Afro-diasporic women have a lot in common and share a lot of experiences, all of which can be seen through the lens of beauty.
There were both good things they had in common, like being resourceful as a group and using shea butter, and bad things, like shame, racism, fatphobia, and respectability politics, that seemed to be everywhere.
Beauty is valuable. As Black women, our currency is always at risk of being changed and traded, and our culture's beauty standards are often taken and criticized in the same sentence. Even so, as Black women, we continue to show a dedication to ourselves that comes from centuries of staying power. We celebrate our skin, hair, bodies, sexuality, and personalities through our expressions of beauty.
With these beauty practices and traditions, we honor our ancestors, give ourselves power, and show those who come after us different ways to be free.
"After spreading the coffee through the cheesecloth when my aunt or mom made coffee, they would take the grounds and put them on their faces," she remembers. "Or if they were using aloe for something else, they'd take it and use it for that, too. Or if they ate a mango, they'd rub the skin on their face and wash it off later. I just remember thinking that they did these things as a normal part of their lives. It wasn't like, ‘I'm going to the spa.’ It was just part of whatever they were doing that day or at that time."
Now that she is an adult and lives on her own, she finds herself copying the beauty routines she saw her mother do when she was a child. She does this by reusing the food in her fridge to take care of herself. ("[I'm] not buying that $30 papaya mask!") Analle says that the fact that she was able to find so many natural remedies in Haiti goes against the idea that the Caribbean is full of poor people. Because her mother taught her about beauty as a whole, she is now motivated to drink herbal tea every morning and change her diet to meet her skin's needs and other needs of her body.
For Nenna, her darker skin hasn't always fit with how Thai women are “supposed” to look. "I think Thai people like people with lighter, paler skin, even though most Thai people are tanned," she says, bringing up her grandmother, who has dark skin. Nenna says that Thai beauty often associates lighter skin with people from a higher class and darker skin with people from a lower class who are more likely to work outside. As one of the few Black-Asian models who worked in Thailand when she started out, it took her a while to build up her confidence.
No matter what color Nenna's skin was, her mother taught her to take care of it. Nenna says, "My mom would tell me to scrub my skin with a mixture of milk, turmeric, and tamarind." "When you mix these three things together, you get this yellow paste that you spread all over your skin, let sit for a while, and then wash off. When I was younger, I did the same thing." As she got older, she started making her own version of her mother's natural scrub because the turmeric was turning her skin yellow and making her clothes look dirty. She now uses her Nespresso to make herself look better.
She says, "I open up the leftover coffee grounds, add maybe some sugar and coconut oil, and then use that to scrub my skin. I love coffee scrubs the most because, when you get out of the shower, I think it's the most coarse ingredient that makes your skin feel so smooth."
Batana oil is an earthly elixir made by the people of La Moskitia, Honduras, from the nuts of the American oil palm tree. Alexa says that batana oil has many uses and benefits and is used by everyone in her community. Alexa says that batana can do everything: strengthen hair, make hair grow and stop hair loss, keep skin moist, and fade dark marks and scars.
She says, "It's so funny that many people don't know about this oil. I use it at night before I go to sleep." Alexa says that batana oil is the thing that helped her dark spots fade the most. She has been using it every night since she was a child.
"When I was nine and had chicken pox, I used that to literally heal my skin," she says. "Every time we go home, we bring back a bottle... I have locs, and if you have locs, you always have to oil your scalp. I put oil on my hair three times a week, and batana oil has helped my hair grow a lot."
For Lovette, who has a strong connection to her mother's side of the family and is a member of the Fulani tribe, the methods in question include yoni steaming for vaginal health, making her own shea butter mixtures and face masks with natural ingredients, and caring for her hair in a nostalgic, communal way.
Lovette is a strong opponent of bleaching and lightening the skin. She says that she is constantly fighting back against Western beauty standards to embrace Gambian beauty ideals, such as a fuller body or spaces between the teeth, while also keeping her late grandmother's idea of beauty.
Lovette says, "[Her] idea of beauty is being smart. It doesn't matter what country I go to, because I'm a dark-skinned woman, the anti-Blackness is always there. But I go by my brains, that's what I lead with, and that's also what I think is beautiful."
Maame can name a number of traditional Ghanaian beauty practices, such as wearing waist beads to keep track of weight or pregnancy, always wearing a pomade made of cocoa butter or shea butter, and piercing girl babies' ears with gold earrings as soon as they are born. However, the traditional beauty tips and tricks she learned in Accra are the ones she remembers best.
Maame says, "When we were little girls, our mothers or aunts would give us lime to put in our armpits so we wouldn't sweat at all. It worked much better than deodorant."
"Jewelry is the only thing that really gets passed down in my family. Jewelry is a big deal for us. It's the one thing I think my sisters and I hold on to the most. In Asian cultures, jade jewelry is often very special and is passed down from generation to generation,” she says. “My grandmother gave me a jade necklace, a jade ring, and jade earrings. We still do that today. There's something special about being able to have that, looking at a picture of my grandmother and knowing that I'm wearing her earrings and having that connection.”
As a child, Tonya's maternal grandfather, who was the only dark-skinned child of seven, had to deal with racism from his own family. For years, he wasn't allowed to learn about Chinese culture like his siblings did. Because of how he was raised, strong individualism became a new beauty standard.