Beauty Journeys: A Marginalised Route
In my essay on British Beauty History, I spoke briefly about the Caribbean and African migration to the UK and how they created spaces to do their own hair, and in essence, build their own beauty networks. I want to consider how these histories have developed in modern discussions on British beauty for marginalised women. The discourse on natural hair and beauty has progressed beyond them being seen as political statements because both features have now become commodities in the online marketplace.
Marginalised women are represented as being without subjectivity and this trickles down into their precarious experiences with beauty. I want this article to question the social and cultural avenues of beauty standard production and to problematise the ways marginalised people interact with beauty standards by questioning if these can be broken down.
The history of migration in the metropole contributed to disenfranchised women’s bodies being seen as alternative. As beauty is a social negotiation and a contract that requires tedius work and reinvention of self, we can understand that it does not come from within. Beauty is constantly re-fashioned using the body and hair as its’ devices. This is why there will always be contention on the ideals of beauty, it often only platforms one specific body. In a specifically British diasporic context, this means that women are constantly working on themselves, attempting to reach multiple cultural standards of beauty. However, this is futile because they are constrained by the limiting nature of beauty ideals on the social marketplace.
Understanding this global cultural history makes it clear that representations of beauty in the diaspora are related to those in the metropole. Globalisation, that is the blending of cultures, has created specific social definitions of beauty for women of the diaspora in Britain. These representations are related to African American, African and Caribbean people whilst being diasporically different in its’ interactions with nation, belonging and community in the UK.
Within micro communities, beauty is recognised as a shared opinion, it is situated within the diaspora through racialised aesthetics. Despite popular culture placing some darker skinned women at the front pages of beauty and fashion magazines, the cunning nature of beauty means that it is only reserved for the few. There are only a small number of women who can effectively navigate the structure of beauty. Beauty is not something that simply is but it is rather done for its cultural unambiguity. Marginalised women in popular beauty culture are consistently represented as being undesirable and without agency. There is an assumed erasure of subjecthood that has been a pillar of mainstream feminist interpretations of beauty. These archaic characterisations mean that the image created of marginalised women may be compromised in the global market of what it means to be in a marginalised woman’s body.
This disempowered identity is one that struggles with the paradoxical nature of ‘western-ness’ and global cultural beauty standards. There are undercurrents of a hostile environment which make it clear that belonging is really closely connected to beauty. To be beautiful is to endlessly desired; to always have a place. The larger concept of beauty and belonging purposely obfuscates the possibility of a becoming centered from the margins. Belonging becomes a pipe dream for these women and seriously exposes the reality that they may never actually come home to the feeling of belonging in Britain.