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4 Oct

Emma Dabiri: ‘Beauty culture is a mirrored image of

Ahead of the discharge of her recent book Disobedient Bodies, we spoke to the creator about finding joy in spirituality and capitalism’s impact on women’s self-image

How do our surroundings determine our relationship with our body image? Growing up Irish and Nigerian, creator and broadcaster Emma Dabiri’s concept of beauty has long been defined by Eurocentric standards and what was deemed most desirable on the time (big boobs and a thigh gap). But on a journey of self-reclamation, she has learnt that beauty isn’t a physical entity, but a way of being.

In her latest book, Disobedient Bodies, the creator of Don’t Touch My Hair and What White People Can Do Next unpacks age-old notions of beauty and divulges how the expectations and demands around it are completely contradictory. Disobedient Bodies grapples with the complicated and messy history of beauty, and the way our continuously evolving (yet at all times unattainable) standards are entrenched in oppressive systems that hold us back.

From the Enlightenment period to the witch hunts of early modern Europe, this essay makes historical connections to our contemporary beauty standards which were steadily ignored. Taking the reader on a journey that charts her changing view of herself, from preparing for teenage parties to her reference to Nigerian and Irish culture, Dabiri takes our understanding of beauty beyond the surface.

It’s an essay that calls for a radical reimagination and holistic reclamation of beauty, one which challenges us to reject the views of ‘mind and body’ as distinct entities and cherish the world around us. We spoke to Dabiri ahead of the book’s release.

Within the book, you delve into history, from colonialism to the witch hunts of Europe and the Inclosure Acts within the UK. Why are all of those events relevant to our modern concept of beauty today?

Emma Dabiri: I used to be very all for the thought in Western philosophy that the mind and the body are separate. That has been developed and entrenched and refined over centuries, and it’s a dominant concept in Western discourse. Inside that, men got here to be related to the mind, rationality and intellect, and all this stuff that were superior to the domain that ladies were confined in, which was the body, which is ‘irrational’. There’s a hierarchy between the 2; it’s really gendered. Why is it that ladies are judged to such a powerful degree on their appearance excess of men are? Because men are historically seen as having other contributions to make, but women became reimagined as decorative objects.

The spaces where women could display knowledge and power were spaces that were historically attacked, so women’s role in society actually became increasingly circumscribed. Before the transformation to capitalism, women throughout the family unit had access to land and their work wasn’t seen as subservient to man’s work. I used to be going into all of that to explore why women had been reduced to the status of objects and because of this of that reduction in status, why their appearance got here to be something that was used as a measurement of their value.

“Inside this method, it appears that evidently irrespective of what you appear to be you might be suffering from insecurity” – Emma Dabiri

We will’t speak about body image and wonder without talking about social media. You write that there was a ‘representational revolution’ online where the bodies we see are more diverse than ever, but despite that, many ladies feel under much more pressure to look a certain way. Why is that?

Emma Dabiri: Something that I find interesting is the concept that representation or diversity is the panacea to all of this. Say you’re a slim, white woman with straight hair. You see yourself represented on a regular basis. But most slim, white women with straight hair I do know don’t feel good in regards to the way they give the impression of being. Additionally they feel shit in regards to the way they give the impression of being. Inside this method, it appears that evidently irrespective of what you appear to be you might be suffering from insecurity. If representation was the answer, the people who find themselves represented could be superb, they usually’re not superb.

I feel that pressure has turn into really accelerated with social media. Due to what is occurring on social media we do live on this world where the sorts of women which can be represented would have been unimaginable to me once I was a teen, so there’s been progress in that aspect. However the importance that we attach to the best way that we glance is heightened. We live on this visual economy, so inside that landscape the best way you look is of omnipotent importance because there’s a currency with images.

