How White Standards of Beauty Hurts Africans

Written by PlayBack

By Marissa Johnson

Atlanta Star posted a thought-provoking video on its page concerning white standards of beauty. Most of the video is in cartoon form with some sporadic African dancing and images of black skin with white powder on it.

A girl and her sister are getting their hair braided in a hair shop. They bear through the pain of the braiding. Their grandmother tells them that braiding their hair with fake hair extensions makes their hair look “better” and “easier to manage.”

That kind of “wisdom” is passed from one generation to another. Slowly, Africans are beginning to believe stereotypes about themselves, like that lighter is better and that African hair in its natural state isn’t beautiful or worth the effort the maintain.

In the video, the hairdresser has bleached her hands and face in an effort to look whiter, but she could not afford to bleach her whole body. Instead, she looked yellow.

The lightness hierarchy even exists within families. One of the two sisters who was getting her hair braided said “She [her sister] is chocolate. I am toffee.” This is reminiscent of the kinds of ethnic wars started in Africa between two ethnic groups simply because one group had lighter skin than the other group.

This divisiveness was caused by European colonial invasion and the Europeans’ decision to rank those with lighter skin as closer to being white. Therefore, the lighter an African was, the more likely he or she was able to become part of the elite class. White or lightness is power in Africa.

Honestly, the idea that African hair is much more difficult to manage than Caucasian hair is a myth. If white hair was so much easier to manage, white people wouldn’t need perms, hair stylists, the latest flat irons and curling wands or all of the products made for frizzy hair or for thin, limp hair. Each hair texture has its own quirks that need to be worked out.

So, how can we stop this misinformation that has been passed from generation to generation? Videos can help in this modern age. The natural hair movement and campaigns like “My Black is Beautiful” are also really helpful. For real change, however, there need to be more celebrities embracing their natural hair textures. Also, magazines need to quit airbrushing ethnic celebrities to make them look whiter.

Psychologically, it might take several generations to undo the damage caused by the systematic employment of white standards of beauty. Some black women, for instance, have been told by their employers not to wear their natural hair free because it is “distracting.”

The solution is not going to be a straightforward and easy one. However, the first step is for the black community to recognize that it’s an issue and to start the conversation about how to give young black women the confidence to be themselves.


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