Monday, 1 December 2014

#RedefiningBeauty (and the Value of Sisterhood)

Yesterday started off on a heartbreaking note, with a disappointment I was in no way shored up to handle. I've had a hard couple of months, and it felt like the last, ultimate, final straw; I wanted to just curl up in the dark and listen to Lianne La Havas while weeping. Then I remembered that I'd promised Wana I'd attend Glory Edozien's Redefining Beauty event, and in the spirit of choosing happiness, I decided to just go. And I'm grateful I did.

I know from my #AWW14 experience that when women have a safe, affirming space to share their stories, it can be a powerful thing. Yesterday was no different. It was incredibly uplifting to hear women who I admire and respect speak about struggles and triumphs that resonated deeply with me. There was laughter and crying, and the warmth and openness felt like a long drink of water when you didn't even realise how thirsty you were.

The discussions touched on overcompensating for the lack of beauty (or the presence of it in excess, as exemplified by Lola Maja's moving story), the confusing transition from girlish innocence to womanly responsibility - responsibility for your own body as well as for men's responses to it, weight, the 'natural' intrusiveness of Nigerian society when it comes to women and their appearance, the messages sent by the media about perfection and unattainable standards of beauty (you know Lupita came up), and most importantly for me, the struggle to protect or at least insulate our children from the powerful influences that shape popular perceptions of beauty and almost invariably leave them feeling inadequate.

Hosted by Glory, with Wana Udobang (OAP), Jadesola Osiberu (Director and Producer), Lola Maja (make-up guru) and Oreka Godis (OAP) on the panel, the event also included spoken word by Titilope Shonuga (she gets my life. Lord. That woman gets my whole entire life!) and an acoustic session by Omolara. It was the most uplifting experience I'd had in a very long time (and I'd just been to church that morning, smh). I'm so glad I got off my butt and went. I met some amazing new women, reconnected with old friends I hadn't seen in years, and laughed about pregnancy, motherhood, the ridiculous cost of living in Lagos, the price of small chops, the new trend of wedding guests paying for professional makeovers (I didn't even know this was a thing!)... It was amazing.

Yesterday started off on the shittiest of shitty notes, but there's nothing like sisterhood to take all of the blues away. And (like I told Glory after the event), you can bet I'm going to turn up at the next one with like six of my girlfriends, going 'yaaaaaaassss! Get your life, girl!'


  1. Nice. I really wanted to come but spent the entire afternoon asleep. I told Glory I'd be there. I really wanted to discuss this topic and its root. Why do we feel a need to be "beautiful", or seen as beautiful? Why do we attach so much value to it? It fascinates me how it's primarily a female preoccupation. Men don't feel a need to be beautiful (I don't think).
    The example I keep coming back to is the emphasis popular opinion places on telling your daughters they're beautiful, no matter what they look like. While it's a worthy endeavour, doesn't that automatically make them place value on being seen as beautiful? My parents never complimented us on our looks growing up. Like, it was never mentioned. Like, if my Dad said I was beautiful today, I'd arch an eyebrow at him. So out of character. The first time I was complimented on my looks, I was bemused. Through out my university days, I always regarded compliments on my looks with suspicion. Lol. I simply did not know what to do with them.
    My parents complimented our intelligence, though. All the time. It gave me self-confidence. I took up all my tasks, at school and work, with the knowledge that my mind would figure a way to succeed.
    What is the point of this epistle? I don't even know. But like my grandmother would say, you can't eat beauty. Inner or outer. Beauty is a nice to have. But intelligence is better. I'd rather encourage my kids to feel the self-confidence that comes with being told your mind is powerful, than the self-confidence that comes with being told you're beautiful.

    1. It's really interesting that you should say this, because some of the audience feedback was pretty much a verbatim echo of your experience and position. I also felt like the question of why women feel the need to be (perceived as) beautiful was an important one that really didn't get addressed. It seems to me that (especially in Lagos) beauty is a prerequisite for femininity - a woman is only as womanly as she is (properly) beautiful, if that makes any sense. And there's definitely a 'proper', prescribed way to look (these conversations always make me think of Simi Dosekun's dissertation on hyper femininity/the performance of femininity). So if you don't 'look' a certain way, you're 'girlish' or 'childish', and womanliness is reserved for the women who do beauty right (and maybe undeniably matronly types). Lol I'm writing an epistle of my own. This, like any worthwhile conversation, is long and intricate...
      (Congratulations again, by the way!)

  2. HIya!!!!!!!!!

    Thanks so much for this recap!!!!! I completely agree!!!! I felt sooo zen after the there was such a common bond in the room!...would it be ok to re-publish your recap on my website|? Please let me know...

    1. Hey Glory! You're welcome; the event was magical. Of course you can re-publish it. Thanks for asking first. I can't wait to do a re-cap of the next one! x