Post by Thandie and Kay.
Emma Dabiri is an Irish-Nigerian PhD researcher in Goldsmiths, and teaching fellow in the Africa Department at The School of Oriental African Studies. She also works as a commercial model. Thandie encountered her when she read an article Emma wrote for The New Statesman earlier this year. They struck up a Twitter chat, and the rest is history – as written by @TheDiasporaDiva. Welcome to her 21st century world.
I recently got caught up in an online debate about a black celebrity who has completely transformed her face, arguably to make it look more European. While the jury was out as to whether or not she should have had plastic surgery, the conversation was largely framed around whether or not the surgery was successful. Ultimately this was judged by whether or not she had achieved that elusive, subjective, and most coveted of assets, “beauty”.
I was struck by the sensation that something was very wrong with the whole picture. Why do we continue to allow our options to be constrained within such a tyrannical framework, whereby a woman’s worth is calculated by the way she looks? Why don’t we push for a redefinition of what is important?
Regardless of the outcome of the surgery, I think it is unlikely this celeb will be satisfied. Insecurities are rarely vanquished by indulging the processes responsible for creating them; If anything they are multiplied.
Changing your face is not the issue. What is required is a tackling of root causes. Maybe we should all ask – in the perennially wise words of TLC- who am I (or anybody else for that matter) to be in a position to make you feel so damn un-pretty? And why is it so important?
Don’t get me wrong. Of course making an effort with your appearance can be fun, and make you feel good, and that can be empowering. But too much emphasis on the way we look is also terribly oppressive.
We know that too often what is deemed as looking good is imagined far too narrowly. That is why regardless of race, we are seeing the same hairstyle, the same makeup, hell increasingly, the same face, on women, black and white, from Lagos, to LA, London, and back again; the homogenisation of what a woman is supposed to look like – largely imagined through some sort of Kim K femmebot.
Ultimately it’s more than the issue of ‘looking good’ that’s at stake.
While we can spend all the time in the world ‘improving our looks’, a little bit of that time might be more valuably used, considering the emphasis that is placed on how we look overall.
I think that it is crucial that we attempt to interrogate our relationship with the visual. For too long I was trapped in an unhealthy relationship with myself, and my looks, and regardless of what I actually looked like, it wasn’t pretty.
I now understand, and can say with conviction, that I am, (we all are) worth so much more than our weight on the scales, our dress size, or the number of guys that might, or might not, fancy us. It sounds obvious, but getting there was quite a process. For too long these were the criteria with which I calculated my own self worth. Sadly it’s an all too familiar tale for too many young (and not so young) women.
What about the content of my soul? That vast and complex, eternal landscape, not visible to the eye? How are these features to be known, in an ocular schema that disavows that which cannot be seen?
As a person who has experienced being bullied due to their appearance, as well as being celebrated for the very same features, I am painfully aware of the hypocrisy that exists around looks, and the penalties and dubious rewards that accrue from succumbing to the seductions of the visual regime that holds us in its thrall.
In my early teens I was very much the awkward black girl. I was always overlooked for my white, skinny, mousey brown-haired friends. Nobody asked me to dance at discos. When playing spin the bottle I willed the bottle never to land on me. I couldn’t bear the shame I felt for the poor misfortunate who might be dared to kiss a creature as monstrous as me.
In addition to the usual pressures on a teenage girl, mine were compounded by race. My hair – goodness my hair.
But although as women we are conditioned to seek it at all costs, being considered attractive is not without its costs and complications. Certainly it is not always positive. There came a shift for me at around age 15. I guess I was just growing up, but the attention I got from boys increased dramatically.
I remained crippled by the same self doubt, but in many ways I now had what girls are taught to desire – the attention of boys. However, this attention was often characterised by a disturbing undertone. I heard gleeful re-telling’s of the look on a parent’s face when their darling son ‘brought home a black girl’ as their date for the debs (an important Irish rite of passage, marking the finishing of school). Unfortunately, I didn’t want to be someone’s act of rebellion. Or complaints from disappointed blokes who’d fancied me from afar, got to know me, and couldn’t understand why “ I wasn’t more Jamaican/American” (insert black culture of fetishisation).
So it was complex. I wanted to be seen as pretty, I craved the validation (an empty and shallow place to barter for your humanity, but how many of us succumb to it?) yet at the same time I was incredibly uncomfortable with the attention I got. I was always made to feel conspicuous; under scrutiny, an object to be examined. In his famous train passage, Fanon explores the psychological effects of subjection to the white gaze, upon the black subject-
“Look, a Negro…Look at the nigger!…Mama, a Negro!”(1986:112).
