sister in the garden. Joylen’s favourite superhero is Black Panther, and when he grows up, he wants to be a football player and a famous super hero to save the world!

Tell us about Joylen’s hair story. Has he always had long hair?

Joylen’s hair story started, when he was two years old. He had short hair at the time but after seeing his sister as a character in the book I‘ve Got My Hair, he was inspired and asked “Mummy, can boys have long hair too?”. From that moment, I promised him that I would not cut his hair and explained that Kings can have long hair.

How does he feel most confident wearing his hair and why?

Joylen loves his hair and he became more confident and happy when he realised that he can do a lot of different hairstyles; from ponytails to braids. When I am doing his sister’s hair, he always asks me to do his hair too. Sometimes I ask him if he wants to cut it and he always says no. He truly believes that his hair is beautiful and gives him super hero powers!

Have you or he ever felt judged (positively or negatively) by the way he wears his hair?

Yes, I receive both positive and negative comments. Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative stereotypes and assumptions made about boys who wear their hair long. When Joylen wears a ponytail some people would say “What a cute little girl?” or ask me why I don’t cut his hair. Others may say that he has a beautiful hair, so it depends.

Do you think black boys and girls are judged more based on their hair?

Definitely. Brown boys and girls are judged based on their hair because it is much more than a style; it’s political. There is more flexibility in accepting girls with long hair than boys, because in society’s eyes, the norm is that boys should have short hair.

What does Joylen say about his hair?

Joylen always says that he wants long hair because he wants to look like mummy and his sister. Furthermore, Joylen loves football and after watching some footballers with long hair, he is much more confident. Sometimes when I am combing his hair and it hurts, I ask him if I can cut it and he starts to cry, saying “No I don’t want to cut my hair!”

Would you cut his hair if he asked?

It depends on the intention. If he wanted to cut his hair because he was tired of it, or for any positive and natural reason, I would cut it. But if he asked to cut his hair because he was being bullied, I would not cut it but teach him that he should be proud of his hair and explain that it is more precious than a crown.

Do you let people you don’t know touch yours or your Joylen’s hair? Why/why not? Why do you think people want to touch afro hair so much?

No, I don’t let people touch mine or my son’s hair because some people look at our children as museum pieces. When they see a mixed-raced child, one of their focusses is the hair and making comparisons between the white and black side. I think people like to touch afro hair so much because they consider it exotic or a trend.

What do you think about the Western social standard of boys having short hair and girls having long hair?

Unfortunately, the Western social standards of beauty doesn’t reflect us (black people). I feel as thought they want to transform people into “ginger bread men”; copying and pasting standards but we should all have the chance to choose our hairstyles. Hair also represents culture, religion and power relations. For example, in certain groups wearing their hair bald is celebrated and in others having long hair is a sense of pride, like in the Rastafarian religion.

Do you see Joylen’s hair texture or length represented in the media?

The media tends to represent a stereotypical image that boys are less sensitive and their short hair is symbol of strength and masculinity. Joylen’s hair is fine and is closer European hair types, so I can see Joylen’s hair texture represented but the length is not.

What do you think of Leanne’s Crown & Story campaign?

I think that Leanne’s Crown & Story campaign is phenomenal because it raises awareness of an important conversation; the need for representation of different hair types and lengths. It is absolutely inspiring to watch the combination of digital art and hair politics and this art is a crucial tool to fight against discrimination. 

If you are interesting in my Crown & Story campaign, please read other interview here. I sell a range of greeting cards and gifts featuring men, women and children with different hairstyle and textures, so let’s celebrate them all. Visit my online shop here.

Written by Leanne Armstrong
Interveiw with Cristina (@thecriolamum)

Embracing hair loss

Embracing hair loss blog header image

This is my first post and one that is very important to me…

After my mum was diagnosed with leukaemia and lost her hair to chemotherapy, it dawned on me that all of the women I’d illustrated on my greeting cards had long hair or large billowing afros. My cards are all about beauty, celebration, empowerment and representation, but I had left out a group of women who may not have this typical feminine standard of beautiful long locks… and this bothered me.

For 2020, in celebration of my mum’s recovery as well as the diversity of women’s hair, I’ve launched two new cards featuring women with short hair as part of my Crown & Story collection. As my mum had lost her hair due to leukaemia treatment, I’ve also decided to donate £1 from every sale of a card to the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT).

