Reclaiming Beauty

25 Feb 2018

Fed up with Western ideals of beauty, diaspora
black women are stepping up the fight to proudly own their image, but the
battle is far from won.

Just how much beauty is in the eye of the
beholder? For black women finding themselves living in a culture that often
glorifies Western ideals of beauty, particularly in the entertainment and
fashion industries, this has long been a struggle.

From skin tone and natural hair to body type,
many women of colour have had enough of trying to conform with European styles
and have drawn a line in the sand to proudly take ownership of their look.

“We feel we must have flowing hair and narrow
hips to conform, having to use self-lightening creams to be acceptable to
society,” says Christine Spencer, a 39-year-old British-born Ugandan.

The pressure on girls to emulate the
airbrushed images on magazine covers remains immense, but now some women of
colour are determined to push for greater ownership of black women’s identity.


It’s not just the shade of their skin that
black women worry about, but also their hair. As Nigerian author Chimamanda
Ngozi Adichie once put it, the idea of wearing hair naturally is unbearable for
many women. But some are breaking the mould.

“Black women need to own their image,” says
39-year-old French-Senegalese journalist, filmmaker and anti-racism activist
Rokhaya Diallo, who was one of the first African women to make prime-time
television in France with natural short hair.

The nappy movement is encouraging black women
to embrace their natural kinky curls much in the same way as the 1960s Black is
Beautiful movement; so too has the presence of dark-skinned celebrities such as
Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o.

But there is still a long way to go.

“It’s a psychological battle,” admits Afia
Badu, a 33-year-old Ghanaian-born British lawyer. “We all want to be beautiful.
We worry about other people’s perceptions.”


How do black women overcome a burden that costs
time and money and makes it impossible to ever sweat, forget an umbrella or go
swimming? Many African women in the diaspora don’t see any way around it.

Betty Akello, a 50-year-old housing officer in
the UK, laughs when she recalls the reaction of family and friends in Uganda
when she started dieting to lose weight: “Men back home like their women

Fashion bloggers are doing the rest. Social
media stars Fiona Kolade and Adanna Ohakim are helping black women to fall in
love with their own images.

"We’re coming into a place of acceptance,
where we can say we’re just as valid," adds Badu.

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