I remember, vividly, a flood of grateful relief upon first encountering these words. As an isolated, ‘mixed-race’ or black individual, in a predominantly white environment, you become a cipher, a representation of a coming anarchy. The barbarians have breached the gates, and you are the manifestation of all the images, fantasies, fears and desires that have been absorbed by a population fed a steady diet of racist discourse. You are constantly under surveillance. You become achingly aware of your every gesture; your movements, your very posture, are at all times under analysis. Mundane details, the minutiae of your daily routine, are a performance for public consumption. While, I could not articulate this at the time, I experienced the suffocating weight of such an existence deeply.
I felt like some kind of experiment, or sideshow freak, and I eventually became incredibly paranoid and self-conscious. It got to the point where I was extremely uncomfortable with people even looking at me
In her 2004 essay Irish and White-ish, Angeline Morrison discusses the particular tone of Irish racism:
“The vast majority of racist insults had some kind of sexual overtones…this is a specific character of Irish racism”… The sexuality of immigrants, particularly but not exclusively, black ones, “has long been represented as exotic, taboo and dangerous”(p.9)
As a teenager I lost track of the amount of times pink, middle aged men sidled up to me, “ I like a bit of milk in me coffee”, or just a muttered “I love black girls” accompanied by an expectant look. So while I was perceived as attractive, it was complicated by race. I certainly wasn’t the same as the respectably pretty girl next door – there was something horrible and fetishistic about it. Racialised in this way, I was situated at a complex intersection – simultaneously valuable and worthless.
Other worlds existed beyond Ireland. When I was 18, I went back to Atlanta, where I’d spent my early childhood, to visit cousins on my dad’s side. It was one of my first experiences, since being very little, in a predominantly black environment.
I was beyond excited! However, I was also well versed in black history. I knew all about slavery, Jim Crow, racism, segregation. Surely these black Americans would dislike me with my visible white ancestry. I mean white people seemed to hate black people for no reason I could decipher. Surely African-Americans, having been victimized by whites for centuries would legitimately hate their oppressors? I learnt that largely this was not to be the case. Certainly there was not the vitriol from black to white as existed vice versa.
What I was completely unprepared for was the colourism that flourished within Southern black communities. From someone who had prayed every night to wake up with ‘normal’ hair, suddenly in the Georgia context I was catapulted into a realm reserved at home in Ireland, only for blue-eyed, blondes.
The contrast between being seen as ‘dark’ in Ireland and ‘light’ in America was huge, but ultimately, I found this favoritism depressing. I was young and for a while was flattered by the attention. It was a powerful contrast to experience being perceived in such a different way, but at the same time I quickly realised there was a rot at its core, and that the answers to my psychological wellbeing were not to be found in this perverse hierarchy of value and worth.
It may be so that in this particular context I was higher up the food chain but I knew how easily and arbitrarily I could be ranked very differently.
Such processes, rather than elevate us, as some #teamlightskin’s might believe, actually oppress us all.
They reinforce a structure that places whiteness at the top, and condemns everyone else to a losing game, scrabbling for the crumbs from the table.
I don’t know what would have happened if I’d stayed in the US but I will say that in my experience, black cultures generally have a far more positive attitude to body size, and I think that alone would have had a great impact on what happened next. I returned to Ireland and the European scopic regime of beauty. When I was 19 I remember being called a fat nigger. I was out in a bar in Dublin, and a guy literally just spat it at me as I walked past.
I thought, right I can’t do anything about being called a nigger, but nobody will ever call me fat again. I’m not sure if I had an eating disorder but I certainly had an unhealthy and obsessive relationship with food.I weighed EVERYTHING I ate, and never consumed more than 1,500 calories in a day. I wouldn’t eat out, or at other people’s houses.
I steadily lost weight, and as I became thinner and thinner, the attention from (white) men increased. I felt like I was erasing or purging myself of my conspicuous features, my bum, my thighs (I never achieved the elusive gap though, I’m not made that way). The thinner I got, the less racialised I felt. It was almost as though subconsciously I’d been conditioned to think that I had to lose weight to apologise, or compensate in some way for the fact my blackness. Maybe I felt I needed to take up less space in the world. Its probably unsurprising given that as a teenager ‘friends’ often remarked that it was a good thing I was pretty. Because of that, they assured me, I could (almost) “get away with being black”!
