I have struggled for the longest time to create my own definition of what beauty is, while also trying to welcome other people’s ideas of beauty. And I am now finally learning to understand other people’s beauty choices without passing judgement.
It has always been common for black women to braid their hair, but not for me.
At the age of eight, I rejected the expectation for me to braid my hair, not because I view it as unappealing but because of the suggestion that it brought – the suggestion that it is a requirement for me to braid my hair in order to be beautiful.
This is mainly because my community had both subtly and explicitly told me that the hair that was on my head was not good enough.
Whether my hair was in its natural kinky form or whether it was straightened with a relaxer, it was just still not good enough to make me pretty.
I couldn’t and I still don’t understand why.
So I chose to never braid my hair and learnt to live and embrace my own hair. But my decision has since been met with a lot of disdain from people who continue to try and persuade me to braid my hair or get at a weave.
As if being constantly conflicted over which “acceptable” hairstyle to do next isn’t draining enough, another struggle I had in terms of beauty was the expectation of me as a woman to wear make-up.
From my teens I could see that wearing make-up was deemed part and parcel of “officially” being a woman. This is because a lot of women wore makeup, which enhanced certain facial features and made them look prettier. So it was almost as if a woman was undone if she didn’t wear make-up.
I would look at makeup and think, “Why is there this constant need for women to improve their looks?” I had a problem with this.
Makeup also seemed unrealistic. No one’s lips are as red as any shade of red lipstick, so why would I want to wear something that didn’t resemble how most people actually looked?
In short, my decision to not adhere to everyday beauty standards made me critical of women who choose mainstream beauty. Because I had chosen to embrace a more natural look, I began to condemn women who did not think like me in terms of beauty.
I would constantly look at girls with weaves, long braids and make-up and think “you would still look pretty without any make-up on your face or without external hair attached to your head.”
My judgmental views were based on the fact that I assumed all women had weaves and braids because they didn’t like their own hair, because they couldn’t deal with combing and styling their own hair on a daily basis, and because they were obsessed with having long hair.
I believed that women who wore make-up were covering up their pimples and scars. I believed that make-up was the easiest way to be beautiful as it required one to improve their external beauty without improving their internal beauty.
I would always use the words of fashion powerhouse, Yves Saint Laurent about how “the most beautiful make-up of a woman is passion, but cosmetics are easier to buy” to substantiate why inner beauty which reflected on the outside was the truest form of beauty.
Then I realised that by choosing to reject most beauty standards, I also chose to reject the women who adhere to them. I have since opened up my heart to hearing and even trying to understand why people choose to look the way they do.
I have come to understand that some people prefer braids and weaves because they like to try new hairstyles and because they really do feel like it is time-consuming for them to comb their hair every day.
I have also come to realise that women who wear make-up do so because they simply like makeup. I have also realised that make-up isn’t the only source of women’s confidence. Women are already confident in themselves without having to wear makeup.
I am learning to be less critical of other women and the choices they make in terms of how they look simply because there is more to a woman’s beauty choices than meets the eye. I urge all women to be less judgmental as well.