- Central Africa
- Beauty - Fashion - Women
The Black woman’s new look
"Naked woman, black woman. Dressed in your color that is life, in your form that is beauty!", reads the famous line from Leopold Senghor’s Femme Noire. And yet, day in day out, the man regarded as one of the most revered African intellectuals of the last century is ridiculed down to his toe nails. Natural beauty? What natural beauty. From New York, London, Paris to Brazzaville, via Abidjan, Bamako, Dakar, Douala..., it is becoming increasing rare to come across Black women strutting their naturally strong feminine magnetism. Apart from the outrageous skin lightening phenomenon, the sexy afro hair has not only given way to synthetic hair, but hairs that are grown on Indian, Brazillian and Chinese heads. Congo, a typical African setting, has become the quintessential burlesque of the counterfeited African woman. Needless to say, it is a high return enterprise for a woman who proudly calls herself the Congolese "Marilyn Munroe"!
It is a fine September morning in Brazaville, Congo, and the bourgeois species has invaded the main morgue in the city. They are here to make sure that the body of a defunct dear one is properly appareled and ready for a big showy funeral. As paradoxical as it may seem, it is here in this morgue that the tired flabby skin and breasts of a corpse imbibed with hydroquinone is reborn. The low neckline dress or decolté thrown on the corpse to show its expensive breast job is confusing! "If God is dead, everything is permitted". Dostoevsky and Nietzsche couldn’t be more right. After all, humility is a tributary of that great river called pride. In Brazzaville, what should be a place of meditation and mourning has become a replica of the red carpet at the Cannes film festival. Women go to funerals to show off their curves, bosoms, new hair. Funerals are all about whetting sexual appetites. Mourning has been relegated to the background.
But even more surprising is that out of the 500 women present here at the morgue, 480 have long discarded their natural hair. They are either wearing wigs or weaves. Woe betide anyone who dares break the code of new womanhood and not wear a wig! And not just any wig. It has to be Brazilian or Indian! Insults and mockery against the prodigal daughter who doesn’t are virulent. "Brazilian" and "Indian" hair are second to none. And the Indians, whose hairs are transformed into wigs and are certainly unaware of their own abuse, continue to brighten the days of hundreds of Congolese women who line up to buy or rent fake hair with a mutinous urge, thousands of miles away.
In a corner of the morgue, one of the womenfolk’s "Indian" hair flows all the way down to caress her huge round buttocks, whilst her three year old daughter’s "Brazilian" dances the samba on her shoulders. "Without it (the Indian), I feel uneasy," says the Indian-haired Black mother, with a smirk. "From the first lady to the very last, we are all keen on frills, without which we are nothing". No one dares to challenge her as all eyes covetously move to another woman in the middle of the room, brazenly sporting nothing natural; from her bleached skin, false eyelashes, enhanced breasts, false nails, nose job, surgically implanted bluish green eyes, and of course her long Beyonce-looking wig. She is apparently a Congolese French-born Parisian gallery manager. "Like all women, I need to change my hairstyle from time to time for that surprise effect. This requires wigs or weaves, without which I am not in harmony with myself" she says.
And Congo is the land of The Miss. There are so many pageants to make Donald Trump run for dear life! The list is inexhaustible... Miss Fifty (years), Miss Forty (years), Miss fight against flies, Miss Total, Miss Fortune ... All these women spend up to 700 Euros each (450 000 FCFA) on wigs. The Lace Wig, especially, can easily reach the sum of 1000 Euros.
"As long as there are black women, I wont be found wanting"
And in this big burlesque oratorio - where the most unnatural is queen - a young woman has found her perfect act. She organizes the orchestra of fakes. Thirty something, her unnaturally lightened skin is imbibed in cortisone. She would be white had it not been for those dark and stubbornly natural knuckles. Nonetheless, she’s got the title all the Bacongo women would die for: "the Congolese Marilyn Monroe". She is a natural blonde. Natural because her wig is. She gets her hair from Brazil. A businesswoman at heart, she does not own a wig or weave shop. No, she does not. She has made it big by renting out wigs that come straight from Brazil. More than four times per year, she travels from Brazzaville to Rio. Her business is a force to reckon with.
Every single Saturday, a myriad of superficial and extremist women armed to the nail hasten to her home at dawn, hours before she gets out of her satin linen bed. They have to be among the first arrivals to get the best. They are all fanatic converts of the "mine" (the art of borrowing clothes or accessories). Among them, are those who would rent a wig for 10 000 FCFA at the weekend, while there are those who rent a wig for 30 000 FCFA per week. The business woman has hundreds of customers in Brazzaville, with the exception of those who live on the outskirts.
Only recently, she rented a wig to a Member of Parliament for 50 000 CFA francs for two days. "The MP counted five fresh notes of 10 000 CFA francs without batting an eye, and she did not even try to bargain," enthused the entirely artificial Marilyn Munroe, adding: "As long as there are black women, I wont be found wanting: my head is throbbing with so many ideas for black beauty ..." One of her biggest wishes is to have more customers like that good MP. And for good reason: "wigs rented by VIPs are returned intact, unlike those rented out to those ordinary girls". Besides, she wants to penetrate foreign markets. "Why not Cameroon where even the simple braids have not been seen for the past five thousand or so years?"
Her success has however stirred jealousy. And gossiping is rife: "Witchcraft partly explains her success," "She has lovers in every street corner, they are the ones who give her the money for her numerous trips," etc.. But "Marilyn Monroe" won’t be bothered. "It is true that many men want me! But my one and only boyfriend is enough!" What she fails to explain is her boyfriend’s probable fetishist tendencies; one that involves dating a woman who is artificially made from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet with the exception of her...
Notwithstanding the burlesque charade, "Marilyn Monroe" can be spared for one simple reason: Congo is an open madhouse. A place where everyone applauds everyone for no reason at all. On all fronts and at all levels there is someone ready to applaud... an applause for power cuts, one for water cuts, another one for that new dance move in town, how about a big one for Marilyn Munroe’s new wigs, an even louder one for that skin lightening product that bleaches the stubbornly dark skin on the knuckles? Yes the one with its own Black mind! Here, Michael Jackson is not seen as an artist, but one to be emulated.
A few months ago, Kenyan women had declared a sex strike to urge politicians to make more constitutional reforms. Men should do the same to encourage women to become more natural. But alas! some of the very men who can encourage that change are busily applying skin lightening creams and lotions. Do not say you were not forewarned, if you come across a poster with a male Congolese singer.