By Divya Shastri
When the ‘Black is Beautiful’ movement first started in America, its aim was to dispel the notions that black features were inherently ugly and to counteract the notion that black features were less desirable than ‘whites’. Celebrations of broad noses and African bone structure and natural hair took over, with both women and men embracing themselves and their culture. This led to the reclaiming of an identity that they had been made to shun for centuries; things about themselves that they were told were undesirable. Black men and women embraced their roots, wore their hair naturally after chemically straightening it, and rejected skin lightening, embracing their melanin.
Influenced by the fight against racial segregation, there was an emphasis put on African American intelligence, culture and beauty. like Angela Davis, a political activist and member of the party, helped make the Afro hairstyle more mainstream, especially amongst women. In addition to wearing their hair naturally, African Americans at this time also formed a pan-African identity, wore traditional African clothing, took on new names, and formed for themselves a culture that was distinctively their own. All this called for the emancipation from a culture that had been forced upon them, and the affirmation that African Americans have their own distinct history and that they are reclaiming.
However, despite movements like these, even in 2017, there are still issues that black people face. From police brutality to stereotyping and representation; is black still not seen as beautiful? In the media, we are used to seeing a certain type of women; gorgeous, with just the right number of curves, completely hairless apart from perfectly coifed hair, and more often than not, white. While changes in the fashion industry and Hollywood have been made to include more body types and skin tones, there is still a long way to go. The beauty standards are constantly changing and the current “trend” in having tanned skin, plump lips and pert buttocks are features that African women are known for, but there is a double standard. People are cosmetically changing themselves while forgetting about those to whom these features are natural.
This highlights one of the glaring issues faced today by minority cultures; adoption of certain cultural practices but the lack of acceptance of the people. While has been the adoption of aspects of black culture, there is a lack of adequate recognition given to black individuals. We see Katy Perry wearing grills in her music videos, and Miley Cyrus wearing dreadlocks, and call Kendall Jenner “edgy” when she wears cornrows, and there is the new “baddie” aesthetic that draws heavily from African-American culture, but when we see black women like Blac Chyna, Amber Rose, Nicki Minaj, Rhianna and Zendaya, embracing their heritage, it’s seen as déclassé. It’s “ghetto” to have a weave, or braids if or long fake nails if you are a black woman, but it’s a look celebrated on others. It must be infuriating to see something that belongs to you being commodified.
However what instils hope is that there are young women and men taking up the mantel and fighting back; movements like the Natural Hair Movement are reclaiming the pejorative term nappy. Actresses like Amandala Sternberg are writing articles and speaking up about issues facing black women and the beauty standards that they are measured up against. Authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writing books with African protagonists. We are seeing films like Moonlight highlight the issues that minority groups face, while Black Panther has a prominent black cast. TV shows like ‘Blackish’ celebrate African-American culture in addition to highlighting the issues that their race face. With Rihanna’s new makeup line, it was the darker shades which sold out first.
It is clear from these examples that there is a hunger amongst people who are standing up and demanding not just to be heard, but to be seen and celebrated.
Illustration: Faye Chua