We visited the Cape Coast Slave Castle one thing that I took away from the tour guide’s spill was the tid bit where he talked about the use of shea butter. Shea butter was used to moisturize the skin of captured African women to make them more appealing to the eye of a man that was going to violate their body. A man was going to force himself to momentarily become one with an African woman because he was attracted to her features, it was just something about her. Those same features would eventually be used against African-American women in a plight to make them look in the mirror and not see how beautiful they are. The day that they adopt that mindset as their own is the day that the European standard of beauty reigns supreme, we have been living in that day for years now.
I have always been taught that the most beautiful people in the world are both beautiful on the outside and on the inside. Funny enough as an African-American woman when I think about the idea of being beautiful on the inside to someone who benefits from the structure of white supremacy, I can’t do anything but laugh.
For centuries women of the African diaspora have been victims to stereotypes that make it near impossible for someone to look at them and not make negative assumptions about who they are and what they bring to the table. If you’re unfamiliar with those stereotypes that are embedded in modern societal messages and where they originated, watch the following clip:
You love my hips, just as long as I don’t put my hands on them. You love my voice just as long as I’m not talking too loud, you love my sass unless of course it’s directed at you. Do you get where I am going with this? The general idea that people love black culture but just don’t love black people can be boiled down to: people love everything that makes a black woman who she is, people just don’t love black women.
Yet we still try to gain and earn that affection. A beauty product that is highly sought after in the African-American community is shea butter. After watching the women at the Shea Butter plant make shea from scratch that was just one example of how African/African-American women break their backs to rise to a standard of beauty that was created knowing that there was no way for them to meet it.
We are told that lighter skin is beautiful, so we harm our skin using beaching agents and chemicals (that were just banned in Ghana, read more here) yet European/Caucasian women jump at every chance they can to darken their skin (tan). We are told that thin and small features are superior, so we kill ourselves dieting or crush our organs by using waist trainers and corsets, while European/Caucasian women desire fuller lips and go to extreme measure to achieve them. Critiquing and criticizing our natural hair and then using our methods in an attempt to receive similar results.
It takes a European/Caucasian woman to adopt a feature, or style to make it become a part of the standard, however that is not enough. While the term gentrify is normally only used when talking about housing and the unfair policies surrounding that in regards to minorities, I will step out on a limb and say that they also gentrifying the essence of who we are.. as if we are not enough.
When I made it to Africa one thing that I was looking forward to was being the majority.. for once in my life I would be the majority race everywhere that I went. I looked forward to it. No more being singled out because of the color of my skin, or walking into stores and having the target consumer audience be a demographic that is nothing like me.
I was wrong.
While everyone around me looks like me, the European idea of beauty is still penetrating through our realities. Billboards of make-up ads mirrored those in America, I walked into
The M.A.C store and the first shades of foundation I see are the fairer shades. I walk down the streets and while I expected to see natural hair everywhere there are more braids and weaves than I ever expected. I went into department stores in the Accra Mall and while there may have been more African print the sizing still paralleled with the European idea that thin is superior to ‘real’ bodies.
African women are more like African-American women than one might think, especially when you put into perspective that we are living under the same beauty standards that were created with the idea that we would never meet them.
“Travel while you’re young and able. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be…”