Shades of black

The words ndoni yamanzi seem to transform a speaker with the most basic grasp of isiZulu into a poet. When these words first entered my vocabulary, I was enchanted. It didn’t matter how many times I read them in a book or used them in a narrative essay, they always moved me.

Ndoni yamanzi is used to refer to a beautiful African woman with a darker complexion. It can loosely be translated to “dark beauty“.

Ndoni yamanzi is an acknowledgement of beauty. As a dark-skinned black woman, knowing that there is nothing wrong with me is important for my self-confidence. I’ve never felt envious of my fellow sisters with lighter skin nor have I been bullied for being dark.  However, many black women have to endure criticism and humiliation, sometimes within their families because of their skin tone.

Colourism is the prejudice and discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone and it typically occurs among people of the same racial or ethnic group. Before I expanded my knowledge on colourism, I first had to acknowledge that colourism is a thing. I thought it was a made up word when I encountered it in a magazine article. My cynical attitude however evolved into fascination as I grew to understand the impact of colourism on a woman’s self-image.

The prejudice that dark-skinned women have been subjected to has not only resulted in self-condemnation but has also created a wall between them and their light-skinned counterparts. This is a tragedy because black women as a whole not only continue to fight for their representation in the public sphere, but are also divided because of the notion that light-skinned women are more favourable and privileged. One only has to watch television for 5 minutes to understand the plausibility of this notion.

I recently watched an episode of Oprah’s Lifeclass where the spotlight was on colourism. I watched a young dark-skinned black woman admit to the audience that she believed she was ugly. No amount of encouragement, compliments or wisdom could break the shackles that had formed around her. Light-skinned women also highlighted that the grass was not greener on the other side. Many of them had also been the victims of verbal abuse and prejudice especially those of mixed racial ancestry. For them, their “blackness” is always in question, even within their families.

Not black enough

Teen Vogue magazine, recently drew criticism for an article on Senegalese twists. Senegalese twists are a protective hairstyle where the hair extensions are twisted instead of braided. Readers where unimpressed when a light-skinned model was used to show the twists. The debate that arose from this article highlighted two issues. The first issue is that media tends to favour light-skinned black women. This is known as “whitewashing” and dark-skinned black women often feel alienated and misrepresented in the forms of media that they subscribe to. The second issue is that light-skinned black women don’t feel “black enough” even when they have African ancestry.

Upon recognising the hurt stemming from both dark and light-skinned women, Oprah’s Lifeclass co-host, Iyanla Vanzant, stated that it was important not to delegitimise each women’s experience no matter where they fall on the colour spectrum but to be a witness to each other’s wounds.

If you were wondering, there is also a description for light-skinned African women that admires and celebrates their beauty by comparing them to the hue of beach sand (“muhle njengezihlabathi zolwandle”). One could easily assess this comparison and conclude that it places the light-skinned black woman on a pedestal. However, I choose to see both of these representations of dark and light-skinned women as the intrinsic relationship between beauty and nature. Both are ubuhle bemvelo or “natural beauty”.

Beauty shouldn’t lie in the tone of one’s skin, however, shallow perceptions of beauty dictate how women should see themselves. Most of us know this but the message is yet to come full circle.

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Inner…booty?

Okay, so I know that 2015 is still shiny and new, but that doesn’t mean we should shove 2014 into the recesses of our mind, right?

It is only a matter of time before the media dubs 2015 as the year of “whatever” and I would like to reflect on a recent trend that has placed the posterior on a pedestal. I think you know where this is going, but don’t worry, this is not a rant about the “booty”. However, I am itching to discuss exactly how intense this trend is.

Miley Cyrus has received enough flak lately for appropriating twerking, so I will not bore you with that topic. But twerking is a good place to start considering its “revival” in 2013. Even more senior citizens decided to take a ride on the twerking train, which creeps me out but that’s another story that needs its own post. I am more concerned with how twerking paved the way for the rise of the female butt. Yep, in case you missed it, 2014 was the “Year of the Booty”.

Nicki Minaj warned us that unless you’ve got buns, you wouldn’t be getting any. Jennifer Lopez and featured rapper, Iggy Azalea commanded us to throw our hands up if we love a big booty and if we didn’t get it the first time, Meghan Trainor told us that she was bringing booty back!

It is appropriate to say that the booty was a celebrated part of the female form last year, but it is also safe to say that not ALL females could be included in this celebration. I am not sure if there was an increase in the demand for butt implants or if women everywhere tripled their squat reps, but it would be interesting to find out. People have become obsessed with the art of squatting to develop the toned tush they see in music videos . Let’s be real, cellulite and uneven skin tones are a problem for most beautiful women so I am also not sure who “Anaconda” and “Booty” were aimed at

I understand that in every song there is a message and the artists themselves have a special connection to the songs that they put out there, but I think that they should be careful of two things. The first is berating other women who are not included in the category of  the women that they are singing about. Meghan Trainor and Nicki Minaj both refer to “skinny b******” and this is alright to the extent that it puts curvy women in the spotlight that they have been denied for so long. It also might be a counter-argument to all of those women who have been subject to discrimination and bullying because of their size. It can also however, be damaging to women who are naturally thin and as a result are also insecure about their skinniness. Believe it or not, there are women who are tired of explaining how they are not skinny by choice. My question is, is this a movement that is beneficial to all body types, or are we just replacing one body standard with another?

The second thing that I think these artists should be careful of is making everything come down to who we are on the outside. I understand that this is what entertainment and the media is all about, but your true personality and character, come from within.

I am all for celebrating bodies, but hopefully, 2015 will be the year of celebrating not just one body type but a diversity of them. As consumers of the media we should also focus our attention on our inner beauty and not come to define ourselves because of what we look like. It is probably a long-shot but it would be awesome to see the internet breaking because of a person’s (positive) deeds and character and not because of their physical traits.

The End.

The “selfie”: art or addiction?

Excuse the pun, but let’s face it, the selfie phenomenon is unstoppable. Unless you’ve been absent from social media, you shouldn’t be surprised that 2014 has been dubbed “The Year of the Selfie”. But is the selfie a sign of narcissism or is it a “revolutionary” form of self-empowerment? Check this curation on Storify to decide for yourself! https://storify.com/NandiThembela/social-media-obsession