It’s safe to say that over the past years our perception of beauty has changed drastically. As a society we have become more open minded, and made beauty more diverse and inclusive. Today we have more Afrocentric representation on mainstream media and social media than ever before. Take for instance Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi who is a dark-skinned woman with course hair, she forms part of the group of six women to ever have won the title.
However, even though we have become more accepting to African features, this “acceptance” is very much conditioned. European like features have always been placed on the top of the hierarchy of beaty standards, so it is no surprise that the closer you are to “looking white” the prettier you are. This is why the African community Namibia included, suffers from the issues of colourism and featurism. Colourism is when people within an ethnic group are treated differently or discriminated based on the tone of their skin, and featurism is the prejudice towards individuals with certain physical features and a preference to those with more European like features.
There are two main factors that have tainted the perception of our community when it comes to accepting Afrocentric features, the first, and most obvious one is the influence western mainstream media has on shaping the standard of beauty around the world. Western mainstream media brought us great movies, music and fashion, ultimately it brought about pop culture, which is a culture that we as an African community and a great part of the world immerged into deeply. From the way we dress to the way we style our hair, it’s all referenced to what we see on our tv screens and social media platforms. Therefore, even though people of colour do appear on our screen less then often do they truly look as black Africans. Now, it’s not to say that we don’t have light skin people with coloured eyes and lose curls in Africa, it’s to say that they do not form part of the average looking African. What mainstream media did is exalt the one group of people that closely resembled white people, so basically the form of black that is accepted is the “exotic” or “mixed” black.
Secondly, the long-lasting effect of apartheid, which was a system of institutional racial segregation that only ended around 1990s. The whole concept of segregating people and placing them in classes where group of people were preserved as better than others further divided us as a nation. Again, people of lighter skin tone and European like features where respected and seen of more importance then darker skin toned people. This view is very much alive today, we find our aunties buying skin lightning products and young women contouring their nose to give an illusion that it’s sharp and thin. We say things such as “she has good hair” when the hair is not course and short or choose your partner wisely so that your “kids have a good colour”. There amount of colourism and featurism contained in our speech needs to addressed.
Clearly beauty can’t be one sided, and I do agree that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, however, if the vision is blurred because for so long, we were only conditioned to see certain colours and features as beautiful, perhaps it’s time to review our preferences and identify biases even within ourselves.
Contributed by: Jennifer DaSilva