In Western culture, Afro-textured hair is still stigmatized. Why? It is because those seen as “others” (blacks) have distinctive characteristics that are perceived by the white establishment as being undesirable? Once, this and other black attributes were either eradicated or dismissed as primitive and wild. Afro-hair in particular became a symbol for an inferior race.
Generally, I think Black self-esteem has steadily grown over the past decades. In the 1960s, the Afro was seen as a political statement of black consciousness. Angela Davis, who sported a famously large Afro, did much to change that negative perception of beauty, and she is still regarded as an icon of black empowerment. Today, multi-optional hairstyles (natural and processed) are gracing the streets, owing to the influence of the media, fashion and celebrities.
The influx of chemically based products on the cosmetics market has soared. So-called “beauty enhancers” straighten hair and bleach the skin, while some opt for the most extreme procedure of surgery to alter black features. The late pop singer, Michael Jackson, was a prime example of someone that underwent surgery to acquire European features.
Living in Berlin as a woman of color, as I do, it’s difficult to find a makeup tint suitable for a darker complexion. Most department stores do not carry products specifically made for darker skins. True, some cosmetic firms have brought out a range of makeup tones, but these do not suffice, due to the numerous shades of black skin. For the entrepreneur, there is a potential market out there of women who are desperate to find the right colour.
There are Afro shops, selling hair and beauty products in Berlin, but the products are usually expensive as they are imported. Why aren’t our cosmetic needs being met? This is perhaps partly due to negligence and partly to the fact that manufacturing products for minority groups in Europe would not be profitable. It is therefore “our” (blacks) responsibility to highlight black skin and features in a beautiful way by using whatever means necessary.
In Berlin, many mothers of mixed-race children are white Germans who may not be able to give their daughters tips concerning beauty and hair management. Some support can be found in black beauty magazines that aid and inform black women on cosmetic issues and give a positive all-round representation of black women.
Unfortunately, black women in Germany, as in many western countries, are confronted daily with marketing strategies which revolve around the western ideal of beauty–thin nose, slim hips, blonde hair, petite bone structure, etc. A number of black models have straightened their hair, and a few even resort to wearing blue or green contact lenses. These adopted characteristics may prove detrimental to a positive black identity.
However, all is not lost; it is wonderful to see the talented and beautiful black ballet dancer, Misty Danielle Copeland, gracing stages around the world. She was often told she had the wrong body type for ballet, but she persevered and proved the naysayers wrong with her grace and technique. Her determination to succeed in an art form traditionally reserved for white dancers makes her an influential role model for young peoples of color who wish to dance ballet, or, indeed, to achieve in any field.
I look forward to the day when black women living in predominantly white societies see advertisements depicting natural black women in a positive light, one that illuminates blackness as being wholesomely essential. Black is indeed beautiful.
Maroula Blades is an Afro-British poet/writer living in Berlin. She has published in various anthologies and magazines. Her poetry/music program has been presented on several stages in Germany. Her debut EP-album “Word Pulse” was released by Havavision Records (UK).
Photo credit: ANGELA DAVIS (1944- ). – American political activist. Photographed c1971.. Fine Art. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/140_1686440/1/140_1686440/cite. Accessed 11 Aug 2016.