It feels strange now to reflect back upon that time. It’s taken work and a recalibration of mind but I am largely liberated from the bullshit. My body is not an apology! In a society where 91% of women are reportedly unhappy with their body image it was refreshing to hear Sinead O’Conner recently retort “I love my glorious appearance”! when she was asked what she least liked about her looks. I was struck by how rare it remains to hear a woman respond to this all too frequent question in a body positive way!
The fact that I have been treated so differently by society based on my weight, whether a white celebrity has (or has not yet) popularised full lips, or the value that my complexion affords me in a given context really saddens me, but it has taught me a lot.
I try to view events in my life in terms beyond good and bad, as I feel such thinking limits our capacity for both happiness and personal development. Rather I try to understand my perspective, as one that has been forged from everything I’ve experienced, and I want to share that with other women who might be going through some of the same things I did.
For me its crucial that we work towards dismantling the patriarchal structures that set women’s value as calculated by something as ridiculous as the dimensions of our bodies, or the alignment of the bones of our faces.
The current system needs a radical overhaul, but maybe our discontent shouldn’t stem solely from the fact that one type of female body is being celebrated over another. We might want to reconsider the fact that as women we continue to be judged according to superficial and meaningless criteria.
While representation remains important (I simply didn’t see women who looked like me growing up) we should remember that white women are far better represented than women of colour, yet remain objectified.
Is this ‘egalitarianism’ the best we can hope for? The right to be objectified alongside white women? The right to have black women’s bodies, represented according to the same tyrannical dictates that white women’s generally are? To be force-fed images of black women’s bodies that preach the gospel of an unachievable feminine ‘ideal’ that causes untold havoc on all those little girl bodies that will never be able to look like that? As black women we are often doubly sexualised by society, so the stakes are extra high.
We might pause to consider exactly what it is we are fighting for. Unless a serious shift takes place, rather than dismantling oppressive systems, we run the risk of simply jostling for a poisonous pole position, in a competition that really has no winners.
Posted by Kay
I was about to interview this extraordinarily inspirational entrepreneur myself when I thought, how about getting the next generation of mixed heritage to ask the questions! We’re very keen on building a community here at ThandieKay and we hope you enjoy Tara and Jodie‘s thoroughly engaging conversation on the inclusiveness of beauty, family, the future of retailing and much more.
Tara Okeke is a 16 year-old student studying Art, English Literature, Philosophy & French at A-Level at City Of London School For Girls. She hopes to study architecture at university.
Jodie Patterson is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Doobop, the first beauty entail site to edit specifically for brown women. She also owns the all-natural beauty line, Georgia.
Tara: You launched your beauty e-tailing site DooBop last November, what was the inspiration behind the business model and what were the central aims of the company?
Jodie: We launched DooBop with a particular woman in mind. In fact, she was similar to me, with brown skin, textured hair, and a deep love of beauty – both product and rituals. I know this woman well: she’s my sister, my aunt, my girlfriends. We’ve all had such a difficult time shopping for our product over the years and no one seems to be an expert when it comes to brown skin and textured hair. As consumers, we’ve resorted to by-any-means-possible methods to get what we need, but it hasn’t been easy and we’ve made do with mediocre product. DooBop is about “Beauty Without Struggle”. We’re here to simplify the process of being beautiful and to bring options from all around the world to a woman who has always been told she should be shopping in the “ethnic aisle”. We’re about disrupting the “ethnic aisle” mentality and allowing women to shop by need. Beauty isn’t ethnic. It’s global.
Tara: DooBop exudes assurance in both ethos and intent-where does this conviction and confidence stem from on a personal level for you?
Jodie: I’m a mom of five, so I’m used to disappointment, failure, and drama – it’s all part of life. But those things that often stop people in their tracks, those “negatives”, aren’t deterrents for me. I’m no more confident than others – I’m just relentless. If I want it, I keep on at it.
Tara: DooBop responds inclusively to the beauty industry’s rather cookie-cutter approach and underrepresentation of WOC by not being strictly for WOC. How important was it for you to ensure you had WOC at the heart of the company, whilst also maintaining a sense of cohesion?
Jodie: Beauty is like music and art – it’s supposed to be shared cross-culturally and cross-ethnically. So regardless of where a trend or product originates, women all over the world can enjoy and benefit from that very same product.
Essentially we all have the same needs with slight uniquenesses of course, but essentially the same. Dry skin, fine lines, blemishes, breakouts – these things are universal.
Our goal at DooBop is to curate amazing product. Period. So really anyone can jump on our site and love everything. But, personally, I have a soft spot for brown women because the industry has been so neglectful of us. I’m here to make it easier for her.
