I thought about what makes a woman physically beautiful. Is it the silky hair, symmetrical facial features, pert nose, big boobs, full hips? This list can go on depending on who you talk to but if you are anything like me with prominent African features, you are so far from the mark. I have been blessed (or cursed) with all the ‘ugly’ features, kinky hair, high forehead, prominent nose, high cheekbones, full lips, and wide hips. I wear them with pride knowing that my features are distinct and the flagship of the continent. According to the media, I am ranked at the bottom of the totem pole. My kinky hair is considered nappy and unprofessional. The forehead, nose and cheekbones are considered harsh and abrasive and with the wide hips – one is just too fat.
It would have been traumatic if that categorization meant anything to me, but it does not because that is not my yardstick. I have been told since birth that I am a princess. My family, my first agent of socialization, taught me how to measure a woman’s beauty. These very features that have been berated by the media; my family taught me to value. My family mapped out the linkage to my ancestors and helped me accentuate them to show my beauty.
My beauty is so far removed from what I see on visual and print media. What is this beauty that my family had referred to? Had they lied to me? No, because it turns out that beauty is culture based. Studies show that curvaceousness in Africa is desirable and considered fertile. In 2008, a study in Ghana found that the men preferred more rounded women. (Frederick, D. A., Forbes, G. B., Berezovskaya, A. (2008). Female Body Dissatisfaction and Perceptions of the Attractive Female Body in Ghana, the Ukraine, and the United States. Psychological Topics 17:2, 203-219). The African tribe Makololo has its women wear the large plates in their upper lips, as to arouse their men. The bigger lips are more desirable to the men. I found one thing uniform to all males, regardless of the culture - men find women with a low waist-to-hip ratio beautiful. Waists that are thin and hips that are broad; the weight was not a factor – it was the proportion. I did not need a book to tell me this fact.
Wow!!! My stock value just went up and I climbed up on that totem pole. I still wanted to know - can the face of beauty be redefined? When will I ever make it to the top of the pole? Hang tight, there is hope. When Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek first hit the runway, she was called ugly because she exhibited those 'dreadful' features we discussed earlier. She was dark skinned and had kinky hair. Elle magazine took a gamble on her with the cover of the November 1997 issue, and it meet with roaring success. Folks applauded the magazine for redefining fashion. Kudos to foundations like Dove who celebrate black girls and teach them to appreciate their natural beauty, the perception changes one a day.
If you have a black princess in your life, remember to tell her she is beautiful with the kinky hair, high forehead, big nose, high cheekbones, and wide hips.