I just watched a fascinating documentary on the changing face of multiculturalism in Australia. Change my Race is a documentary about the trend of de-racialisation occurring in Australia and abroad. As stated in the documentary there is a massive push for Asian women to undergo surgery in order to appear more Western and supposedly more beautiful.
Anna Choy, the director, breaks down what being Australian means to her and how her understanding of beauty has been coloured (for want of a better word) by certain beliefs and ideals surrounding beauty.
At one point Choy states that her ‘Australian-ness is a bit fragile’, she feels Australian and knows her values are Australian but when sitting next to someone there is a lot that is not common.
As a little tacker in the 90s, I was one of the lucky few who happened to have a mother from one ethnic background and a father from another. Whilst my interracial heritage may be hard to guess it is quite obvious that I am ‘from somewhere else’.
On Friday night I had the pleasure of meeting a gentleman who, in his drunken and confused state, handed me his mobile phone and asked if I could call a taxi for his friend. This guy was completely legless, but friendly enough, so I took the phone and dialled in the number. Calling for a taxi on Friday night is kind of like waiting for Santa to come down the chimney..it just doesn’t happen but he wasn’t nearly coherent enough to understand this so after a minute I handed him the phone and he continued to wait on the line. After another minute or so he became fed up and let his prejudice slip, ‘how long do these towel-heads take to pick up a phone?’. I initially ignored him, but after the second and third time I snapped. ‘That’s not on buddy’, I said and, ‘maybe they have a filter for racist comments’.
This definitely isn’t the first time this has happened and I can’t believe how often people fail to note the colour of my skin and choose to air their prejudices in front of me.
I’m not entirely comfortable in this skin but I’m proud of it and that makes a hell of a difference to how I perceive myself in a society focused on Anglo beauty. I’d be the first to admit that I’ve spent time in front of the mirror pinching my face, imagining what I would look like with a slimmer face, a western nose and straight hair. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a person of colour who hasn’t done that….but ultimately, I’m proud of being different and relish the opportunity to embrace it.
I’ve also had to kick myself in the arse the many times I’ve assumed my crazy hair, skin colour, African nose and/or ethnicity has been the reason behind a dwindling romance or something I’ve cut short. Ironically, in some ways it probably has been because I can become so self-critical that even I find myself unbearable.
Back to the documentary. Choy explored de-racialisation on a global scale but from an Asian perspective, only briefly touching on the African response. I haven’t found an equivalent documentary from an African perspective, Jeff Stilson’s Good Hair is probably the closest thing, but you simply have to google African-American celebrities or walk into one of the many African hairdressers to find your answer. Weaves, creamy crack, wigs and skin whitener appear regularly in many an African womans beauty routine. A quick trip to the hairdressers can cost anywhere between $200 – $400 and you should be prepared to be there for at least 6+ hours.
In the past couple of years there has been a movement amongst African-American women who wish to reclaim their natural beauty by reclaiming their ‘fro. There are literally thousands (if not millions) of blogs dedicated to this and, whilst I think this is fantastic, it has resulted in a new type of shaming and over-analysation. Have you ever tried to identify your hair type?…I’d say mine is curly, a lot of my friends would probably say wavy or straight. In the ‘natural community’ you could be 3B, 3C, 4A, 4C…and the list goes on. Want to wash your hair? Maybe you should consider deep conditioning with several products before you co-wash or detangle and make sure you moisturise to ensure length retention and minimal breakage….
Ridiculously enough, this kind of culture has resulted in ‘fros being just as expensive to maintain as a weave or extensions.
Earlier today I caught up with my family for the annual extended family Christmas. I rode my motorbike the approximate 30 kilometre distance to my cousins house and rocked the helmet hair/rolled out of bed look like a pro. My sister arrived soon after with her hair freshly straightened looking very different from her usual self. I’ve only seen my sister straighten her hair maybe once or twice in my life so it’s always a surprise when she does. Aside from saying hello the first thing we discussed was how weird it feels to lose the crazy volume you get with African hair, anything lesser just feels a little flat. We later talked about our six month old niece and pondered whether she would have African hair. We came to the conclusion it will probably be wavy and we will be two very jealous Aunties.
I think in the pursuit of Anglo beauty attaining straight hair to African women is as surgery to appear more ‘white’ is to Asian women.
It will be a long long time before anyone gives up on this crazy ideal and fully accepts ethnicity as it is. In the meantime I only hope that when my niece grows up she doesn’t idle away time in front of the mirror questioning her unique beauty and individual looks.
You are who you are and the first person to accept and defend this has to be you.