BEAUTY TALK: Black Woman & The Beauty Myth
On my first visit to South Africa, one of the things I noticed and loved about the black women was their hair. From dreadlocks to short cuts to neat little afros to braids, as long as it was natural and real, South African women were proudly wearing it in a variety of styles. So imagine my shock when I returned a few years later to find a number of shops selling false hair springing up everywhere. I guess like their counterparts in most parts of Africa, South African women were now also joining the bandwagon of “beautiful” women. O how my heart bled.
"Although I’m proud of Madam CJ Walker as an inventor, I must admit, I am not very impressed with her invention"
You see, for far too long, African women have allowed the West to dictate to us what a beautiful woman should look like. If we are to believe the women we see taking part in beauty pageants, advertising campaigns and music videos, or if we look at the type of models on catwalks or gracing magazine covers, famous actresses, singers, sportswomen and television personalities, then a beautiful woman is clearly defined as one with long straight hair. Often her complexion is light and she is so thin one can only wonder if she is anorexic. Although I’m proud of Madam CJ Walker as an inventor, I must admit, I am not very impressed with her invention. Perhaps back in those days, it seemed the natural thing to do…press your hair to look like your oppressor in order to appear less “savage”…..I don’t know.
"All across Afrika, women are either frying their brains with hair relaxers or damaging it with weave-ons"
I for one have a serious problem with how Black women the world over have allowed the idea of beauty to be dictated to us. Let me start with our hair. All across Afrika, women are either frying their brains with hair relaxers or damaging it with weave-ons. Put a group of say ten women in a room, and nine will have false hair. It simply does not make sense, especially when it comes to women living in Afrika. Just think about it. In order to weave on hair extensions, black women cornrow our natural hair and then sew or glue either a horse’s tail or another woman’s hair on top of this natural hair.
"As if it’s not bad enough that grown women choose to hid their natural God given hair, it’s also common place to see children with relaxed hair"
Seriously, really think about it. Does weaving make any sense? What can make a race hate itself so much it has to go to such lengths to disguise its looks? Weaving and hair-relaxing is not just a choice of hairstyle. It is a deep issue which tells the rest of the world that the natural Afrikan hair is ugly and therefore needs to be kept hidden. As if it’s not bad enough that grown women choose to hid their natural God given hair, it’s also common place to see children with relaxed hair. Some mothers even go as far as weaving their poor daughters’ hairs. Don’t these mothers realize the damage; both mental and physical they are causing their children? Most of us were shocked by photographs of supermodel Naomi Campbell whose hair has been damaged by years of weaving.
"Black women have allowed the world to tell us that if we choose to wear our hair natural, we will not be successful"
Like I said, I blame those responsible for organising beauty pageants, advertising agencies, music video producers, modelling agencies etc. I mean, when have you seen a contestant with natural hair in a beauty pageant, even in Afrika? When (often) popular Western magazines list “the world’s most beautiful women” how many are Black women with natural hair and features? If a black woman is part of that list, it’s more likely to be Tyra Banks than Tracy Chapman. Black women have allowed the world to tell us that if we choose to wear our hair natural, we will not be successful. From the music industry to the law courts, natural hair is considered an abomination.
"It breaks my heart that a woman who chooses to wear a horse’s tail over her head is considered more beautiful than the one who wears her hair natural"
I remember a friend came to visit me in Ghana. As much as she admired my natural hair, she was afraid to “go natural” because she felt as a lawyer in England, nobody would take her seriously. I was stunned. Everyday, I meet women who admire my natural locks but tell me they cannot wear their hair natural because their husbands, boyfriends, family, friends and employers would reject them. It breaks my heart that a woman who chooses to wear a horse’s tail over her head is considered more beautiful than the one who wears her hair natural. Everyday I encourage women I meet to go for the natural option. It does not have to be dreadlocks. There are so many options a woman can make with regards to going natural. And it is up to us to take control over our own image.
