When I graduated from high school, I got admitted into a university to study law and almost immediately looking good became an obsession. As if the fates were being ironic, I started to develop stretch marks on my breasts and bottom- it was horrifying to me. None of the beauties on the pages of my magazines had stretch marks!!! I hated my body, and my looks. My legs were too long and skinny I was not the prettiest girl growing up. I wished my dad was wealthy so that I could afford to have surgery done on those bits. Then I met a girl who had stretch marks on her breasts, bottom, stomach, arms and legs and did not seem to mind flaunting them in a bikini. I began to question my stupidity. There are times I have tried to imagine what it was like living in the days of our forefathers. I do not think women cared much about their imperfections then as we do now. Going through history books and tales of old, women either had saggy or firm breasts.
Their hairs were natural and devoid of chemical applications. There was never any question about looking for plants or herbs to increase their bust size as it is today. They used charcoal to brush their teeth for whiteness and shea butter as body creams. Their sponges were plucked from trees and their soaps were made from palm kennels. Yet it does seem like they had smooth and supple skin. Most of them were robust and round, some were slim and slender. They wore no makeup, used no deodorants, perfumes or body sprays; and I assume those who actually had these luxuries were the really rich people.
Fast forward to present day and it is a different story entirely. The price women have paid for beauty over the years has become alarming. The modern women – a least a good number of them, tired of the upkeep and sometimes the drama that came with having natural hair, relaxed it. As if that was not enough, most of us began to invest in and fix hair extensions and wigs – a trend introduced by the Western world and Africa greedily accepted it. The pressure to be as slim as the models on the runway, the likes of Joan Smalls, Alek Wek, Grace Bol, Ajak Deng, Maria Borges, Claudia Schiffer, Bar Refaeli and many others began to mount. The ageless beauties of Iman and Sophia Loren coupled with beautiful hair worn by the stars on the red carpet was a look we craved. There are those who embraced cosmetic surgery as a way of life; a face lift, a tummy tuck, breast augmentation, botox etc. For a lot of women, there is that drive to be confident in their own skin. The kind of confidence that years and years of therapy or self-help would never produce. I understand at the end of the day when it is time for bed, it is just us, our bodies and the damn mirror. We all have imperfections and most times these imperfections lead to insecurity.
There are constant reminders of what is considered beautiful. The many commercials that promote this elusive beautiful image to women of all ages, shapes and sizes; coupled with overly photo-shopped models in print ads, editorial spreads and commercials, build-up of impossible standards of beauty that have invoked the feelings of inadequacy among girls, women; and will go as far to include boys and men into the equation. Due to the pressure to consistently be on top of the industry's constant redefined idea of what is considered beautiful, anxiety easily sets in. Therefore, the innate feeling of insecurity that leads to pressure to be noticed by all and at any cost, can bring about the involvement in dangerous image altering processes that could result in long term damages internally or externally; or the worst case scenario – death. There are times I forget what if feels like to look African. To be proud of my size and be confident in my own skin- especially in a world where being artificial is celebrated by an increasingly globalized society. A society that makes people feel counterfeit for daring to be different as opposed to stereotypical. Do not get me wrong, I will say that as an African woman, the Western world has influenced me in a lot of positive ways. I have learned how to fight for my rights as a woman. I have been taught that the sky is the limit to my achievements. I have been given more options with regards to the things I can say, wear or do. I have learned other ways in which to improve myself.
There have been drugs to cure malaria, slow down the spread of HIV etc., and I give credit where credit is due outside and within Africa. So I will say that talking about beauty compared to the big picture seems quite minute because after all is said and done, beauty is only skin deep. I must applaud the African woman and many women around the globe for being confident and for maintaining some sort of balance. We are beautiful whether or not we choose to use the provisions of the entertainment and fashion industries of the world. There are a lot of full figured women, models and actresses drumming on that fact. We do not have to be slim or wrinkle free; and we do not have to fix hair extensions to look more beautiful. Our primary aim is to be comfortable with ourselves first and every other thing ranging from cosmetic surgery to other enhancements becomes secondary. As I typed this article, I listened to Bette Midler belt out the lyrics ‘Go away little girl, they used to say, hey you’re too fat, you’re too wack but this is my world to be who I choose.’ This is my song, this is my movie and this is my moon. So when I wake up each morning, I brush and floss my teeth, looking at myself in the mirror I proclaim - damn I’m fierce!! I unleash my ferocity upon this unsuspecting world because I’m Beautiful Dammit!