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.

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Comments

  • M  On May 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Well said!

  • Buggz79  On May 23, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    I can relate to this at a fairly fundamental level.
    My daughter is 6 years old. We cut her hair because it was getting in the way of her being a kid. You do not want to spend 3 hours at a salon watching her get her hair washed, blowdried and braided only to see her dive head first into a sandpit.

    So we cut it off. It gave her freedom do play any game and do any activity. Until she came over and told me that she no longer feels pretty.

    I was hoping to be spared this conversation. Seems I won’t. So I step up (with wifey’s guidance) and I try to reinforce her. I tell her she is beautiful…and i do so consistently. Next step is to rope in the dudes around me (her uncles and my friends) and jointly affirm her.

    I don’t know if this will work. But everyone out there is out to tell her otherwise. Someone has to be the voice of sanity and love. And maybe if I am consistent enough, she’ll believe that she truly is the beauty I see her for.

    • bintimswahili  On May 23, 2011 at 3:00 pm

      Aww Buggzy, the world makes it so hard. But you’re on the right path. You’re the most important man in her life and you’re telling her she’s beautiful. Good job 🙂

  • Qalil Little  On May 23, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    You are soooooo right. We have to fight to just have the right to look the way we look without reference to any other woman. We’re never going to all look the same. EVER.

    Sigh.

    I have a 1 year old niece of mixed heritage (Ugandan, Rwandese, German, Hungarian) and I often wonder what she is going to have to deal with. Hopefully, I’ll have figured it out enough to help her. She’s already being accused of having dry skin and hard to manage hair – poor thing.

  • tesswandia  On May 23, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    This is amazing,I have to admit I am also guilty for fueling some of these stereotypes but now I understand we all go through challenges even though they may be slightly different.

    I believe we seem to be in competition with each other and as a result we are constantly trying to be this ‘perfect woman’ who will get the most attention from men (which is a very sad state of affairs if you ask me!)

    We all need to accept our differences and realise that we are beautiful like ourselves and not a definition of those who have not personally experienced what being a woman is.

  • SUPREMEGREAM  On May 23, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    I like

  • jacquendinda  On May 23, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Amazing post!!!

    By the way you realise that the moment most women try out a certain look…it is never because they think it looks good on them…but because they think that others will find it befitting…

    Nothing more can be said… I nod to your every word here…

  • amirajammy  On May 23, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    love it!!
    I didn’t wear make up till i was in my 20’s and that was limited since in Mombasa–kama hujaolwea hufai kuvaa make up. But also my own opinion on body image. it makes me sad to see that people like you for how you look than how you are. I tried to fight this notion for the longest time. I wouldn’t wear make-up or dress up. I would wear jeans and baggy shirts and no make-up and expect people to like me that way and esp guyz to talk to me in that sense. but I met a girl and we become friends..body image was everything to her so i got brainwashed..wore make-up and went to the gym and the whole nine-yards..every person wanted to be my friend…guyz wanted to be with me and all…it makes me sick just thinking of it. but now I cant leave the house with out foundation and mascara on my face.

    like you said this notion is embeded in our minds through media and soceity. Its true guyz say the want a real woman who is not fake inside and outside…but if you present yourself to them…u r not their type…and a pretty gal who is fake inside and outside…is their type so much double standard..

  • Rita  On May 24, 2011 at 7:25 am

    They demonise us so they can have more reasons to cheat on us

  • Lisege  On May 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    I always say inside a woman’s weave is low self esteem hidden,from your article it turns out that is very true and its very important that African women realise that trying to have attached long hair that comes close to a white/asian woman’s is actually trying to work a white/Asians natural beauty.I however don’t agree with you that they have no one to look up to when all they need to realise they are beautiful is within.I know its very difficult for our women when that is what is considered the SI unit of beauty but why not come up with your own definition of the African womans beauty?The problem is not the weave but burying your beauty inside it.Look within yourselves maybe then we might start looking.

    • bintimswahili  On May 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm

      Of course self esteem has a big role to play with women trying to change how they look. This is because of misconceptions fed to women at an early age. Read what Buggz wrote up there about his 6 year old and you’ll see how outside factors make it a lot harder to reinforce that we as African women are beautiful as is.

      The whole point of this post is that, we have to fight a lot of negativity especially from the media about who we are, it would help if we don’t get it from our men as well.

      And it’s not just about hair, don’t get me started on body types. How many fat jokes do you see on Twitter on any given day? Especially by men? Again here we’re trying to imply that the western standard of slender being SI unit of body type whereas majority of African women are not slender.

    • bintimswahili  On May 24, 2011 at 3:22 pm

      Also about women role models, try this.

      Out of the top of your head think of 5 famous men, local or international. What do they do?

      Now think about 5 famous women same local or international. What do they do?

      I’m not saying there are no role models, but they are not as exposed as say celebrities.

  • Lisege  On May 24, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    What buggz said is true.While growing up Kids especially girls experience a lot of insecurities mainly on the looks part and trust me its difficult to assure a little girl she is pretty when she does not look like her friends who she thinks are beautiful .This is because at such a young age its all about ‘I too want to be like that!’ without thinking about the ‘why?’so as they grow up its fixed on their minds that this is what is best.I would blame the media too but just after I point out that girls learn from other girls,sisters and their mothers.So that when one is dieting all the other girls want to diet and the one pushing the ‘slim is best’ or ‘human hair weave is so in’ is most definately a woman.What is needed is a major shift in thinking which I believe would change a lot and spare women energy fighting negative media perceptions because those in the media will have a fresh mindset.It all begins with the women that come before 2moro’s women.If the women who came before today’s woman had said no to weave or slimming Like in Uganda then the african beauty is celebrated.Embracing our culture and not adopted ones would also play a big role.

  • farmgal  On December 15, 2011 at 3:06 am

    A little late to the party but I love this post. The weaves debate has to me become tiring. Every woman should be allowed to wear her hair the way she sees fit. Dreads, weaves, curly kit etc

  • AH  On March 24, 2013 at 10:47 am

    ❤ Amazing as usual!

  • lweyajoe  On April 17, 2014 at 10:13 am

    oh… okay.

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