We’ve selected brands from France, Italy, Israel, the US, Africa and pulled pieces from
each line that stood out for me and my team. And we only focused on prestige and niche brands. These are really top of the line – innovative, healthy, smart brands. What woman wouldn’t appreciate that!?!
Tara: You have talked a lot about getting “out of the ethnic aisle” – which is sometimes misconstrued as negating ‘ethnicity’ in some way. What do you think are the most effective ways of entering the mainstream marketplace?
Jodie: When I talk about the “ethnic aisle” I’m not referring to any feelings I have about myself or other brown people. I’m referring to a subcategory of beauty that’s been invented in America that encourages Black women to shop only in one particular area within beauty stores.
I use a French brand Leonore Greyl, a general market brand Rahua, a ‘sure-thing brand’ Shea Moisture and my very own niche brand Georgia by Jodie Patterson. I definitely can’t find all that in the ethnic aisle! The myth that hair and skin are ethnic is outdated and untrue.
Tara: What would you say makes a woman beautiful internally, and how does DooBop go about offering bespoke services that help women achieve the complete beauty experience they crave?
Jodie: Beauty is a feeling – so there are endless ways to look and feel beautiful. True beauty comes from a place of true emotion – only then will it radiate. Anything else is simply disguise. DooBop has amazing product and tips. We encourage women to start internally, with a mood first, and then express that feeling with make up and product.
Tara: Growing up, who did you find beautiful and why?
Jodie: Any woman with an attitude: I think women like Adele, Nina Simone, Cate Blanchet, Eva Mendez, Lupita Nyong’O – they all radiate. They’ve really nailed it and their ‘reverb’ is so strong that we all feel more beautiful when we look at them.
Tara: Family seem to be a major inspiration for you in business, could you tell us a little about your first brand, named after your eldest daughter, ‘Georgia by Jodie Patterson’ and what family means to you?
Jodie: Georgia is a niche beauty line for skin and hair that I created nine years ago. I’m a busy mom of five, and I often found myself stranded in “the wrong bathroom with the wrong product”. On some nights I’d finally wrangle all the kids into the tub, look around, and discover all that was handy was PapaBear’s old school anti-dandruff shampoo. Or, when I finally managed some “alone-time” in the bathroom for myself, all I could find was diaper cream. I see beauty as simple and what we use in the bathroom should be simple too. But without the right product, life is way too complicated. So I created a line that works well with a busy woman who is juggling lots of things in her life – family, work, travel, ambition. My product is natural so the entire family can use it; plus, items can be used in multiple ways. With each product, you experience natural, healing and awakening beauty. It’s like food for your skin.
Tara: Why did you choose to make a philanthropic pursuit a key part of your business model, and what attracted you more specifically, to Community of Unity?
Jodie: Women connect and are inspired on a deep level – it’s how we’re hard wired. Brands need to be mindful of that and do their best to speak to women on a deep level. We live in the same world as our customers. They’re complex and we totally get that. So we go deep with them. Community of Unity is an organization that I’ve known for years and have watched grow. It supports young teens and helps guide them to make smart life-choices. For every sale we make, we give $1 to the organization. It’s a no-brainer.
Tara: There appears to be three principle elements at the crux of DooBop: curation, creation and innovation.
What are the challenges and satisfactions that come with curating and creating beauty products and services for WOC?
Jodie: No real challenges. We simply had to keep reminding ourselves that brown women don’t live in a bubble. They’re part of real life. So we looked at what we ourselves loved first then, asked tons of friends their favorite things and then “travelled the world” in search of the “best”. Brown women have basic skin and hair concerns (as well as some unique needs). For hair we were often looking for hydration, gentle approaches, great oils and control. For skin we sought help with evening out tones, correcting dark spots and hyper pigmentation. We found great solutions!
Tara: In terms of innovation-what changes have you witnessed within the beauty industry as both a consumer and creator since your youth? And what are your plans for the evolution of DooBop and GeorgiaNY, and predictions for the beauty industry as a whole, over the next few years?
Jodie: Hopefully, DooBop will be the first of many beauty sites to focus on brown women and to curate product based on need, not ethnicity. That concept alone is the most relevant change that’s emerged in our industry.
Tara: Finally, what steps do you think women of all shapes and shades should take to make our voices heard, and to move forward and away from the idea of homogenised beauty?
Jodie is currently building a lifestyle brand around the philosophy: Beauty Without Struggle and is dedicated to helping women find their own unique beauty. She’s a hands-on mother-of-five and an “award-winning wife”, living in Brooklyn, NY.
