Tag: beauty

Yellow bones: The ‘blondes’ of the black community

(Pic: Flickr / Suedehead)

‘Are yellow bones more beautiful than dark-skinned girls?’ screamed a recent headline the Sunday News. This followed a period in which both the media and public went into a frenzy discussing whether or not the current Miss Zimbabwe – given her dark complexion – was beautiful enough to represent the country. Now, I will not go into that discussion. Countless newspapers have already done this ad nauseam. But what I would like to talk about is a different side to this whole ‘yellow bone’ versus ‘dark cherry’ debate.

There is a new, implicit wave of ‘yellow bone’ bashing that’s going on, and things don’t look like they are about to change any time soon. If you don’t believe it, see here, here and countless other places where you will find piles of narrow-minded literature on this subject.

In recent years, Zimbabwean society caught onto this phrase, ‘yellow bone’. Suddenly, it is no longer sufficient to call light-skinned women just that: light-skinned. And many times, this derogatory and callous word is used in reference to light-complexioned women when they are compared to ‘black cherries’ or dark-skinned women, as they are disparagingly referred to themselves.

A different cat-calling experience

So my first real encounter with the term ‘yellow bone’ happened last year as I was minding my own business at a busy shopping centre. I walked past a vehicle in which sat three men who clearly had nothing better to do. One of them called out something inaudible to me and I kept walking. He called out again, and when that did not elicit a response from me, went on to open the car door and shout very loudly something along the lines of, “You might be a ‘yellow-bone’, but you certainly aren’t pretty after all!”.

A lot of men feel entitled to yell all kinds of things at women going about their business on the street. But this experience stood out for me for one reason: it seems I couldn’t get away with simply ignoring street heckles like any other woman would do, without being insulted a second time about my complexion.

Do those with a lighter complexion – the so-called ‘yellow bones’ – live in a cloud of appreciation? At the most superficial level, I find that light skin might be thought to carry a kind of halo around it. We see someone with an attribute that so many others desire, and by association, assume that they have been blessed in other departments too.

But there are a lot of prejudices that work against light-skinned women.

The ‘blondes’ of the black community

I have not been conferred with advantages throughout my life, and certainly, my life as a so-called ‘yellow bone’ woman has not been all sunshine and roses. Growing up as a light-complexioned, skinny girl, I had my fair share of insecurities. All around me I saw pretty girls who had beautiful curves and smooth skin. My conception of what constituted beauty was a combination of things ranging from physique to disposition of the heart.

To put it in context, we the so-called ‘yellow bones’, are often considered to be the ‘blondes’ of the black community. You constantly have to prove yourself, because for some reason, something about your complexion gives the impression that you have neither brains nor brawn.

In a lot of places, I am automatically considered ‘musalad’. People often have weird assumptions that you don’t speak Shona or eat sadza and maguru (tripe) which just happens to be my favourite food. Neither do they think you can cook sadza! I have a distinct memory of a time many years ago, when I first went to my husband’s rural home. The neighbours flocked to see the new muroora. There was a lot of whispering, mainly things to do with my complexion. It did not help that I wear spectacles that tint in the sun. But the killer for me came from one elderly woman who took my hand into her calloused one, analysed my palm and asked rhetorically if such a pale-looking hand could mona (cook) sadza (insert eye roll here). Follow-up question:

Elderly woman: How is it that you are so light in complexion?

Me: Er, genetics?

Yes, I do sometimes get asked such moronic questions and it’s just plain exhausting. I mean, really!?? Is there any link between one’s complexion and one’s ability to flex wrist muscles?? I have yet to establish the connection between the colour of the skin on my hand and my ability to cook sadza, but so far there haven’t been any complaints in my house!

Stereotypes, stereotypes!

Don’t get me started on the ‘vakadzi vatsvuku vakasaroya, vanohura’ (light-skinned women are either witches or promiscuous) stereotype. This particular one I often hear from other women.

Other times, I am forced to justify my complexion, until it becomes pointless. I find that there is often an automatic assumption that light-complexioned women use skin-lightening products. It’s almost like how people generally assume that all obese people are that way because they overeat.

