When I was in primary school in Nigeria, there was nothing I loved more than drama and soccer. I acted in almost any play you could think of. Our favorites back in the day were unfortunately Eurocentric plays like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. It was not until we got to secondary school that we started acting African or Nigerian centered plays. Each time we had a play competition against other schools or against classes, a Black girl was not really preferred to act Snow White or Cinderella. We had to go look for a White, mixed, or a very light skin girl from a well to do background to act the part even if she did not belong to the group or class. At a very young age, it was obvious to the Nigerian girls that they were not worthy of being the main character in their class plays and the boys were made to understand unconsciously that Black girls were not that pretty. At this time, the lighter skin girls walked like they were goddesses because it was obvious that they were the symbol of beauty. This was the time our girls wished for White doll girls for Christmas as if they were wishing that they could play Snow White some day. I also will not fail to remind you of Fela’s song titled “Yellow Fever”. This was a song he sang in an attempt to prevent our women from bleaching their skins to Snow White.
According to the story, there was a Queen who was considered the most beautiful woman in world by the magic mirror before Snow White was born. Now the story used “fairest” instead of beautiful, but we all know that “fairest”, which meant lightest, actually meant the most beautiful woman in the world in the story. According to our version in those days, because they might be newer version now, the Queen was still the fairest according to the magic mirror when Snow White was a little girl. When Snow White got older, the mirror then told the Queen that Snow White was now the fairest. This was when the Queen decided to make up a plan to have Snow White killed, but a prince came along later and married Snow White because she was the fairest of all. What an educational story for young Black children in Africa! This meant that either Snow White got lighter in years or the Queen got darker in years. Both ways, the unbiased magic mirror felt that lighter was better, and also, the Queen believed that lightness was so precious that she would kill for it. Then, of what value is a Nigerian or African girl that will forever be black?
The purpose of sharing this story is that we MUST collectively protect our women by every possible means, because they are the easiest avenue in enhancing or destroying our way of life. Some say beauty is just skin deep; but it is actually an economical and political factor in who we are and how we become. Before I came to the United States in the early 90s from Nigeria, it was clear to many secondary school boys that our standard of beauty was not fat or skinny, but thick. When I got to America, almost every African girl I came across wanted to either commit suicide or curse their creator for beauty reasons. Their reasons ranged from their waist was too wide, their butt was too big, their breast was too huge, they had to lose weight, they were fat here, to they are fat there etc. No matter how much we told them that they were beautiful and wanted to date them, or jokingly told them that the relationship would be over if their butts got smaller, they always felt that something had to be done to their looks and that we liked them for what they disliked about themselves. It was not long that we discovered that a good number of them blamed their appearance on eba, fufu, pounded yam, moi moi, amala, goat meat, palm oil, ogbono, and egusi etc. In fact, it became a crusade not only to go to the gym regularly to lose their ikebe (butts), but they also started telling everyone they could find (male and female) to stay away from African food as if it was the only way to enter heaven. In fact, the sexy statement of the time was “I only cook African food because my boyfriend likes to eat it” (make una see me see trouble o). They also claimed that the researchers of some health magazine say that all these African food causes high blood pressure, clogging of the heart, hypertension, stroke, indigestion, and other types of diseases that are yet to be discovered. If this was true, then the African continent should be extinct by now.
I was looking at one Nigerian magazine the other day that showcased different Nigerian fashion at various occasions, and I noticed that many of our women today no longer wore the bubba and wrapper like our mothers used to. It was while we were discussing the issue that someone noted that many of our women today no longer had the waist and hips to make the wrappers look more presentable, so they prefer to wear the traditional attires as a long skirt at functions. This was when I began to understand the power of beauty. Anthropologists say that you are what you eat. What you produce to eat is based on the climate of the region you are in. It is what you grow in your region that you sell to improve and maintain your economy. What you eat shapes how your body grows, and how your body grows helps to determine the fashion and clothing style of the people.
We must control our standard of beauty or it will affect our economy and food production badly. If foreigners succeed in convincing our women that African food is bad for them, then our economy and way of life will suffer. If our women do not eat African food, their children will not. If our women do not buy it, markets will not sell it. If markets do not sell it, farmers will not grow it. If farmers do not grow it, the African crops might become extinct. If African food crops get extinct and we must eat, then we must depend on and import foreign foods. This is the economics and politics of beauty. It is where one group convinces the others that their food produce is the best for reasons ranging from health, intellectual, longevity, and beauty etc. This means that we must invest in our universities, professors, farmers, and the media. We need to improve the qualifications and creditability of our universities and professors. They need to do research and write publications on how valuable our food produces are to human development. We desperately need to compete in the world of information to counteract most of the anti-African propaganda that are systematically and quietly being pushed on our women from right under our noses. No matter what we eat; we all will die. It is good investment in health care system, adequate and stable incomes, time for moderate leisure and recreation, and eating high quality foods at the right time of the day that makes the difference. Remember that politics and economics is a game and the one that borrows or imports more losses the game.