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1 Oct

Do you spend £1.5k a month in your appearance,

Author Halima Jibril unpacks why the value of beauty is a lot higher for Black women

Do you spend £1.5k in your appearance monthly, or are you a tramp? 

As absurd as this query could appear, it has dominated online discourse this month – and in fact, all of it began on TikTok. In a now-deleted video, social media personality Marissa Banks went on a rant about beauty maintenance and controversially remarked, “females is not going to need to be seen if their nails, lashes and hair will not be done.” She continued: “Why would you place yourself in a predicament to be seen as a tramp, an ogre, mainly a pest to society?”

Banks then went on to interrupt down beauty maintenance costs (lots of which seemed specific to Black women equivalent to herself) and estimated that girls spend 1.5k on beauty upkeep monthly. 

Many online were appalled by Banks’ comments. Some Twitter users remarked that if you happen to’re willing to spend that much money to make yourself look “presentable”, you will need to really hate yourself. Others commented that only “ugly” people would spend that much money on something as frivolous as beauty. They blamed Banks and others who agreed together with her for their very own insecurities, saying their issues with their appearance and the cash they’re willing to spend on it’s their personal problem. But is it?

Pro-skin/anti-product beauty reporter Jessica DeFino would say no, it isn’t. Banks’ comments were offensive and out of touch for a lot of reasons, but she is just the symptom of a capitalist beauty culture that works against us all. Beauty culture, DeFino explains in her ‘Beauty Culture Is A Public Health Issue’ essay, is built on “systematically breaking down your self-esteem and installing shame in order that it may well then sell “confidence” back to you in the shape of products, procedures and practices.”

It’s this mindset of shame that leads people like Banks to match those that don’t put money into beauty to ‘tramps’, ‘ogres’ and ‘pests to society.’ It creates an environment where people would quite go into debt than stop their beauty maintenance treatments. It’s what holds up a system that provides tangible rewards to those that adhere to the present beauty ideal and oppresses those that don’t. It has been scientifically confirmed, for instance, that there’s an income gap between “attractive” and “unattractive” people. 

For Black women, the pressure is much more intense since they’re working against centuries of prejudice towards their bodies and appearance. In her seminal book, Fearing The Black Body, Sabrina Strings maps out how Western aesthetic ideals developed within the sixteenth century and the way white artists and philosophers promoted racial discourse to create social and moral differences between white and Black people. Albrecht Dürer, the German painter, printmaker and theorist of the German Renaissance, was one among the important thing architects of the aesthetic system of the High Renaissance, which still influences beauty culture today.

Dürer wrote about his contempt for African features in his third book 4 Books on Human Proportion, in 1528. In one among his sketches, generally known as the Berlin Study Sheet, Dürer formulated a picture of society and placed his interpretation of the proper European face on the forefront of humanity. Black people were drawn with exaggerated animalistic features, gazing longingly at the remaining of (white) society. Throughout the aesthetic system of the High Renaissance, pointed noses and thin lips were the peak of beauty. This (and more) resulted within the condemnation of the African face.

500 years later and these European ideals are still informing societal beauty standards today. “Typically there are requests from African-American women for thinner noses, more often than other procedures,” Selika Borst, an RN and assistant director of clinical research for a cosmetic surgery research firm in Chicago, told Essence about cosmetic surgery trends for Black women. “A number of want breast lifts or reductions, as we ethnically have more ample busts and need them to be tauter.”

It’s not only cosmetic surgery. Because the early twentieth century, Black women have been bleaching their skin to achieve a number of the privileges related to whiteness, and relaxing their hair to make sure they’ll secure jobs and attend higher schools – never mind that bleaching and chemical relaxers can burn your skin, cause everlasting damage to the scalp and result in hair loss. Last 12 months when Tessica Brown used Gorilla Glue to slick her hair and edges back after running out of her hair gel, it was a painful reminder of the lengths Black women will go in pursuing beauty in an anti-Black world. 

“There’s a pressure all the time to be ‘on’ and ‘polished’ as a Black girl,” says Kailah Figueroa, editor-in-chief of Mid-Heaven Magazine. “I remember sitting down for hours as a toddler to get my hair done on a Saturday morning. Though I hated sitting within the chair and would get sleepy and annoyed on the constant touching of my scalp, I knew on Monday morning, the compliments I’d receive can be value all of the pain.” Figueroa estimates that the wonder products in her routine cost two-thirds of her paycheck.

In February of this 12 months, The Black Pound Report found that buyers from multi-ethnic backgrounds spend 25 per cent more on health and sweetness products than some other consumer. In 2017, a Nielsen report within the US found that Black women spend almost nine times greater than white women on hair and sweetness. Quite a lot of this increased expenditure on beauty comes not only because Black women are pushed out of beauty culture, but womanhood as well.

“Though I hated sitting within the chair… I knew on Monday morning, the compliments I’d receive can be value all of the pain” – Kailah Figueroa

The idea that black women are unfeminine has been firmly embedded throughout history and has continued into the fashionable day. In 2019, retired tennis superstar Serena Williams was in comparison with a monkey by Romanian TV show host, Radu Banciu. Moreover, in her autobiography Becoming, former First Lady Michelle Obama wrote about how the press and alt-right would masculinize her and speculate that she was in truth a person during her time within the White House. These are the explanations Black women feel pressured to present in ways where their womanhood can’t be denied; why nails and hair feel so vital.

“For Black people, your hair is your crown and your beauty,” says multi-disciplinary artist Dee Jakande. A number of months ago, Jakande made the choice to chop their hair, for reasons including the financial cost of shopping for products. “The pressure was an excessive amount of for me,” they are saying. “I don’t need to think in regards to the way I look anymore.” Because the cut, they’ve had to return to terms with all of the meaning that had been wrapped up of their long hair and sometimes they regret the choice. 

“I feel less pretty with short hair, but it surely’s forced me to research why that’s. Long hair makes me feel feminine and affirms my gender but short hair doesn’t. I try to not get bogged down by that thought an excessive amount of because I give my hair more power than it deserves.”

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