African Beauty: Black Is Beautiful!

African beauty: black

They say assume, claim their africanity, but have a clear complexion and measurements that would not be the same on the Western podiums. You said schizophrenia?

Salsa endiablée, multicolored spotlights, podium draped in white and sodas galore … The organizers of Miss Fespam 2015 took out the great game, at the end of July, to crown the most beautiful black woman of the continent on the stage of the palace of the Congresses of Brazzaville. Oddly, the Panafrican Music Festival has also been declared a beauty contest for eight editions. And this is the opportunity to separate anatomical bombs from all over Africa, mostly Miss in their country.

Before colonization, blacks assumed their frizzy hair. After independence, everything has changed “

Since it is not only physics that counts, the contest provides a great oral (fortunately non-eliminatory) in which each candidate answers a question. “Should the African woman look like Western women to be beautiful? The young ladies asked. ” No ! They reply consensually.

Mariam Traoré, Miss Mali, has the malice to emphasize that it would be “absurd” to demand from their white sisters that they try to copy them. And yet the silhouette of this future lawyer of 22 years, 50 kg for 1.70 m, corresponds precisely to Western beauty canons. Like most of her podium neighbors, she is tall, long-lined, and has fine features. Better: before being capped for the parade, Miss Mali sported pretty blond locks. Smoothing, weaving, extensions … Neither she nor any of her sisters had kept her natural hair.

The diktat of the white beauty

Behind the scenes, it is the hairdresser and make-up artist Nadeen Mateky, accustomed to the cinema lodges, who tried to reshape their haircuts to form true sculptures based on braids.

On almost all the globe, a clear epidermis is considered synonymous with beauty and richness

“Before the colonization,” explains he, “the blacks assumed their hair frizzy. Photographs of the nineteenth-century archives testify to the splendid headdresses that the Africans had at the time: they decorated their hairstyles with bits of wool, threads, pearls, straw … After independence, everything Rocking. The former slaves were tempted to resemble whites. Smoothing but also skin whitening have become marks of pride, symbols of power. The big winner of Miss Fespam 2015, the Ivorian Hyllen Legré, was also the one with the clearest complexion.

The practice of money laundering has spread widely throughout the continent, but also in the Middle East, South America, Asia and even the United States. Almost all over the globe, a clear epidermis is considered synonymous with beauty and richness. “Here, it is often men who ask their wives to clarify,” says Nadeen Mateky. They are executed to feel desired. In the beauty institute that looks after the Miss, in Brazza, a make-up artist adds, smiling: “Men also bleach the skin, even if they talk less … Many even get epilated. “

A giant screen sits in the living room and loops through clips. In a blond cloud, Beyoncé and her caramel skin make a brief appearance. “African youth are getting videos of music channels like Trace TV and MTV,” comments Spike, a former TV producer who has worked with the music industry and manages Miss Fespam’s communication. These clips reinforce the stereotypes: to succeed, to go out with a star or to feel beautiful, one must be pale and have smooth hair … But what the spectators do not know is that the models are often Latin American and That the color of their skin is cleared up during post-production! “

A juicy market

Manufacturers of cosmetics take advantage of this fantasy of whiteness. The shelves of the beauty salon in Brazzaville, where the Miss are preparing themselves, offer complete ranges of “lightening soaps”, “lightening creams for the body” and even a “lightening system for the knees and elbows”, because the use of Miracle lotions darkens the joints … and betrays the followers of whitening.

Behind all these balms, it is a gigantic and juicy market that is looming. Deleted some fifteen years ago by small specialized brands, the sector is now increasing the turnover of heavyweights such as L’Oreal, Clarins or Klorane. According to a survey by the ethnic marketing agency Ak-a dating from 2010, women with black and mestizo skin can spend five to eight times more for their beauty products than their Caucasian “sisters”.

Two years ago, at the World Retail Congress Africa, the Afro-market beauty was valued at 6.93 billion euros, with a spectacular increase of 10% per year. The emergence of a middle class and the demographic growth on the continent now justify major investments in the sector by industry giants, number one, Unilever.

Concealment of hazards

The brands evoke the “coquetry” and “imaginativity” of African women to justify their ability to easily put their hand to the wallet. But none speaks of the dangers incurred. They were nevertheless recorded in France by the Ministry of Health ( Lightening lotions may contain hydroquinone, which causes the eruption of small pimples; Cortisone, which can lead to the appearance of hairs, acne, stretch marks and promotes hypertension; Or even mercury derivatives causing kidney problems, or even skin cancers.

Some potions sold on the Net or in the markets do not even specify their composition … And relaxing products are just as dangerous. “A cream is usually combined with acid before spreading the mixture that permeates the scalp and penetrates the skin,” says Nadeen Mateky. Now these acids are very harmful. Women who constantly break down develop diseases, such as alopecia: in some places, the hair falls off and does not grow back. “

Black is beautiful

It is the awareness of the risks involved and the willingness to assume its difference that has led the hairdresser to refuse to use products relaxing in recent years. And it is not the only one: in a study of 2012, the agency Ak-a revealed that 39% of the French women of African origin no longer used straightening. The movement “nappy” (contraction of natural and happy) also went through there, although the temptation of afro does not date from today. Angela Davis, a Black Panthers activist , or Jimi Hendrix, made their spectacular blazers a banner of their identity claims half a century ago.

However, according to many testimonies, in 2015, girls who try a big-chop (cutting all the straightened part of the hair to leave only frizzy regrowth) are stigmatized in their family and their place of work . “I’d like to return to a natural beauty, try an afro cup, but it takes a lot of self-confidence,” says Miss Mali. “It takes time to take up, philosopher near her Miss Cameroon. If we listened to the boys, we would always be too thin, too big or we would have the skin too dark to please them … But that never prevented us from running after! “


In early April, another international competition made the Congolese vibrate: the election of Miss Mama Kilo. Conditions to introduce yourself? Be at least 30 years old, be flexible, know how to dance … and weigh at least 100 kg. It is finally an appetizing quadra by Brazza, Nelly Josiane Okombi, 150 kg all round, which took the first place of the podium. A contest of the same name has existed in Cameroon since 2006, while other voluptuous beauties are elected in Côte d’Ivoire (Miss Awoulaba) and Senegal (Miss Diongoma). Objective of these extraordinary competitions: to decomplex strong women, but also to claim a certain conception of African beauty flourishing in generous breasts and hypertrophied buttocks.

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