In recent times, women of African descent within many industrialized nations have begun to garner significant financial, social and political standings.
This phenomenon finds its expression especially within the confines of the United States of America. With the emergence of such figures as Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks and more recently Michelle Obama, African American women have started to establish themselves within previously male dominated industries and have thus increased their visibility within exclusive social and political circles.
With the status of some women of African descent ascending to exceedingly high societal echelons, rather new dimensions have started to develop in relation to the physical images projected of Black women.
Images of prominent African American women depicting strength, poise and sophistication have cascaded through many of the traditional media outlets as well as the internet. Much of the visuals depicting this relatively small but increasingly influential group not only serve to influence fashion styles but also function to expand the publics’ general sensibilities in terms of what is aesthetically acceptable as well as that which is not.
While a plethora of fashions and hair styles worn by these celebrities, have been continually presented to the world, one feature of the African aesthetic has been absent.
African hair and related styles have largely seen an increase in acceptance by women of color around the world. Many women of African descent determined to redefine present day standards of beauty – many of which find their origins in Europe – have shed the wearing of perms and straight hair weaves, and have instead, insisted on and embraced what is naturally theirs – African hair.
In the face of this growing trend however, no such movement from those African American women belonging to what may be considered the “power elite” has surfaced.
Oprah Winfrey has not, even on occasion, worn an afro during the taping of her popular talk show. Tyra Banks has never filmed a season of America’s Next Top Model in which she, week in and out, wore her hair in African locks. Lastly, the dawning of an African hair style by Michelle Obama would be deemed by many – even in the African American community – as an affront to beauty and subsequently an act unworthy of that of a “First Lady.”
With this pervasive and pathological rejection of this feature of the African aesthetic prevailing from those who are widely considered to be our communities’ role models, one question must be asked. What are African American women of influence without African hair?
The answer to this question may yield a startling but valid depiction of what many famous African American women have allowed themselves to become. For a woman of
African descent to wear her hair in a manner that is completely foreign to that which is innately intended is to reject in large measure “the self.” This phenomenon is made exceedingly worse, by virtue of the fact; this group of women has not only rejected to a significant extent themselves but has accepted a standard of beauty which they can never reach.
To abuse one’s hair, whether by straightening comb or through the use of chemicals, in a nebulous and futile attempt to obtain and maintain a pseudo image of a European woman, is to yield to a power which the individual feels is greater than she. An African American woman who practices such a ritual rooted in self contempt has essentially reduced herself to a mere figment of her own imagination. The prevailing image, in relation to beauty, embedded in such an individual’s mind is that of a woman whom she can never become. This paradigm serves to perpetually undermine any feelings of equality – and even more still any feelings of superiority – on the part of the mimicker in relation to that which is being mimicked.
Furthermore, this state of affairs merits an especially significant measure of absurdity considering the fact these African American women of note perpetually chase an image of a woman who is largely void of the financial, social and political resources they possess. This behavior on the part of many of these women of high
regard, suggests that if it were possible for them to become a woman of another ethnicity they would conceivably surrender all of their fortunes to achieve this state.
As more African American women enter into the ranks of those for whom resources are seemingly endless, the image of the Black woman will continue to evolve. If the acceptance of African hair is continually met with avoidance, women of African descent will have once again reduced themselves to that of perpetual “runner up” on the world stage of beauty. They will never fully realize their esteem and an almost timeless scar on the face of mother Africa will again grow deeper.
We may only hope these acts of self denial will one day cease; that we may see mother Africa’s beauty once again.
Frederick Alexander Meade is an educator and journalist providing analysis on social and political matters. His works appear in news magazines and publications around the country. Meade, who lives in Atlanta, GA, can be reached by E-mail at email@example.com