Follow Tara on twitter
Visit DooBop Beauty
Like DooBop on Facebook
Posted by Kay.
Soon afterwards Adeola entered the Face of Africa competition and became a successful model in South Africa. The Elizabeth Arden team took notice, got in touch and in February this year she became Elizabeth Arden’s first African Ambassador.
Corne Nel, Managing Director of Elizabeth Arden in Africa said of Adeola’s appointment as ambassador “Expanding into Africa is an exciting venture for our brand and we wanted to choose a spokesperson that African women could identify with. It is an opportunity to really celebrate African beauty and Elizabeth Arden is committed to the belief that ‘To be beautiful is the birthright of every woman’. We want to celebrate each woman’s unique beauty through individuality, diversity and original expressions of beauty. Adeola has all of these qualities”.
I grew up with my step-mom who is way lighter than I am. I remember always trying out her powders. I would end up looking like a ghost but that didn’t stop me from using them at all…!
I’m in my own skin, no make up, nothing. Just me
Funny enough, I never really paid much attention to anything regarding beauty when I was a child. I was the biggest tomboy at the time. I do remember my mother using Black Soap a lot though and on me as well. The unprocessed one that didn’t have a really good smell but worked wonders on the skin
Make up is a delight for me absolutely! I seldom wear make up because I always try to let me skin breathe as much as possible when I’m not on photo shoots but when I do, I go all in. And with the skin tone I’ve got, I love playing with colours especially on my lips.
My father always complimented my mother on her baby soft skin. He still does till this day. Calls her ‘babyface’ from time to time.
When I was a teenager, I thought it was a brilliant idea to shave off parts of my eyebrows because that’s what was ‘trending’ at the time. Boy do I regret it. My eyebrows have never been full ever since then. Back then, I thought I was rocking it!
Look where it’s gotten me now. I have to fill in my eyebrows every single day. And you know what they say, ‘Eyebrows define a woman’s face and look’.
Love the skin you’re in. No matter what race, ethnicity, just love you for who you are. Beauty isn’t only seen on the outside, its also felt on the inside. True beauty comes from within and when a person has a beautiful soul, it definitely shows on the outside. Beauty is being able to make others around you feel amazing about themselves.
Hmm.. I can’t recall ever having to do my make up anywhere but at home. No matter how late I might be running, I make sure I have at least my eyebrows drawn in, I put on some powder and I’m good to go.
I would love to see even more dark skin women representing beauty brands. At the moment there’s myself for Elizabeth Arden, Lupita Nyong’O for Lancome. I can’t think of any more actually. We have so much to show the world and getting the platform to do so is amazing!
The last time my mascara ran was during my campaign shoot for Elizabeth Arden. It was a whole day of shooting and I was doing ok until the last shot where everything became more real to me. When I realised what I was actually doing on set that day and for whom. I got so overwhelmed and couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. I tried so hard to keep my make up intact but it didn’t work at all. The tears just kept rolling down. It was such an amazing feeling though.
See Adeola’s portfolio here
Follow Adeola on Twitter
Follow Adeola on Instagram
Post by Thandie
In ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, set in Nigeria in the late 60s, she plays university academic Ms Adebayo, and rocks a lustrous afro from start to finish.
A style maven herself, she has her own clothing line, as well as being the face of cosmetics brand Mud Nigeria left. A staggering 80 Nollywood films under her teeny tiny belt we grabbed a few minutes from her busy schedule to get her to answer our Q and A.
1. What is your earliest make-up memory?
I’d say high school…probably around the age of 12. It involved eye pencil, clear powder and lip gloss.
…when I have a fresh face on…cleansed and moisturized.
3. When you were a child, what was your Mother’s beauty routine?
She loved her tinted powder, eye pencil, and her maroon-colored lipstick.
4. Is make-up a chore or a delight?
Oh it’s a delight to me. I love to paint and combine colors.
5. Did your father refer to your Mother’s beauty, and how?
Every time. He loved her eyes and smile and would always say we were lucky to get her features.
6. What’s been your worst beauty mishap?
I’ve had running makeup at a public event before. Not a good look…I tried to avoid being photographed without success. Lol!
7. If you could give one beauty gift what would it be?
8. Where’s the craziest place you’ve done your make-up?
In the car while driving
9. What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry?
A wider variety of colors of powders and foundation for darker skinned women. The dark skin varies a whole lot.
I’d say while I was on a movie set. I had to cry for a scene…