On lucky days, I am just mistaken for a mixed-race or coloured person. But on not so lucky days, sometimes people ask outright what cream or injectable I have used that has lightened my complexion so perfectly and uniformly. I had an experience once, where a woman in a hair salon very rudely took my hand and began to analyse my knuckles. Apparently, no matter how good a skin-lightening product you use – knuckles, elbows and knees will always give a user of such products away.

In my experience, fellow women are the most brutal with their judgments and opinions about a so-called ‘yellow bone’. There is a hair salon I stopped going to, because its owner always had colourful things to say and ‘joke’ about my complexion, all the while patting me on the back and calling me her ‘sister’. This was somehow supposed to take away the sting in her words? She joked once that the Diproson cream that my hairdresser loved to apply to my scalp was not only doing wonders for my dandruff, but also my facial complexion.

It appears that in some spaces, you just can’t be innocently light-skinned anymore. I have never used a skin-lightening product in my life, yet this stigma hangs over my head until people prove for themselves, in some way, that I am authentic. Yes, there is a scourge where a lot of women have started bleaching themselves, probably to conform to some elusive societal construct of beauty. But it is also interesting that at least in Zimbabwe, this phenomenon applies to women only. Nobody seems bothered about ‘yellow bone’ guys.

Nevertheless, I doubt that I will ever understand or be able to explain the fascination obsession with ‘yellow bone’. I could go on and on about some of the hurtful experiences I have had, just because people ascribe to me the term ‘yellow bone’. But I will stop here and highlight that the so-called ‘yellow bones’ are human, like everybody else. We feel things too.

All I can say is that we should all be mindful of the fact that what is considered beautiful is socially determined. This can hopefully help us to overcome our biases, regardless of our inherited physical traits.

Natasha Msonza is an information activist and communication strategist passionate about human rights and social justice. She blogs at Stashsays.wordpress.com. This post was first published on Her Zimbabwe.

Celebrating natural hair: The Coiffure Project

Baltimore-based photographer Glenford Nunez‘s latest project was inspired by his assistant Courtney who wears natural hair. He started photographing her with his cellphone and accumulated a small body of work that he then turned into a book of natural hair portraits.

Nunez on a shoot. (Pic: TYP Photography Studio)
Nunez on a shoot. (Pic: TYP Photography Studio)

Nunez is one of many photographers documenting a growing trend and pride in natural hair. Other projects worth checking out are Michael July’s coffee table book dedicated to the Afro and Nakeya B.’s “The Refutation of Good Hair” series with models eating handfuls of Kanekolan hair.

(Pic: www.nakeyab.com)
(Pic: www.nakeyab.com)

Nune’z mobile pics of Courtney led to the creation of the The Coiffure Project in which he showcases the beauty of natural hair on women of all shapes, colours and sizes. All his photos below are courtesy of TYP Photography Studio.











Going to great lengths for beautiful hair

Soon after Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, my parents bought a house in the suburbs in Bulawayo. This meant that I began my primary education in a school that was formerly reserved for white kids. I was in such close proximity to them that I was able to touch their hair. I marvelled at how soft it was and how different it was from mine. My hair was the same as all the other black children around me: short and ‘natural’, not straightened with the help of chemicals. It was thick, tough and difficult to comb; very different from the hair on white girls’ heads which was soft and often grew down their backs. Advertising didn’t help my perception of my hair either. Even black women on television and in magazines boasted long, straight hair. To me, that was the epitome of beautiful hair and I aspired desperately to have it.

Enter high school. I was sent to a boarding school about 300km from home in a small town called Masvingo. It was a mission school run by Catholics so it was quite conservative. The policy at this school was that our hair had to be kept short and in its natural state. If our hair grew too long, the school teachers would cut it off for us. Us girls would plait it up at night and then undo the plaits in the morning. We would comb our hair and then pat it down so it would pass a cursory length test. We bought all sorts of gels and hair food which we used on our scalps daily. My friends took great care to hide any increased hair length from the school authorities, but my hair never grew past my shoulders.

