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WHAT IS BEAUTY? Let’s leave the eurocentric vision behind and embrace a more inclusive one

In 2017, Lupita Nyong’o – the Kenyan actress who won an Oscar, for her performance in “Twelve Years a Slave”- criticized the UK version of Grazia for editing her hair, to fit Eurocentric beauty standards. On Twitter she wrote: “Disappointed that Grazia UK edited out & smoothed my hair to fit a more Eurocentric notion, of what beautiful hair looks like”.

This fact brings us back to a tough question: who decides what beauty is and what is not?

Outside Europe, there is a whole world, where the concept of attractiveness and ugliness changes. Let’s take the African continent as an example. Obviously, it is too vast to make generalizations, but some common points can be found. African beauty is about pride in one’s body, with a big phenomenon about being curvy. Being curvy means being healthy.

Believe me, I know what I am saying! I have experienced it myself. I’ve always been curvy, and I’ve always been a little bit ashamed of that. I was obviously born in the wrong place, because in Congo my legs were worth three goats. Kidding of course, but it’s partly true, my shapes made me attractive because they basically meant three things: they were a symbol of my femininity, my wealth and my good health. I had these three things all my life. Things that could be considered, among others, the most important things in life… and I was ashamed of them. 

Anyway, while I was among them, I found out that their culture comes from ethnic traditions that emphasize how one should embrace the human form. There are many different cultures and traditions in the continent, some of which, include body painting and body adjustments such as lip plates and piercings.
And yes, black women tend to have curly and frizzy hair, that they gather into fancy hairstyles and braids. I had them done once… they only lasted one day though: my hair is too straight! One more thing, when I think of African fashion, and maybe you do too, I think of colors, full-textured fabrics, with floral and geometric patterns. During my volunteering experience in Kenya, organized by Amani NGO I had the incredible luck to meet a seamstress who sewed me a dress, which I still have. It’s a long and sensual dress, which leaves my back uncovered.  Perfect for fancy dinners and sunset cocktails on the beach, I guarantee. 


Speaking of African style, for those of you who are fascinated by other cultures, their customs and fashions, I highly recommend checking out Amani’s workshop: Amani is an NGO from Milan that has been working for years in Zambia and Kenya, alongside former street children, promoting local work and products. They support local seamstresses and artisans to produce quality products, that are later imported to Italy. You can find dress, skirts, trousers, earrings, bracelets, bags and more things that you’ll probably adore. I think they’re perfect, if you’re looking for original gifts.
PLease, do keep in mind that this is not a regular shop. It’s not a source of income for Amani, it is rather a way to raise funds for other projects: which gives you a chance to do a good deed, too.

An African woman shown in profile is at the center of the image. She is smiling, wearing a green and brown turban and dangling earrings. Her cheeks and eyebrows are decorated with white speckled paint.

An African woman is standing at the center of the picture. She looks happy. She’s wearing sunglasses, red shoes and the little afro dress in white. PIcture courtesy of Connie Aluoch.

I also recommend having a look at the new collection by Connie Alouch, an award-winning fashion stylist and Carole Kinoti, a prolific Kenyan fashion house. Together, they have designed the Little Afro Dress (LAD); a very simple long-sleeved dress with the Dhahabu cuff: a beaded bracelet made in collaboration with the Maasai women of Kajiado county. You can choose your size and color here:


Besides all my rambling and wandering in the past, the truth is that, unfortunately, tattoos, piercings, weird braids, curvy bodies and beaded bracelets made from Masai women are not exactly the kind of combination people expect to find on fashion magazines, aren’t they?!
Why does this need to change? Why should we all try to see things from another point of view?


In a more globalized world, we have to take into account the different ethnic communities within a country: continuing to promote a Eurocentric beauty ideal (slim body, fair skin and long straight hair) is not the right way forward. Although we are aware that the path will be long, in the future, the various communities will be integrated, societies will become increasingly multi-ethnic and what are now minorities will certainly represent an important portion of consumers and readers. The magazines of the future will not only be read by one category of people. They will have to guarantee the enjoyment of products, in which several categories of people are represented, where beauty is depicted in all of its thousand shades, in which beauty is represented for what it is without retouching. 


As we all know 2020 was also characterized by a widespread fight against racial injustice; did the fashion industry and magazines follow this path too?


The trend seems to be positive. In 2020, there was an increase in covers featuring black women left with their natural hair or braided, plus-size models, transgender/non-binary (do you remember the stunning pictures of Valentina Sampaio on Sport Illustrated this summer?!), and women over 50. Also, most will have noticed Harry Style posing in a long dress, on the cover of Vogue last November, something unthinkable a year ago. 

Societies are changing and evolving faster than they used to do in the past.  

Magazine covers can and do act as a company manifesto and a sign of change.  

Will fashion magazines be able to represent the beauty of society at its fullest? The 2020 may become the watershed towards an increasingly inclusive future or a one-year-wonder. 

Only time can tell… in the meantime stay updated. 

Elena Masi

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