To purchase my greeting cards, please click here.

Below is an interview with my mum, Yvonne, on her journey of hair loss and I hope it inspires you to see beauty in her crown and story...

What was your relationship with your hair?

I had a positive relationship with my hair; I took pride in it. I’d had my locs for 25 years which began as a political stance because there is so much beauty and cultural politics tied up in hair, particularly for women. I had initially shaved off my curly perm in rebellion against the expectation that black women needed to chemicalise their hair in order for it to be beautiful and manageable. I wanted to prove that natural was beautiful and eventually decided to grow locs.

There is so much beauty and cultural politics tied up in hair, particularly for women.

At the time having locs wasn’t something many of my friends and family approved of, however, after seeing how well I looked after them, I would often receive compliments. Having locs for so long meant that they were a visible part of my identity, however, they did not define me and as time went by they became less about politics and more a style choice. I would style them, colour them and trim them, enjoying their increasing versatility as locs became more popular and more specialist salons sprang up. 

How did it feel when you lost your hair? 

I had reconciled myself to the inevitability of hair loss pretty much as soon as I was told that I would have to have aggressive chemotherapy treatment. On the day when the first clumps started to come away in my fingers and the reality began to kick in however, it was still a bit of a shock. On the day of cutting of my locs I was a bit tearful; firstly because it was symbolic of the gravity of my illness and secondly, much as I was ok with the prospect of not having any hair, the fact that I had no choice in the matter was difficult. After that initial sadness, I was fine.

On the day when the first clumps of hair started to come away in my fingers, the reality began to kick in.

How long did it take you to embrace the change?

 I had decided that I would shave my head at the first sign of it falling out as I didn’t want to have to deal with the strange ‘patchy’ look. Unfortunately, I was unable to do this as quickly as I would have liked as my platelets were low but once they were healthy enough my daughter cut off the locs and a few days later my brother shaved off what was left.  

I embraced the bald head immediately. It couldn’t have been a better time to have a bald head as a woman. Increasing numbers of black women were shaving their hair off out of choice, so other than the fact that my scalp was completely clean and shiny and my eyebrows were a bit thinned, there was nothing particularly remarkable about my look. For this reason, I chose not to cover my head and wore my bald head with a sense of pride – unless I needed to keep out the cold with a hat!

I chose not to cover my head and wore my bald head with a sense of pride

I suppose for those who were used to knowing me with a full head of locs, it took them some time to get used to my new look but most said that it actually suited me – apparently I have a good shaped head! The Film Black Panther that had not long been released was also instrumental in promoting female shaven heads and empowered many a black woman to adopt this look, so this helped a lot – WAKANDA FOREVER!

Are you now fully accepting of this change?

Yes,  and have actually chosen to keep it short for the time being. I’ve trimmed it several times since and am experimenting with different colours. I’m still receiving compliments about my hair so it’s all good and just the other day a work colleague told me that this is my best look.   

What advice would you give to women going through this journey?

Each woman’s experience is different and there is a lot of emotion connected with hair. My advice would be that although it is initially upsetting, the consoling fact is that it is only temporary – it will grow back. Your hair does not define you or your beauty.  You may look different but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Embrace this time and use the opportunity to try different styles, head wraps, hats, bold make up etc. 

Your hair does not define you or your beauty.

Did it affect your self esteem?

Nope – in fact I felt/feel quite empowered. It is the visual of my story of overcoming adversity. A constant reminder of my blessings, that I am still here. 

Do you still think about your hair before?

Yes, at times I have to admit to finding myself looking admiringly at people with beautiful locs and reminiscing about the days of my own.   

Do you feel different now that you have short hair?

I feel liberated! Swimming in the sea on my Caribbean holiday was a whole new, joyous experience as I didn’t have to concern worry about my hair getting wet and ruining a style!

What you do you think of Leanne’s new cards?

I am so pleased that Leanne has included these images to her collection. It’s lovely to see black women with short hair represented and myself reflected – I don’t think I have come across this before. I love that her range depicts black women in their varied splendour, including different  skin tones and hair styles.  Well done and thank you Leanne, you are sending a powerful, positive message not only to black women but to wider society about black women’s diverse beauty. I look forward to seeing what comes next!

To purchase these greeting cards, please click here.