An opinion piece by Manal Younus
I would be one of the first people to reject an invitation to a beauty pageant. Generally, I struggle to see the good in a show that celebrates mainstream ideals of beauty and marginalises people who do not fit into this as being ‘less beautiful’. However, with the rising regularity of events such as ‘Miss Africa Pageants’ that are being hosted by members of the African diaspora around the world, I’ve developed much more interest. The reason is this.
As diaspora, we live as distinguishable minorities and are therefore not represented in popular ideas of what beauty is. The few times that we are invited to be a part of the mainstream, it is often with expectations that we exploit parts of ourselves or our culture’s that fit into stereotypes for the consumption of a dominant culture. Or we are asked to completely ignore our blackness or our cultures and assimilate. This often presents one of two stories about what a black model or a black actress or person should look or act like. One that is stereotypically ‘black’ or ‘African’ and the other is discounted as not really being ‘black’ or ‘African’ at all. Both images exist in ways that are more comfortable for the dominant culture, to understand. This then affects the way that we, third culture kids, understand ourselves. It inadvertently forces us to conform to the ways of the dominant culture and ignore crucial parts of our identity, or to conform to the images of black people that are presented to us. We all know the stereotypes. It doesn’t allow us to explore different facets of ourselves. It limits us to these two narrow options.
This is why platforms like these are a good thing. Yes, there are still ethical issues about ranking beauty, particularly when many of us have been instilled with popular ideals about light skin, slim bodies and soft hair. However, this is a step in the right direction to widening our ideas and accepting the parts about ourselves that we cannot and do not want to change. This allows for third culture kids to explore different ways of looking or being without the label of token black girl or boy. It allows us to be one of many from Afro-descent, which means we can be anything without that part of our identity being exaggerated or ignored.
So let’s celebrate us in all of our forms because we sure as hell aren’t celebrated enough.