Thursday, 5 March 2015

Why We're Confused and Fascinated with African Beauty - by Amita Murray

Self-Portrait in Mirror, by Armet Francis

Call me stupid, but it took a passionate discussion of the relevance and place of hair and hairstyles as cultural markers from my black students, to bring it home to me just how complicated African hairstyles are. Actually, I still don't completely get it. But my students explained to me and an open-mouthed, very diverse undergraduate classroom, that if they let their hair grow unfettered, it would simply grow out and up. That it takes taming, straightening, weaves, relaxers, braiding, hair extensions, and many, many hours to create the beautiful, complex confections that they wear to class. It reminded me, too, of how normative ideals of white beauty impact people of non-white heritage - the hair straightening, the face bleaching, the tucking in, epilating, waxing, narrowing, tweezing, anorexia, liposuctioning, lip-pulling in, that happen behind the scenes to conform to mainstream, capitalism-prescribed aesthetic and performative norms. As market research firm Mintel suggests, black hair could be a $500 billion dollar industry.

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