Sunday, 12 June 2016

Efe's Thoughts in June

MY BODY IS NOT A CANVAS


Make-up, jewelley, hair extensions – many a woman's favourite things – just not mine.

My mother started relaxing my hair when I was five years old, I started using weave and extensions around about the the same age and me being the only Italian-Nigerian girl in all my classes, I remember at school all the Italian girls were trying to touch my extensions, feeling the texture of my synthetic hair in wonder as if I was an alien. And in some ways I was alien, because I was not something that they were used to.

Whereas I was jealous of their long, lush, silky hair that they could just tuck behind their ears if their unruly manes was getting in the way. For some reason I was so damn obsessed with being able to tuck my hair behind my ears and whenever I used to get singles done on my hair I would look in the mirror smiling at myself, because I too could tuck my hair behind my ears, and I too could have it in a ponytail if I wanted, or a bun - I could do whatever I wanted, because it was long enough.

And for many years that made me ashamed of my short, picky-picky, African hair that failed to grow past the length of my neck.

Speaking of hair extensions, some time ago, I watched a documentary on the news channel Al Jazeera called ''Hair India” centred around a poor family who cut off their hair at the temple and sacrificed it to their gods. The temple sold their locks to European hair extension companies who supplied to affluent customers, ready to pay good money for human hair.

Now spiritually speaking, and of course many will think it not to be a big deal but for me, something that has been sacrificed to other gods does not dwell well with me. Not that I'm against extensions entirely – but people should be careful what they attach to their hair and who they allow to touch their head.

I faintly remember when my babysitter used a needle to pierce my ears. I remember it. It was painful but in my parent's eye it was necessary pain – it was for my own good. Just like the hundreds of little faded incision scars resting on my parents' body that their parents said despite their cries – would be for their own good – for the protection of the gods would be on them from henceforth.

Now obviously people would look at the latter and say, that that was just pure cruelty to subject a three/four year old child to unwarranted mutilation of their skin, but I could just argue the same for ear piercings.

Recently, I read a beautifully written essay, by Bertie Brandes, 'Pay and Display' and I wholefully agreed at what she said about how beauty is the “end product of a series of culturally enforced routines.”

It is part of the culture. It is so much ingrained into the culture that with all the myriad of make-up and hair tutorials and shopping haul videos on Youtube and fashion and lifestyle blogs gives one the impression that every female on the planet must be into all those things. So even when I myself come across someone who is not into all those things it's almost a shock to the system because a lot of the times I feel like I'm the only girl in the world who is like that.

It goes without saying that the big influence in me being so opposed to all those typically feminine things is due to my upbringing in a Pentecostal Church that discouraged the use of any cosmetic products, hair extensions or jewellery.

I didn't realise it then, but now I realise that it had been the first time I wasn't hiding from who I was physically. And personally I think it's sad that so many children are subconsciously and consciously taught to hide and be repellent of their genetic make-up by the media, friends, parents and inevitably themselves.

I published 'The Untitled Girl', because I was fifteen and I was so uncomfortable with how I looked and I hoped somehow, someway it would help inspire and empower other girls my age to not put stock on their looks but onto who they were as people.

The girls who I went to school with will say that I look the same (granted I may have put on weight here and there). I never have gone through that 'evolution' stage appearance-wise where I find a thousand places on my body where I can fit metal pieces or decide to style or dye my hair differently (though I did briefly think about colouring it grey).

In other words, I stay looking 'basic' and I love it.

When it came to my prom, my sister who can barely understand why I choose to stay looking so 'basic', forced me to put on foundation, eye shadow, lip gloss, then next earrings and lastly some clip on weave. 

Me all 'Prom and Proper'


 

I thought I looked really ugly but when I got to my prom my classmates were pleasantly surprised by how diffent I looked but despite the positive feedback I couldn't have been more eager to wipe the make-up off when I returned home.

To be honest – and I may get some flack for this and frankly I don't care – but a lot of people look like clowns when they wear make-up – and that's including myself. My body is not a canvas that needs to be painted on – it's already painted – dark brown.

This is why I adore Bob Marley and Nina Simone, because they were both so proudly rugged. Bob Marley would walk up on stage with a pair of jeans and shirt that for all I know he picked up from his dirty laundry and Nina – she was a queen who didn't need a crown to prove it.

Roman philosopher Plautus said, “A woman without paint is like food without salt.”
There are so many things strikingly wrong with that statement, but I'd focus on the most obvious one: What do females mean when they use artificial products and say it is to “enhance” their features?

Do the features that we are born with enhance, age or do we just mutilate it and justify our actions by saying ''we're just looking good for ourselves'' therefore it's not for vanity?

Whilst you ponder on that question, I'm going to tell you a little story.

About two years ago, a few of my friends and I were going for a night out to a club that my friend had gone before with a different group of friends. This high-end club has many well-known celebrities frequent there but my friend knew one of the promoters who said was going to get all of us free entry and a table inside.

When it came our turn to be let in – to cut the story short – we didn't get in. I'm going to paraphrase the reply the promoter texted my friend: Sorry but those are not Dstrkt type of girls.

Immediately, I knew that the promoter was referring to me, as I was the one without make up, no false hair, or even a touch of jewellery to compliment my outfit or face. And I'll add dark- skinned too but I'm not even going to get into that.

Next time when my friend wanted to go to the same club with her other friends, the promoter demanded that my friend send pictures of each of the girls to determine, I guess, if they were “Dstrkt type of girls”.

And of course, they were given entry.

In my humble opinion I think that's completely fucked up.

Why is that such a big deal? Aren't we all born fresh-faced?

I'm just that girl who would rather sleep an extra hour than get her hair and face looking “proper” for work.
I'm just that girl who tends to be the first one ready out of her friends for a night out because I'm not standing infront of the mirror contouring my face.
I'm just that girl.

But the pressure to achieve these Euro-centric standards of beauty is more pronounced when I can't even go to any chain-supermarkets and be able to purchase hair shampoo for my type of hair, instead I have to make a separate shopping trip.

Or, I can't turn the pages of popular magazines without seeing the token dark-skinned model with straight hair or if the creative directors, or whoever is in charge of the shoot, are taking a trip to the wild side they might just have the model rocking her natural curls in an afro.

And it's only when a female celebrity posts a picture of themselves without make-up as some feminist social statement that others feel inspired to join in and post their make-upless selfies.

But wouldn't it be so much better if the effort and money and time we put into making ourselves 'look good' on the outside was put into making our souls better?

The only “cosmetic” product I can spend good money on would be perfumes – like think about it, you would be more likely to sit next to a woman who was bare-faced but smelt real good than a woman with a pancaked face but smelt awful.

And this is my ending note: Looks do not last, but the scent of a woman lingers on.

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