Kagure Mugo
Kagure Mugo

African women, we’re not exotic, just hot

Last month I had the pleasure of attending an African Women’s Development Fund and Femrite creative non-fiction writing workshop for African women writers in Entebbe, Uganda.

The women I met there were amazing for two main reasons.

Their passion, intelligence and drive made me question mine (apparently watching Come Dine With Me is not a life goal). These women run organisations, are ground-breaking journalists and quote Keats for kicks.

But they were also hot.

I’m talking gorgeous, sexy in that “thank God the anti-homosexuality bill has been annulled by a competent court” sort of way.

There is no getting around it, these women in their jeans, T-shirts, African print dresses, colourful maxi skirts, jewellery, boots, slippers and heels were stunning. They lit up my existence with their dreadlocks, braids, twists and Afros.

And much as I love them they are not the anomaly, this continent is full of these women.

“Exotic” beauties
So the question is why is it always such a shock when an African woman is declared beautiful? Why is it such a coup? The women I attended the workshop with exhibited their exquisiteness without the international “exotic beauty” caveat the world loves to slap onto certain types of beauty.

In that space their beauty was the norm, the majority and an indication of the magnificence there is within our borders.

A beauty that is often side-lined.

I always say that if aliens come down to earth and their expectations are based purely on what is shown in the media they will think the world is Caucasian with very straight blonde hair. I refuse to lie to ET’s cousins anymore.

I once saw a gif meme where a Chinese woman, addressing a white man, says “there are one billion of us and a few million of you, so tell me, who is really the exotic one here?”

There are 1.3 billion (not counting the millions in the diaspora) Africans living in sub-Saharan Africa compared to the 1 billion in the western world (US and Europe combined). By sheer numbers alone we should be setting the beauty standards.

Unfortunately there’s one image that everyone sees and we all strive to mimic it and think that’s beauty. What results is an industry whose cash cow is based on making women feel bad about themselves and black women feel even worse.

In Africa, skin lightening is a multibillion-dollar industry (Nigeria comes in the highest with 77% of women using skin-bleaching products), weaves can go for R1 000 a pop and be bought on layaway. And in the spirit of being sexy women are avoiding anything on the menu with food in it.

Yes, a weave is easier to handle but one cannot escape the historical and social connotations of making your Afro-kinky hair smooth and luscious, or making yourself a few shades lighter.

We need only look at the blackface incident to see that we have a problem. If being a black woman is a costume or a gimmick we are in a dark place.

WTF beauty
Although other types of beauty are embraced it’s in a “look what we have here … this woman is so out-of-the-box because she has curves/short hair/dark skin but is somehow beautiful” kind of way.

She is then paraded around as if she’s one of a kind. Even in SA looking at magazine covers such as Cosmo you’d think that 95% of the population is white women with toned thighs.

I personally don’t have toned thighs or blonde hair for that matter.

For our own sanity it’s probably best to reconceptualise what beauty is and when better than Women’s Month?

We want to avoid another Lupita speech for the next generation where a young woman from the continent goes to bed wishing she wakes up shades lighter and that her hair will grow. Wishing tomorrow she will be beautiful. She needs to know that if someone says she’s beautiful she is not the exception, she’s the rule.

She must know that saying “yes to squats” does not mean losing her curves because her “butt is big”. That her wild unmanageable hair is that way because it is full of life. That her dark skin is the colour of chocolate and everyone loves chocolate (and sunscreen, black people we must wear sunscreen).

African women are hot in their own right, not because we’re the offspring of the “exotic, erotic native” from the colonialists’ dreams. We are not “motherland beautiful”, we are not mysterious, we are not “bizarre in our beauty”.

We are just hot.

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    • Bertha Munthali

      This is the most beautiful piece of writing I have enjoyed so far, and proudly African I am. Ladies to that effect, I have launched a project which I aim at demything the idea of caucasian and blond as the norm, I have introduced an African Princess story book for African girls and boys, to love themselves as blacks and to embrace our culture which should guide the new generation which we can definately save from inferiority complex. Princess Yaya will be coming to your book stores soon. BARBIE DIED, we have a new princess for Africa!!!!!!!.

    • Chris

      This is so powerful I caught myself getting up my workstation seat to applaud. Fiyah!

    • chris

      Here we have it again, the local blogger’s favourite tool: make the most bizarre racism-implying statement, and then write an easy piece, refuting the statement….

      “So the question is why is it always such a shock when an African woman is declared beautiful?”

      Who is shocked? Who ever claimed that African women cannot be beautiful?? No race has a monopoly on symmetry, proportions or personality; you are merely projecting your own insecurities and prejudices.

    • Mack Nyati

      I agree! I agree! I agree!

      …and for all the reasons you’ve mentioned here, I have never found myself being attracted to any other women, other than Black African…

    • http://www.1800uniteus.com MrUniteUs

      Exotic is a compliment. Not all Africans are exotic. Not all exotic women are African. I think Angelina Jolie is exotic. I think Lupita is exotic. It’s not only the look, it’s the voice, the style, the clothes, personality, your physical shape, the eyes. Kagure you don’t look exotic to me. However, my opinion may change after hearing you speak or seeing you dance, or watching the way you carry yourself from point A to point B.

      I am African American and have been to 40 different countries. There are exotic women all over the world. Singapore, Panama, Hawaii, and Peru just to name a few.
      When a man compliments you say just say Thank you.

    • Momma Cyndi

      The media is full of anorexic white girls because that is their target market. Drum Magazine never had any Twiggie pictures because their target market didn’t associate with her. Contrary to popular belief, magazines don’t set the market standard, they reflect it. It becomes, however, a catch 22. Black women don’t buy the magazines because they can’t associate with the people in them and the magazines don’t have black women in them because black women don’t buy their magazine. Demand and supply.

      I do wish that South Africa would progress to making their own media. Most of the magazines and television in other countries (like Nigeria and Uganda or India and Japan) are local productions which show local standards of beauty. In South Africa, we tend to ignore anything local and sneer at anything from other African countries.

    • http://none Watipa Rungano

      Sometimes I wonder what white men are missing a beautiful Africa woman.I also do not know if black men are missing anything in a beautiful white woman. Our women are just our women despite which planet and continent they are born and bred. There is no point in an African woman wanting or struggling to become or look like a white woman. My 82 year old mother still has her beauty and smooth skin with few wrinkles as compared to her white counterpart.

      African women unite.emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds. We have a long journey towards economic emancipation and the patriarchal yoke. We do not need the white person judge us

    • Emru Kunanti

      Nhaiwe @Watipa Rungano you said you wonder what white men are missing in a beautiful black woman or vice versa. Ask yourself this question. Where did mixed race people aka coloureds come from?