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London Fashion Week (Guest Blog)

As London Fashion Week draws to a close, Hannah Haji – one of the young people we worked with as part of our Young Equality Campaigners pilot project – explores issues relating to Eurocentric beauty standards and the need to increase diversity in the fashion industry.

There are some traditional standards of beauty that we all seem to love: thin nose, wide lips, soft and luscious curly hair…But is dark skin one of those?

I ask this because as a young African woman I feel every day that the dominant standards of beauty come from western eyes. But here’s the catch. As a young Somali woman, I am often fetishized because I have all these features… but I also have a dark skin complexion. It makes me realise that beauty is beyond skin, it is not my skin that is loved but it is my features, while other African features are not appreciated at all.

For instance, kinky hair. When you see all the adverts for hair products on the London tube, you rarely or never see a kink. Consequently, most young black women brought up in western countries have at least once in their life permed their hair to manage their ‘pesky’ kinks. And rarely do you see mainstream models sporting kinky hair.

Broad noses. These are part and parcel of many black faces, yet people insult you as a young person for having a broad nose. In my secondary school, the favourite insult was ‘shot gun’ because apparently broad nostrils look like barrels of a gun. It seems like there is no way for broad noses to be beautiful in western eyes.

I know what you’re all thinking, surely there are some black standards of beauty that have become normalised and adopted? Big booty? But we still don’t appreciate this asset on a dark skin woman as much as we do with fairer skin women. Such as Kim Kardashian, with a certain amount of her popularity coming from having this feature. It is less about normalising African standards of beauty and more of appropriating our assets. A white women with a large behind is suddenly amazing, but black females have had these for centuries … and no one cared.

It is the same when with braids and black hair styles, both black traditions but appropriated for a white audience. Only when they’re called ‘box braids’ are they now acceptable, due to the fact that white people have presented it as something that they invented but it was a part of black people’s cultures for years.

There have been many black people in mainstream media, but many of these women fit in to the western standards of beauty; for example, Iman, who was one of the first black females to be on vogue, gained popularity as she has western standards of beauty such as thin lips, a narrow nose and more. But the main focus should be to have Afrocentric features in the mainstream beauty industry, so that young black females feel represented and do not dislike their skin colour and features because they are not being represented and are not seen as being beautiful.

Rihanna’s make-up and clothing line, Fenty, gives us one shining example. She uses a diverse range of colours in her make-up line, integrating every skin shade. She uses a huge diversity of models, from every walk of life, showcasing a vast range of different ideas of beauty. Something new is emerging, we just need to work together to get white people to accept it and not try to put their white standards of beauty on to my darker skin. There is hope, but we have got to make some real changes in mainstream fashion imagery to see it happen.

Hannah Haji

This is a guest blog and the views of the author are not necessarily those of The Equality Trust.