Monthly Archives: May 2011

Dear Men, My Beauty Does Not Lie in Your Eyes

A couple of months back someone posted a picture on Twitter with the comment:  

“Beautiful. Sad we don’t see something like this in Nairobi”

(I had saved the picture but can’t seem to locate it. Will update it if I find it)

When I saw the tweet, and the corresponding statement, I was curious to see what this thing was that we don’t get to see in Nairobi. At first I thought it was one of those beautiful cars, or a complicated road network that can only be found in the developed world. Or even a skyscraper, the kind that Dubai is famous for.

I didn’t expect it to be a woman. That statement implies that there are no women who look like that in Nairobi.  Worse, it also implies that women who look like that are the SI unit of beauty. That is, the standard light skin, straight nose and soft hair kind of woman. The worldwide standard of beauty that has been shoved down our African throats for centuries.

Some time later, on Twitter again, I happened on a now common weaves vs natural hair debate. The guy was complaining about the number of women who wear weaves as opposed to keeping it natural. I countered that many men say that they like their women with natural hair and make up free but when you walk with them on the streets of Nairobi the woman you catch them staring at is the most make up enhanced of them all – weave and all. My final say on that was the day they will start showing love to the Alek Weks of this world is the day we shall stop trying to look like the Tyras.

Finally, about month or two ago, I uploaded a new profile picture. I was wearing make up and it got a lot of attention. Not that the nice comments weren’t appreciated, but I noted that a lot of those were from the people who say they want natural looking girls.  And then later in the day, my pal who hasn’t seen me for a long time, commented that it seems that I’ve now started putting on make up. For the record, I have been wearing make up on and off since I was like 18.  At the moment I wear it occasionally mostly on special events and such.  But according to him I was ‘ruining’ my natural beauty. Thing is,

These different incidences made me think of the pressures an African woman has to conform to a certain look. No matter what we choose, there’s always someone ready to criticize.

Growing up as African women, I don’t think we’ve ever been allowed to feel that we are fine as is. From an early age, the notion of what is beautiful is programmed into us. From the dolls we played with, to the women we saw on TV, they all had a certain look. I remember as a kid going to the salon with my cousins. They all had long, thick, soft hair due to their mixed ancestries. Mine, although not really short, was more African.  The hair dressers would always ask me why my hair wasn’t as “nice” as theirs. Tired of hearing this I once asked, “How would I know? Why don’t you go ask God? I then stopped going to the same salons as them. Because of that, I’ve had a crazy relationship with my hair. Would you blame me if  I decided to go the weave way?

Boys are provided with role models from all walks of life, based on what they do and  not how they look; the first black President of United States, Freedom fighters, The first Man on the Moon, people doing tangible things that they can aspire to become and can work towards regardless of how they were born. But girls however, most of the women who are in the spotlight are famous more for what they look like or what they wear. So from a young age, it takes a lot of time, and endless battles with low self-esteem and self-doubt for a woman to finally reach a point where she’s comfortable in her own skin. To finally accept that she can’t change who she is, so its better just get on with the business of living. And still we don’t catch a break for it. Everyone seems to have an opinion of how they want us to be.

Every woman is unique in her experiences and back ground. For some women, how they dress be it clothes or hair, is like armour; to help them fight their daily battles. For others, their varied personality dictates their aesthetic choices.  When a woman decides to wear a weave, go bald, or keep a natural fro, why does it have to be a topic of constant debate? Can’t it just be as simple as how she chose to wear her hair rather than a capital offense to the entire male population?

Many men claim they are looking for real women. Women who are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. And yet there’s endless conversations everyday about how a woman should or shouldn’t look. And guess what, we’re listening, consciously or subconsciously. And some of us will change thinking that’s what suits you.

When I look in the mirror, no matter what look I have on, I am still the same person with my hair curled or straight, lips fully glossed or barely there, dark skin or simply fair. I bear the same name – woman. I still have the power to bring forth life and nurture; power to raise girls who the male species will love and delight in, natural or covered in make-up. Because I know that even as they talk, I hope they see the same thing I see, just a woman.

If you want African women to be more substance than smoke screen, then change the stereotypes and the conversations.