The feat is reminiscent of the one recorded 18 years ago when Agbani Darego became the first native African to win the Miss World Beauty pageant. The ecstasy and frenzied excitement that followed Zozibini Tunzi’s victory at the 2019 installment of the Miss Universe competition is understandable, This time around, it’s not just a black woman clinching the coveted crown, it’s a black woman with short, natural hair beating more than 90 other women whom society would have considered a better semblance of acceptable beauty in the modern world.
More than ever before, hair is a big deal for women, with many women preferring to wear hair extensions in varying lengths and textures. So to have a beauty queen stake a claim and going on to win one of the most prestigious pageants in the world is not just gutsy, but instructive too.
Zozibini was right when she alluded to growing up in a society where women with her kind of hair and skin were not deemed beautiful. It is no exaggeration. If it were, the concoctors and peddlers of bleaching creams would not be smiling to the bank.
We may deny it in the most vehement manner, but the reality is that the current definition of outward beauty revolves around fair skin, long hair, and big butt. It is not fashionable to be dark or be content with leaving one’s natural features untouched. But now, with the South African’s statement on the big stage, it’ll be unsurprising to see more young women opting to keep their hair short and shunning the plethora of skin enhancement products in the market.
In case you haven’t realised it, the narrative of what constitutes beauty will always be dynamic.
There will never be a time when the vast majority of humanity will agree on what makes a person visually appealing especially as it relates to the female gender.
A few decades ago, the possession of lithe features was the widely accepted standard of beauty—thin lips, tiny waist, long flowing hair, thin, long legs—and a small behind. Women became obsessed with their body weight, they starved themselves; some becoming anoxic or bulimic as a result. Models were not left out, even though they already had the kind of body that others would kill to have, they were under pressure to be even slimmer. The trend then was to be a size zero, and not a few of them suffered from depression as an aftermath of their fixation on shedding the pounds.
If you were a plus-size in that era, you were ugly. You had no place near the runway unlike what we have these days where brands and corporate bodies are more inclined to include models of different shapes and sizes in their campaigns. Fleshy ladies had to either be bursting from a huge dose of self-confidence to propagate their own narrative of what beauty represents or consent to what society thought.
Enter J.Lo, the game-changer.
In the early 2000s, the Latina-American actress almost singlehandedly changed the perception of feminine beauty. All of a sudden, curves, dark hair and big booty edged out thin limbs and blonde hair. Every woman who cared about her physical looks wanted the J.Lo body and would do the most to get it. Cosmetic surgery became mainstream, heavier women grew in confidence; they now had someone who looked like them as one of the sexiest women in the world.
Over the years, the standard of beauty has continued to evolve. These days, women get botox to gift themselves thick lips, something that was hitherto considered unsightly. Ample bosoms became attractive and more African women are electing to retain their kinky hair rather than go the usual route of altering its state with relaxers.
For the unsure, attempting to keep up with the constantly changing optics of what constitutes beauty is always going to be a frustrating journey. Beauty is like the wind, it can blow in any direction. It’s the reason people of colour should not get too excited about Africa’s triumph at the Miss Universe pageant or about the fact that blacks are currently dominating beauty pageant competitions.
It was bound to happen at some point. If a particular look or body image is the yardstick of beauty for too long, people are going to get bored.
Soon enough, the narrative will swing again. Sparse hair and rabbit dentition might be the new cool. Hyperpigmentation and pixie ears might be considered the cream of the crop when it comes to beauty.
For the discerning, the best approach is to be at peace with how they look, recognising that it’s akin to a suicide mission to continually strive to attain society’s chameleonic beauty standards.