We live in a time of big inequality and precarity, and never numerous stability or reliability, so the things that our parents’ generation could have expected which type of gilded the cage of capitalism – like housing and job security – has been removed for numerous people. Social media is one in every of the places where there may be an accessible way of being successful and of making a profession. When a lot of that is decided by the best way that you just look, there may be more pressure to compete in those spaces, because there are real rewards when you look ‘the fitting way’ within the visual economy.

One other thing you write about is how now we actually have romanticised the thought of cosmetic procedures through the lens of bodily autonomy and empowerment. How do you are feeling about this?

Emma Dabiri: I feel there’s a blurring of the lines between female empowerment and autonomy and just reproducing patriarchal norms under the illusion of alternative. The alternatives on offer will not be necessarily liberatory in the event that they’re happening inside a paradigm that’s unhealthy. A concept that may be applied to that is when Fred Moten and Stefano Harney in The Undercommons talk in regards to the politics of refusal: that’s, refusing all the selections on offer and striving for something that exists outside of those selections. Not attempting to win the sport, but refusing to play the sport.

You write about your personal experience with getting glam, having fun with make-up and all things beauty, which is something I can massively relate to. But when beauty has turn into this polarising force, how will you heal that relationship?

Emma Dabiri: I at all times thought the side of me that was political was at odds with the a part of me that was all for clothes and make-up. There have been times once I would attempt to suppress my interest in things that were deemed frivolous; I went through a period of trying to decorate in a more serious approach to be taken more seriously. Now, somewhat than seeing the 2 things as a contradiction, I actually see them as part of an entire.

I also feel that aesthetics must be a part of the various things that we will enjoy about having senses. There’s an excessive amount of emphasis placed on the best way things look, but that’s to not say that the best way things look is totally immaterial, either. The things that William Morris railed against were the inequalities perpetuated by capitalism, but in addition what he perceived because the ugliness that was perpetuated by capitalism. He believed that things were beautiful through their design but in addition their usefulness. This concept of usefulness being beautiful was something that I saw lots throughout the Indigenous cultures that I checked out, which was really in contrast to the form of uselessness that was demanded of ladies on this culture where women were just seen as these decorative objects or trophy wives.

You write in regards to the growing popularity of spiritual practices and a few of the practices that you just’ve adopted that make you are feeling embodied. Do you are feeling that the recognition of those practices is an attempt for ladies to tap back into their bodies and feel present?

Emma Dabiri: I feel it’s definitely zeitgeisty now, but I feel it’s because we’ve got been so disconnected from ourselves and likewise from practices and from rituals. There’s a recognition that intentional ritual is a very vital feature of with the ability to tap back into yourself and being connected with others. I feel our lifestyle has disconnected us from intentional ritual and there’s very much a powerful desire for people to reacquaint themselves with those practices.

What would a reimagining of body image and wonder from a person experience to a collectivist one appear to be?

Emma Dabiri: One among the concepts that I discovered really incredible was something in Yoruba culture, and it was also very similar in Navajo culture. There’s this concept that the goal to aspire to is harmony and balance, somewhat than perfection, and the notion that beauty shouldn’t be this visual, physical entity. Beauty shouldn’t be something that may just be seen as a physical feature, but exists within the relationships between things, somewhat than within the thing itself.

We live in an economic and social system that incentivises and demands our worst tendencies. But you may live in a unique form of society that tries to mitigate against those things somewhat than encouraging and incentivising them, like societies which can be oriented towards community somewhat than competition. That’s going to essentially feed into the best way people behave towards each other, how they afford value to themselves and to other people. Our beauty culture is a mirrored image of our wider political and economic climate.

Disobedient Bodies: Reclaim Your Unruly Beauty by Emma Dabiri is published tomorrow by Profile Books X Wellcome Collection. It accompanies the The Cult of Beauty, a serious exhibition on the Wellcome Collection, open from 26 October 2023 – 28 April 2024. Emma will even be in conversation with Pandora Sykes at Brixton House on 18 October; for tickets visit fane.co.uk/emma-dabiri.


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