Sometime in the 80s, our TVs ran a syndicated advert for Venus, an old brand in the Nigerian hair-relaxer market, featuring our own ex-Miss Nigeria, Nike Osinowo, maybe you’ll remember-
“A- Wow, my hair could never be like that”
(A stares ‘lustfully’ at a woman’s picture in a magazine)
Ms Osinowo replies from the magazine page, (cue in smile)-
“You’re wrong you know, you should have seen how dreadful my hair used to be, before my hairdresser introduced me to Venus, the vogue in hair care…”
There’s no trouble going nice and sweet consolatory cliché about beauty being in the eyes of the beholder. That doesn’t cut ice any more.We all know what ‘beauty’ is: silky hair, lightly-tanned skin and if necessary, nose-job-aided-pointed slits for nostrils. Undoubtedly, there’s the blond or auburn tresses (depends on the colour of the bottle), plastic-tipped nails and rake-thin arms that perfectly compliment the anorexic body. Of course, now, it’s almost okay to be botilicious, as long as you have the light tan, blond tresses and other glam features.
And except she’s 'lucky' to be Egyptian, from Cape Verde or some other pretender-African country, your African woman is at the wrong end of the stick with her full luscious lips and thick, dark, shiny hair. She’ll need to lose some weight because her full-figure simply doesn’t werk. There’s a little hope though- her melanin-protected dark skin can always be lightened to a ‘perfect tan’.
The ‘ultimate’ babe, a la, supreme object of seduction, aka, showstopper-music video siren (with the six-inch heels underneath a barely-there bikini) is anything but typically ‘black–looking’. Oh, it’s okay to be ‘black’, but definitely not look ‘African-black’. African-black is what you see in the AIDS adverts, NGO commentaries on Adopt-A-Child initiatives, and documentaries on wars and genocide. I agree that ‘black-looking’ is rather relative. You’ll have to distinguish between school-girl black (which really depends on whether you’re in Egun girls’ grammar school or Vivian Fowler for Girls’), Lagos-chick black, high-flyer black, Debbie-Ogunjobi black, Beyonce-black, Nike Osinowo-black, India Arie-black, Funmi Iyanda black, Christiana Milan-black, Jill Scott-black etc
I usually hate the self-pitying-blame-colonialism-loser-tirade. But I think that along with slavery, colonialism, subsequent decolonisation, later-decades westernisation and the division of God’s one World into first, second and third, we have been stuck with George Orwell-type ‘black is bad, white is good’. I’ll quickly mention my thoughts on what I think is ‘clearly inappropriate use’ of ‘black and white’ (looooong story and definitely for another article). I’ll like to share my ignorance and unworldly-perception- I have not met a white- or black- person. I absolutely look forward to, though. A real white or real black person! Wow! That’ll be weird. I wonder how ‘white skin’ will look, transparent? Clear-white? And ‘black people’, that’ll be something; you’ll keep running into them in the dark!
Whatever is beauty is what we say it is. We should redefine beauty, by our own, rather than borrowed standards. We are not oyinbo. The weave-on and hair relaxers we spend a fortune on are simply not ‘us’. We don’t have to look like a black Nelly Furtado to look good. We don’t have to wear wigs to be all snazzy and glam. We don’t have to look like someone on TV to be beautiful. Our thick black hair is fantastic. Our dark skin is smoother than camwood, we don’t need plastic for out nails. We are Beautiful.
We don’t have to try to be. We are.
I’m not anti-technology or unrealistic- wear your Prada, pay a fortune for your Gucci, if you want (even if you could get a nameless-and-blameless for one-tenth of the price). Wear make-up if you have to (save yourself the uncertain expressions when you try to prove to your colleagues that you are you- just you without make-up). But let’s draw a fine line at concerted efforts to make us think we have to look like what we are not.
The ‘Proudly-Nigerian’ fad is a relief. Now, designers realise that our beautiful Ankara is perfect for our weather. I also think the conceited ‘it’s from jand’ along with the immediate reverential awe that follows is now ‘razz’. Made in Nigeria is creeping into everything but the beauty part of our lives- not with the huge money industrialists continue to make off selling cheap weaves and getting ‘Nollyowood-faces’ to endorse them. Certainly not with the convenient way we burn our scalps to look ‘nice’. And wait for this (I find it laughable) – black relaxed hair with blonde rubber-weaves as bun!
It is not ‘normal’ to apply harmful chemicals to our hair to destroy our natural curls. Just because we’ve looked forward to using D&L since we were six doesn’t mean that all grown ups have to look a certain way. It’s laughable that black-woman and Last King of Scotland actress Kelly Washington tells us to use L’Oreal to get rid of tight curls into free flowing hair, while displaying her perfectly fixed weaves. We should ditch the lie that hair should be straight and silky, that we have to look like Kate Moss, or that there’s a problem if our noses are not somewhat pointy.
The general reason for the six-weekly hair destruction is that ‘natural’ hair is unmanageable, hard and difficult to maintain. If you believe that God created man and so on, then you’ll know that He doesn’t make mistakes and he didn’t when creating your hair; or if you believe your grandparents were monkeys, you’ll agree that evolution did it’s best to adapt to what’s best. The only ‘difficultly’ lies in paucity of natural-hair-products and it’s largely because there’s little market for it, and that is because we have been told that our hair’s a mess that way.
Stay healthy- the iyan and efo riro way. Eat healthy, technology has made a lazy no village-farm-village that made our grandparents strong, so we should exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
Beauty is what we can make it to be.
Beauty is what we enjoy and Black is how we enjoy what we have.
Black is not razz. Black is not unmanageable. Black is not ‘not-classy’.
Musings on 7th October 2007