1 May 2011

Guest Post: Beauty

As summer approaches and women throw off the shackles of winter coats, 40 denier tights and boots and dare to don less, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be truly beautiful. Whether the flocks of teenage girls I will see this summer revealing too much flesh and too little modesty have a clue? I see beautiful women every day; in the market, on the bus, on the street - not the kind of women you’d see on a billboard, or a music video, or even the archetypal woman most men would find attractive and yet these women inspire me. After reading Belle’s experience of a woman willing to destroy her own natural beauty for a fictional image of beauty, I was deeply saddened. (view here) The result was a lazy bank holiday spent contemplating my own definition of ‘beauty’ and what I’ll tell my children it means to be beautiful.

Believe in your own beauty.
It’s a lesson I have to re-learn every day, as my senses are bombarded with reasons to hate myself. We live in a society crafted by marketeers, selling us an ideal of beauty rooted in the unachievable. It is a myth, a fallacy, the perfect embodiment of a lie. And yet like a drug we seek it, we crave it, we revere it; believing ourselves flawed should we not achieve it. The irony of course is that ‘it’ – this sense of beauty we so esteem - is indescribable, is indefinable, is an object of mystery, best described by what ‘it’ is not (fat, short, coarse hair, no make up, small features, plain, ordinary, poor), than what ‘it’ is (hmmm, I guess the converse of everything it is not). We have been conned, duped into believing we are not good enough – we are not beautiful. Why??... To keep us buying products, expensive make up, the longest and straightest weaves/wigs, bleaching our skin/ hair, starving ourselves, and impairing our bodies with liposuction and breast augmentation.

Prosthelytize my sisters - It’s time to spread the message, to distil the myth and dispel the crippling conventions of the past. Beauty is confidence and strength, style and substance; it is hard working, it is tenacious and passionate, it is the will to change and the courage to try – We are ‘it’, ‘it’ is us, we are beauty manifest. 

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Forget waiting for the big moments in life - like when you’ve lost ten kilos, your birthday, a promotion at work; make a change now – today! However big or small, embrace and learn from it. Should it work, wonderful that’s another hairstyle you’ve pulled off, or outfit that elicited praise, or nail colour that accentuated your beautiful skin tone. Should it not work, then you take it is a lesson in what your body suits. I guarantee there will be greater successes than failures and along the way you might learn something about yourself.

Pretty faces last awhile; a beautiful character is remembered a lifetime.  The most beautiful people I know are full of wisdom, warmth, grace, dignity, empathy, joy and laughter. Whether they are thin, tall, have European features (let us not pretend this isn’t still an issue in the black community), or light skin (and this) doesn’t even feature. Their inner beauty is so radiant it defines their very being.

Utilise what is unique to you.
Don’t shy away from the very things that make you different to everybody else (we need to instil that among the hoards of young people for whom acceptance lies in assimilation). Highlight what is unique and interesting about you and showcase it to the world. As an African living in London I take every opportunity to show off the rich tradition of fabrics from Ghana. I create my own designs inspired by European and African fashion.  The radiant colours and cut of the cloth accentuate my skin tone and shape. Only yesterday as my cornrows reached new heights of messiness, with no money for a salon appointment, I found an old piece of cloth and wrapped it in one of Belle’s infamous turbans. Wearing jeans, a t-shirt and flat shoes, the headscarf was the centre piece of my outfit.

Trust yourself to know what is best for you.
Not the magazines, not the arrogant presenter on TV, not the music videos – YOU!

You and only you define your own beauty.

To the beautiful people in my life, I salute you. Thank you for being my life muses.

Calamity Jane


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