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Is your makeup routine a product of colonisation?

Every day for most of my life I’ve watched my mother draw one line of Kohl or eyeliner in each eye, almost like some sort of sacred ritual, an ode to being Egyptian. With just that simple line draw in her waterline, my mother transformed into Nefertiti, queen of ancient Egypt. I think this is why I began wearing makeup, I wanted to channel my roots, get as close to my own culture as I could and legitimise my ‘Egyptianess’ to the world, but I think it was more of an internal need to belong to something and to reject all the standards the where laid upon me throughout my life by western society; beauty standards that I was subconsciously forced to live up to but could never achieve.

What even are beauty standards anyway? Well, it seems that in our society they are the guidelines to being the ‘ideal’ embodiment of femininity, or in other words, the celebration of whiteness. Abiding by these standards ensures success in both our personal lives and professionally. To be honest, before deciding to write about this topic I truly thought these standards of beauty were behind us, that we finally lived in a society where we could embrace our natural features and abide by what beauty means to us as individuals, but then I asked myself “how did I get to this point where I am able to embrace my bushy eyebrows, hairy arms, wide eyes and curly hair?” - it’s because white people let me. When white women decide that something is a trend like “Feather brows”, tanned skin or unibrows, we women of colour are then allowed to recover the parts of us that we erased to be like the people we saw on billboards and in magazines. We have to reset the internalised struggle and rejection of our own natural beauty that we were made to overlook and deform in some ways, but how do we get back to a place of loving how we look when we were really never allowed to.

Over the past few years, people with non-straight hair have advocated and fought to be allowed the ability to wear their hair naturally in the workplace and schools and it seems to be working. However, we must recognise that being allowed to look a certain way is a lot different to feeling comfortable looking that way. Just because society tells me I no longer have to relax my hair, does not also mean I suddenly feel empowered and comfortable wearing my curls out. The damage has been done (both physically and mentally) and so it’s exhausting to not only have to fight to be seen and accepted but also to unlearn and reembrace my natural features. At least now that I’ve reclaimed my beauty and feel comfortable in my own skin, no one can take it away from me and I won’t change just because white influencers decide to go back to straight hair, shaved arms and thin brows (although I do think we all have realised that the thin brows were a BIG mistake).

So we’ve worked on changing societies views on hair, but what about everything else? People of colour’s internalised hatred and shame towards their natural looks, which mostly are subconscious, are what elevate the idea that whiteness is the only way to being beautiful. It is clear that the path to living in a world where my bushy eyebrows, hairy arms and chubby cheeks are embraced, is to recognise the subjectivity of beauty and to work on our collective empowerment.

However, what if your idea of decolonising beauty is having your afro out, deciding to wear the hijab or growing out your unibrow and then you’re rejected in your workplace, told you can’t come in like that, what do you do? We must remember that beauty is a component of power and that being perceived as beautiful allows for increased power in professional settings as well as within our social circles. So to not have to continue to conform to ideals that we’ll never be able to achieve, in a world where whiteness is the standard of beauty, we must speak up and fight to be seen. It’s exhausting but it is worth it because we all deserve to be respected, accepted and seen the way we’d like to be and when you truly love yourself that feeling of content is what will dismantle this system of oppression.

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Words by Lena Elghamry


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