DeColonaise: The Intersection of Pretty and Politics
What does it mean to be beautiful when you are a Black woman? Does it mean light skin? Can you have short hair? Do you need to be on the thick side or is it okay to be skinny? Are light eyes prettier than dark? Is a slender nose more attractive than wider nostrils?
If there are any “correct” answers to these questions, historically, the “right” responses would point toward anything that reflects European women as the standard of beauty. That is because Black beauty was considered a paradoxical phrase within the white worldview. Judged from the oppressive dominant culture, the two words repelled each other like the opposite ends of magnets. Simply put, African features were viewed as nothing short of ugly to the point that even Black people, ourselves, started to believe these terrible untruths.
The Black is Beautiful campaigns of Marcus Garvey in the early 20th century and the Black Power movement of the 1960s encouraged Black men and women to embrace our bodies and the unique sizes, shapes and shades in which they come. Media outlets have also diversified their imagery to disrupt the norm of whiteness as ideal. Subsequently, measures of beauty have slowly broadened to include Blackness.
In 2019, for the first time ever, five Black women held titles in major beauty pageants: Kaliegh Garris, Miss Teen USA; Nia Franklin, Miss America; Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA; Zozibini Tunzi, Miss Universe; and Toni-Ann Singh, Miss World.
Along similar lines, as of March 2021, eight states across the country passed the long overdue CROWN Act which effectively struck down discriminatory policies that restrict Black hairstyles in schools and professional workplaces.
However, the extent to which Black women believe in our own beauty remains undetermined. Skin bleaching creams are still used by those who see lighter complexions as more appealing than the glow of their brown skin. And, interestingly enough, an increasing number of Black women are surgically altering their bodies to take on fuller figures.
Not to mention, the results of the famous “doll test” administered by Kenneth and Mamie Clark remain relevant almost 75 years later. The Clarks’ 1947 research showed that out of the 253 Black children they interviewed, nearly two thirds preferred a white doll over an identical Black doll. In 2020, my own six-year-old daughter joined that majority when naming which Barbie she wanted for Christmas. Thirty years ago, when I was her age, I made that same choice for a holiday gift of my own. And just as I questioned my daughter about why she would pass up the brown-skinned Skipper that looked just like her for the one with blond hair and blue eyes, my mother expressed her concern to me when I made a similar selection.
Between the infamy of racist Blackface portrayals, an inundation of fair-skinned, silky-haired models on magazine covers and the appropriation of Black culture that is more often offensive than flattering, the journey to appreciating the beauty of Blackness has been long and hard. However, like women of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and other Black Power advocacy groups, the African National Women’s Organization is fighting the negative narrative of Black beauty through its skin and haircare line, DeColonaise.
Branded as “A Revolution for Your Hair and Body”, DeColonaise is produced and sold by a Black woman, for Black women. With its butters, oils, soaps and sprays all named in a fighting spirit and packaged with quotes from leaders battling systemic oppression, not only is the outside enhanced by the natural, hydrating ingredients; The mind is also refreshed by celebrations of Black strength, resilience and power.
The Rebel Oil, which soothes skin irritation, reminds us in the words of author Amílcar Cabral to “live better and in peace”.
Black Liberation Army refugee Assata Shakur urges us to challenge those who deny freedom on the Imperialism in Dying, Puddin’ which works as a hair and skin conditioner.
Burkina Faso’s former president Thomas Sankara’s recognition of the emancipation of women as a necessity is stamped on the moisturizing Liberation Hydrating Mist.
And that’s just to name a few.
While the benefits of DeColonaise on hair and skin are certainly worth noting, its ultimate value lies in its encouragement of self-love and upliftment of Black women. Leading the revolt against outdated notions of African aesthetics, DeColonaise is the only line of products where pretty and politics intersect.