Who is beautiful? You? Me?
As a child my mother was the most beautiful woman I had seen. Everyone always remarked at how beautiful she was. She was thin and graceful and enjoyed getting dressed up. On the weekends she would spend hours washing, rolling and drying her thick long black hair. My father enjoyed showing her off and insisted she maintained a certain lean weight and small waist. Nigerian kids at elementary school said my mother was white- “oyibo.” Why else was her hair straight and skin so fair? They didn’t understand that she was indeed black of Caribbean descent.
I remember feeling unattractive and insecure with my wide nose thanks to my Nigerian father, my thick kinky hair that my mother had trouble combing, my high butt that seemed to stick out far more than a little girl my age should. My mother chemically straightened my hair when I was about 9 because it was easier to manage. I liked it straight but it reinforced that my natural hair was not beautiful. In my early teens I fantasized about growing up and getting a nose job. I learned to walk straight and tuck my butt in. I learned to identify with many of the western standards of beauty.
Fast forward to the present here in the USA where thick lips, big butts, curvy shapes are now the trend. Straight long hair is still desirable making the hair weave industry a billion dollar industry. But it is nice to know that less Black women are using relaxers and embracing their natural kinky curly textures.
In University I experimented with Afrocentric hairstyles and fashion but it wasn’t until my late twenties and early thirties that I stopped looking for external validation of beauty and began to embrace what I was born with. I cringe now at the thought that I ever wanted a nose job. Why would I want to permanently alter God’s gifts to me. There are far more important things in life to worry about. Besides my nose now matches my round face and as for my butt, it balances my top and is a reflection of my African heritage. I am not condemning anyone who choses to have plastic surgery to feel more beautiful. It is your choice to do as you please with your body; it is just not my choice.
I am fascinated by the different standards of beauty and how far women will go to achieve what they consider ideal. We all know someone either in real life or on social media who has gone “too far” with plastic surgery. Who are we to judge? Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? I remember as a child my mother who was raised in England taught me that makeup was for adults. In contrast all the young girls in Northern Nigeria I had grown up around wore eyeliner as young as four years old. That was the standard there. I remember the Fulani women with dramatic braided hairstyles, tribal marks carved onto their faces, black painted lips, red orange dyed hands and feet. All of this was considered beautiful and yet bizarre from a westerner’s point of view.
In many parts of Africa overweight females are seen as attractive which may be understandable in places where food is scarce. Young women are sent away to places to gain weight before marriage. In the USA many ethnic men in particular find full figured women more attractive. In western cultures the slim tall frame is still idolized as seen on most fashion runways. Many young girls feel a lot of pressure to maintain a certain look or weight. There is no arguing that pop culture and celebrities like Beyonce & JLO have influenced how Western ideals of beauty have changed. It is shocking the number of young women that are willing to go under the knife for a bigger butt now while I spent my whole childhood trying to hide mine!
Another example of different standards of beauty is muscle definition. In the West an athletic build or muscle on a man or woman is seen as attractive and even beautiful to many. Where as in many parts of Nigeria pronounced muscles on a person suggest a poor man or laborer and not something to show off. Perhaps things are changing now.
Another sad practice ( and I know there are many more in the name of beauty) is skin bleaching. Nigerian women and Caribbean women are pouring large amounts of money into an industry promoting lighter skin. Unfortunately so many of these women are taught to believe that fairer skin will make them more successful and beautiful while dark skin is ugly. This is such madness! We have been brainwashed to believe there is only one way to look beautiful. I have seen some of the most beautiful women who happen to have dark black skin. How can that sickly hue you get from skin bleaching be considered beautiful? Let’s not even talk about the health problems associated with using some of these products: uneven skin pigmentation, Kidney disease, and even skin cancer! Outside of the United States many of these bleaching creams contain counterfeit ingredients made of God knows what!
How far will you go in the name of beauty? What is too far? Butt injections or implants, breast implants, liposuction, face lifts….many of these procedures are becoming mainstay in the United States and yet I am sure there are many looking at us thinking we have all gone mad. Beauty clearly depends on culture and by generation, evolving over time.
In my opinion beauty is about confidence and being comfortable in your own skin. When you can walk in a room and own it regardless of your size, hair texture or skin color, your are exuding beauty. It is a glow that shines through and superpasses the superficial physical characteristics that will change over time.
I love makeup and how it accentuates and even transforms me but ultimately I feel beautiful with or without it because beauty is ultimately about being able to Love Yourself flaws and all.