“Andromeda, supposedly the most beautiful woman in the world, was however from Nubia and therefore black.” My memory of this “however” in a Greek mythology textbook, it has haunted me – through my adolescence, and long into adulthood – with its assertion, both explicit and implicit, of the contradiction between being black and being beautiful.
This clearly was not simply one author’s prejudice; when I was young it was reflected in the absence of black women in the beauty and fashion industry. Black women, apparently, did not wear make-up, hair spray or perfume. Or worse, the marketers knew we bought their products but were so ashamed of the results they preferred not to advertise to us.
While many in the feminist movement rightly spoke out against the objectification of white women, they largely failed to notice an entirely different exclusion – of black women. There are many valid criticisms of the fashion and beauty industry: the pressure on girls, and increasingly boys, to match unhealthy body images, the airbrushing of reality from the pages of glossy magazines, the impact of packaging on the environment – but it has an important role to play in the normalisation of blackness.
That is why I am hosting tomorrow’s launch of the Black Beauty and Fashion Awards 2017 in parliament. The awards aim to promote equality and celebrate diverse beauty, giving consumers of black beauty products a voice that can be heard clearly.
We have come a long way since I was growing up – there are now supermodels with darker skin tones, and just about every fashion advert has the apparently obligatory Afro. But there is still a long way to go.
The norm remains white, even for me.
Advertising to a society will reflect that society. A society with few black women in it will have few black women in advertisements. The point of such advertising being “Buy this product and this could be you!”
There aren’t that many gingers used in advertising in Nigeria. When the UK had rather fewer with copious melanin there were rather fewer with copious melanin in advertising here.
This is not unusual nor an outrage – it’s normal.