"It seems the more successful a black woman becomes the straighter her hair also becomes. This applies even to skin tone and other features of our bodies"
As Black women we need to empower ourselves and be courageous enough to wear our hair natural. If high profile women like Beyonce and Oprah chose to “go natural” it would go a long way in breaking down the stereotypes of what a beautiful black woman is supposed to look like. Yet it seems the more successful a black woman becomes the straighter her hair also becomes. This applies even to skin tone and other features of our bodies. If you don’t believe me, just look at the likes of Mary J Blige or Janet Jackson. Compare for example their noses from their first album covers to recent ones and tell me these women have not had plastic surgery to look more European. It’s absolutely disgraceful. And an insult not only to their Maker, but to the very essence of being a black women.
"In countries such as Senegal, a woman’s worth is determined by how bleached she is"
Really, I don’t know which is worse, the false syndrome (false hair, false eyelashes, false nails, false eye colours) or skin bleaching. It’s amazing the number of products available on the market for “skin toning”. It’s even more amazing that governments in Afrika allow large billboards to be erected advertising bleaching agents. I know in countries such as Senegal, a woman’s worth is determined by how bleached she is. This is so disgusting. Have you ever sat next to a woman with bleached skin? She not only looks like a human tye & dye but she smells absolutely awful. Imagine the smell of burnt skin and you can imagine how a bleached woman smells. Disgusting. What I find intriguing is that a woman who bleaches actually looks in the mirror and sees a thing of beauty staring back at her. I would feel so ashamed to leave my house in anything other than a Bubu if I bleached. Once again, I personally see skin bleaching as an insult to our Maker.
"High profile women in positions of power and decision-makers have to go to work with natural hair"
We have to stop! Stop believing the myth that beauty is defined by falseness. We have to stop buying the beauty magazines which feature women who do not look like us. We have to tell the world that we are not less intelligent simply because we wear our hair natural. Our lawyers have to go to court with natural hair. I don’t believe just because a woman wears false hair she is a better lawyer. Our teachers have to stand in front of their students with natural hair and let the children see that teachers with natural hair are just as capable of teaching as those who wear weaves. High profile women in positions of power and decision-makers have to go to work with natural hair.
"It would be refreshing to see Nigerian actresses taking the mantel and refusing to be defined by the West’s idea of a beautiful woman. But are they enlightened enough?"
Our television presenters, newsreaders, musicians, actresses etc have to appear on screen with the natural hair. I don’t believe Beyonce, Mary J Blige, Janet Jackson and the likes will lose their brilliant vocal abilities if they choose to wear their hair natural. Or Oprah her popularity. The Williams sisters will not lose a tennis match based on the fact that they wear their hair natural. Admittedly, the likes of Beyonce are controlled by an industry run by white males. But the likes of the William sisters have no excuse. With the growth of the Nollywood, it would be refreshing to see Nigerian actresses taking the mantel and refusing to be defined by the West’s idea of a beautiful woman. But are they enlightened enough?
"I arrived in Ghana, aged 25 years with a head of beautiful locks. Everybody was horrified. Had I gone crazy? Was I a “fetish priestess'"
I for one cannot remember the last time I put a relaxer in my hair. Well actually I do. Since the age of 15 years, I have worn my hair naturally. Although in those days, my natural hair was always braided under hair extensions. During my last year of university, I realized that wearing locks would be just like wearing braids. It was after I graduated that I decided never to wear braids again, but rather to lock my hair. I arrived in Ghana, aged 25 years with a head of beautiful locks. Everybody was horrified. Had I gone crazy? Was I a “fetish priestess”? A year later, my locks were gone. But still I chose to wear my hair natural. This time, it was a short do.
Despite the pressure, I could not see myself relaxing my hair or wearing a weave. Seven years later, this pressure actually got to me. Looking around me, I noticed that the all women had relaxed hair or wore false hair. So at the age of 32 years, I did what I had not done since I was 15… I conformed and relaxed my hair. Now, everybody was complimenting me on how beautiful I looked. Some even went as far as to suggest I bleach my skin a little then I would really be beautiful. Disgusted by such comments and myself for falling under pressure, I decided not to retouch my hair and returned to my crowning locks.
Since I was 15 years old, I knew the only hair style for me had to be a natural one. And as I have matured and accepted myself as a beautiful black woman, I do not feel the need for others to tell me that only false or relaxed hair or bleached skin will make me beautiful and successful. But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary Afrikan woman.
Words: Julie Bankofe
Photo Source: superselected.com