I moved to a school in Harare for my A levels. One of the perks of studying in the capital was being exposed to the latest and trendiest hairstyles. This particular school allowed us to use relaxers on our hair. At 17, I saved up all term to be able to afford my first ever relaxer which cost $30. I was one of the happiest girls in Africa that day! I felt it was a rite of passage into adulthood. Almost all the girls in my school had relaxed hair too but no one had taught us how to care for it. We styled our hair using hot combs and hot brushes and, as a result, most of us had damaged hair.


 I was constantly broke at university because there were just too many hair products vying for the little money I had. I still used a relaxer in my hair but relied on friends for help in applying chemicals and styling it. No matter that we were pursuing ‘higher’ education, we never followed the instructions that came with the relaxer kit and we constantly burnt our scalps. The instructions stipulated that we leave the relaxer chemicals on our hair for no longer than 15 minutes but we would keep them on for much longer, thinking it would make our hair silkier and straighter. Instead we ended up with over-processed and badly damaged hair. We’d sit squirming until we could no longer bear the burn of the relaxer chemicals, then run to the sink and have a friend assist in washing the chemicals off. It was self-inflicted torture. When I think back to those days, it’s a miracle I have any hair today. “Beauty is pain,” the saying goes. I experienced enough of it over three years of trying to grow my hair but I had nothing to show for it: mine stayed stubbornly at my shoulders.

It wasn’t until I was well into my thirties that I began questioning what the hell I was doing to my hair in the name of beauty. Thanks to the internet, I discovered other black women in other countries who were just like me but with hair that reached their waists. I didn’t even know that this length was possible for black women! I discovered hair blogs and hair forums (longhaircareforum.com, hairliciousinc.com, keepitsimplesista.blogspot.com, relaxedhairhealth.blogspot) where thousands of women gathered to discuss all things hair. I was hooked.

I realised that I had been making mistakes with my hair my whole life. From these forums and blogs, I learnt a number of things: hair styling comes secondary to hair care; buy a few key products that work instead of spending a fortune on tons of products; stick to a regular regimen. One thing almost all the bloggers I read had in common was that they took care of their own hair. They hardly visited hairstylists.

I adopted this approach too. It was more time consuming but much kinder on my pocket. I now spend approximately R100 a month on hair products, which is much cheaper than a salon visit. The most dramatic change for me came when I introduced regular deep conditioning and daily moisturising into my hair care regimen. My hair responded and began to grow longer. Blogs and forums taught me about the use of castor oil to encourage hair growth. I began to use it religiously and for the first time in my life, my hair grew past my shoulders and down my back!


I now have a seven-year-old daughter and I make sure to care for her hair properly. She is growing up in a world where there are so many examples of black women with beautiful hair in many forms, whether natural or relaxed. Straight hair is no longer the only standard of beauty when it comes to hair. She comes across black women with bald heads, locks, natural hair and relaxed hair on a daily basis, at school, on television, in the malls. I have envied many a beautiful afro worn by girls at her school. What makes me proud is that my daughter’s hair is already down to her waist. She knows that her hair has to be taken care of properly so that it can grow even longer. Waist-length hair is not something she sees on white girls only; she already has her own.

Tendayi Kunaka writes about her journey towards long, healthy hair at africanhairblog.com. Connect with her on Twitter

Not your average bikini wax

When talking about Africa, many people still wax lyrical about vast, empty savannahs, The Lion King, flies, drums and naked women. And then they share their fears of violence, disease and crime.

By far, my greatest fear in Kenya is Njeri.

She’s the mobile “beauty therapist” who makes sure my lady bits – and those of many other expats and foreigners – are under control. Call her anytime you need her and she’ll take a matatu (taxi) and come to wherever you are, with her equipment.

When she arrives at my house she immediately sets to work. She puts her pot of wax – which she’s made with sugar, water and lemon juice – on the stove, and takes off her top. The heat along the Kenyan coast is brutal and standing over a hot stove with no fan or air-conditioning is hard work.

The process is the same every time: Njeri tells me to place an old sheet on the bed and to drop my pants and lie down on it. Then she politely asks me to spread my legs.

She moves the boiling hot pot from the stove to the bed, places it between my legs, and tells me not to move. She dips an old rusted butter knife into the pot and blows on it in a feeble attempt to cool the wax slightly. Then she spreads hot wax, like butter on toast, onto my lady bits. I can’t move or scream without knocking over the pot between my legs. I have to stay deadly still and scream on the inside.

