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Female AfriCan bEauty!

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by Cynthia Ayeza


For the last three years, I have been trying to read for a Masters in Culture and Media Studies and believe it or not, the topic is African Beauty. It has been and still is exciting but it also feels like a curse right now – mostly because it is dragging on. I have tried to find definitions on African Beauty but I would like to start a discussion, hopefully, on African Beauty from a raw perspective; a naked eye’s perspective if you like. Also my title is font-distorted deliberately because that is exactly how I feel about the nature of lay definitions surrounding the topic itself. But first, I should just make some things clear: for starters, African Beauty encompasses a wide range of things to include Art (including Music), the Physical Body, Clothing or Fashion, Earth, Architecture and so on and so forth. As such, for this particular piece, I will be looking at African Beauty specifically focusing on the role that colour plays in definitions and perceptions surrounding the concept.  Perhaps, at a later stage, the hope is that I can then write about beauty in relation to the physical attributes of the body and other areas mentioned earlier.

During one of the earlier seasons of the Face of Africa competition (aired on MNET), a young South African lady by the name Tracy Maitland made it to the top12 and this sparked a row amongst the black community – arguing that she, as a white person could not represent the African continent. (http://meltingpot.fortunecity.com/navarino/212/postcard/99-03-01africabeauty.html) Obviously the Face of Africa competition is hardly about beauty. It is in fact a modelling competition and is successfully giving hope and confidence to young ladies from Sub Saharan Africa.

However, this seemingly little complaint about Tracy making it to the top 12 got me thinking about the role of colour in defining what African Beauty is or could be on the African continent. Are we aware of the extent to which our continent is increasingly diverse? Are we open to this diversity or is it so important for us to insist on a particular skin pigmentation being the defining factor for what is truly African? A photographer friend of mine has some work/photographs of people that would typically define themselves as African. In fact, they are an expression of African beauty – not considering colour at play.

Take the following shots for example; in my opinion, truly African beauties – irrespective of colour.

Model: Nancy Kacungira;
Photographer: Martin Kharumwa
Nancy Kacungira boasts of beautiful cheekbones, full – even somewhat thick lustrous lips, hair that is originally kinky even though partly hot ironed – a beauty to say the least and is evidently dark skinned.

Photographer: Martin Kharumwa
Authentic? Beautifully old school?

Model: Gloria Wavamuno
Photographer: Martin Kharumwa
Gloria is a fashion designer; she is beautiful, has lovely curly hair, soft features and has fair skin.
Model: Gloria Wavamuno
Photographer: Martin Kharumwa
The model is also of fair skin colour, has long hair, curly; also boasting soft features.

I have often found that the darker skinned people are often complimented using words like “beautiful”, “exotic” etc and the fairer skinned often referred to as “pretty”, “cute” or even “nice” etc. But are those terms fair? They seem to carry an undertone of colour determining their definition. And again, I ask – are we truly aware of the diversity present on the African continent? How open are we to this diversity? What role, as such, is the western world playing in influencing how we view African Beauty? – (if at all there is any such thing as “African Beauty”) Who really is to say what is African Beauty?
Beauty may lie in the eyes of the beholder undoubtedly because some prefer light skin to dark skin and vice versa. The definition – on a universal level, of African Beauty, perhaps shall remain quite complex.

Cynthia Ayeza

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