I have been asking myself this question for a long time, and I have come to the conclusion that the ideals of beauty are ever changing.
Beauty is a perception that is dependent on the culture and environment surrounding the individual. My initial contact with beauty started with my mother. She didn’t particularly wear much makeup, but she would sometimes line her eyes with ‘tiro’ (black kohl) and apply some lipstick. She wore bright, beautiful, African print dresses that were tailor-made for her body. Most importantly, she carried herself with confidence, which we might call ‘swag’ in this day and age. I remember wanting to be just like her. Today, I live in New York — the melting pot of the world — and am constantly bombarded with different images that, in a way, affect the way I think of beauty.
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The ideals that I carried with me as a child were more simplistic: make-up was simply tiro-lined eyes and lipstick. Those ideals are changing, and now, I want a perfectly contoured face with the sexiest pout. I also think that a few pounds off my hour glass frame would be much better. I might not have felt that way if I had stayed in my home country, Nigeria.
The media also contributes to these ever-changing ideals. Artists like Beyoncé or Halle Berry (who seem to be every black man’s dream) strut on red carpets with outfits that some of us can only imagine donning. They have teams that create these looks: the hairstylist, the makeup artist, the stylist and their assistants. We crave to be like them or to look like them.
Certain brands like Dove and Covergirl also brandish campaigns that encourage us to love the skin we are in. Yet, some of these brands, in a way, renege on that ideal by telling us in subtle ways that lighter skin just might be better or that we have to be ‘retouched’ to be beautiful. Case in point, Dove’s ‘Campaign For Real Beauty’ has been receiving some backlash and bad talk because the ad was to celebrate authentic, unadulterated womanhood, yet it turns out that the images used for the Dove campaign had been heavily retouched by Pascal Dangrin, known as the world’s “premier 'retoucher' of fashion photographs.”
Despite all the media hoopla, the cultural and environmental exchanges, I have come to the realization that I have to define my own ideals. I can marry everything that I have ever known, but I understand that I have to identify what beauty means for me. And we can all do the same: We all define our individual ideals of beauty.