Njeri then takes a scrap of material that she cut up the night before. Her wax strips are cuts of fabric from old bed sheets, clothes, jeans, whatever she can get her hands on. She spreads it over the hot wax, rubs up and down, and starts making clicking, clucking noises and shaking her head.

It’s her way of preparing her client for the pain to come.

She rips the fabric and wax off my bits, and immediately pats my skin and shushes me, like a mommy placating a crying baby.

“Oh, shhhhh, shhh, shhhhhh.”

And she does it all over again.  Once she has used up a strip of fabric she throws it on the bedroom floor, for me to walk around collecting afterwards.

(Graphic: Kenny Leung)

When she is done, it’s time for my legs. Half an hour later she showers my body with baby powder and tells me what a good girl I’ve been. She puts her hand out for her 400 Ksh (about R40) and heads out, leaving me on my bed, still sticky with remnants of wax, surrounded by strips of dirty fabric, and covered in powder.

Fast forward to the evening.

When my husband gets back from work, I tease him a little and tell him about my bikini wax.  He doesn’t need much teasing and follows me into the room. Just as things are getting hot and heavy, Disco, our psycho cat (named such because she fell out of the thatched roof of the local bar and landed head-first on the dance floor), attacks me.

Turns out there is a stand of string from Njeri’s fabric strips still stuck to my butt. At first I didn’t realise that it was Disco who was clawing at me to get to it … so I scream.

I’m on my husband, the cat is on me, and in an epic climax (not quite the one I had in mind), in runs the security officer with his rungu (wooden baton) because he’d heard the commotion and thought something was wrong.

So much for a romantic night with my man.

Bash, from South Africa, is a freelance project development analyst based in Kenya. She spends most of her time snorkelling, is obsessed with giraffes, has too many tattoos and loves travelling. 

Tradition and beauty: Mozambican women’s mussiro masks

In the northern coastal region and islands of Mozambique, it’s common to come across women with faces covered with a natural white mask, called mussiro or n’siro. The purpose of the mask seems to have evolved over time. Nowadays it tends to be considered more as a means of beautifying the skin but, according to oral accounts, mussiro masks used to carry other subliminal messages related to the civil status of women.

Matope Jose, writing for the local Mozambican blog Mozmaníacos, sheds some light on its historical tradition: “The Nampula province is traditionally known as the land of muthiana orera (simply beautiful ladies). The women from that region of the country have a technique that is particular to them: they treat the skin from an early age, using a sought-after forest species called mussiro, a plant that by law must be preserved and multiplied, and that is used more generally by communities to cure various diseases, as well as for decorative purposes.”

A woman from Ibo Island, Mozambique, with a mussiro mask on. (Flickr/Rosino)

In a video by Julio Silva, women from Angoche explain how the tradition has been passed down to today’s generation from their grandparents, and they show how the cream is extracted from the Olax dissitiflora plant using a stone and some water:

“This is the plant that we, as mussiros, use on our faces. It is what you can see on my face, that’s the plant.

I am Fátima, from Angoche. This mussiro, our grandparents first used it to show when a girl was a virgin. Then she would enter a house. They painted themselves with this mussiro to become white, until a boy came along who they fell in love with and married; only afterwards did they stop using the mussiro. Only afterwards, they use the mussiro like this, when someone is outside, in order to be white, to make their faces beautiful. This is mussiro. The plant is in the forest. While we usually go and meet our husbands, the great grandparents go and cut it and start selling it.”

According to Baia magazine, although mussiro was traditionally used by virgins or by women whose husbands were away, its usage has changed over time: “Nowadays, this paste is widely used and has been “liberalised” for all women, from the north to south of the country, so that it can be used not only by the Makwa or Makonde women, but also by the Manhungue, Machuabo, Maronga, Machope, Matswa, etc. It is already considered to be a beauty treatment used by all women especially concerned with African feminine beauty. Some designers are expecting their models to use this “Afro paste” on major catwalks, as they do at Mozambique Fashion Week.”

 This post by Sara Moreira was originally published on Global Voices Online.