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The Beauty Lessons Shudu Musida Is Serving Us

On how to own and redfine our Black beauty

BY Naledi K

May 04, 2021, 06:22 PM

When a beautiful, curvaceous, Black woman from Limpopo was crowned Miss South Africa it sent shock waves through the beauty industry. And no wonder, a few decades earlier Shudufhadzo Musida would never have won. In fact, her win was proof that African women have finally learned to define beauty for ourselves, and not a minute too soon.

It was only last year that 24-year-old Shudufhadzo Musida walked the Miss SA stage showing off every inch of her African beauty - dark in complexion, her curves swaying, her head bald and her smile wide and bright - to walk away with the coveted title.
We’ve come a long way as a world, continent and country in how we define beauty. It has been a journey of small steps, of unlearning and of loving ourselves as Black women so that we could re-define the standard of beauty to not only include us but to be about us. The evolution of beauty in Africa had long needed to be challenged but when Shudu won, Black women everywhere won. The Miss SA beauty pageant is a great demonstration of how people's perceptions of beauty have changed over time.

Black people in every shade, size and shape have always had beauty worth beholding, and yet for the longest time people have worked hard to convince Black people - women specifically - that we need to change ourselves to be considered beautiful.

Change your hair, make it smoother and sleeker. Change your complexion, make yourself lighter and more “whiter”. Change your body, make yourself thin and lose those curves. See the trend?

And yet somewhere along the way, Black women said: “No, thank you. We are going to change things now." And we decided to celebrate our beauty for what it is and not what it could be.
However, the battle continues. The legacy of colonialism and oppression and having been convinced that beauty is anything but Black still rears its ugly head every time the conversation comes around to beauty. Even after agreeing that white was not the standard, we still had to learn and unlearn a few things and Shudu’s win gave us a few lessons to run with.

That ALL black is beautiful 

Shudu’s win gave women a chance to celebrate a different shade, size and shape of Black and said to the world: "Black is different, but all black is beautiful.”

Black women have had to affirm that ALL Black is beautiful every time we heard the phrase “black is beautiful''. The self-love movement was threatened by the people who insisted on parading one particular shade of Black as being above the rest. In Europe, it was very dark-skinned women while in SA it was girls with yellow-bone skin. 

As if the colourism debate wasn’t enough, we still had women going against each other in body-shaming battles; thick is better than thin and just as that battle was raging on, the tribalist entered the chat pinning black women of the Xhosa tribe against black women of the Sotho tribe etc.

Shudu’s win - inspired by Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi’s win - basically said: “Everyone can have their turn at the title because we all Black is worthy of the crown.”

To forget the Disney definitions of beauty

Shudu’s win said: “Beauty is what we say it is.” 

Black women had the tough and never-ending job of undoing and one of the first things we had to learn was that the white and model-like Barbie doll was not the standard. For decades white dolls, with their long, sleek blonde hair, was the only doll most Black girls received as gifts. It played a big role in what we defined as beautiful from a young age.

And then Disney waltzed in and cemented that Westernised standard of beauty with its white princesses. It took us a while to realise the effect these dolls and fairytale princess had on us as little Black girls. There was no representation of the Black girl for a long time but once we woke up to that fact we knew it had to change.
Miss SA 2010 Bokanga Tshabalala (nee Montjane) said: "No ma’am, we are going to have dolls that look just like us,” and created her own line of Black, beautiful dolls #PrincessBokangDolls. 

To take back our autonomy

Shudu and Zozi’s back-to-back wins said: “The secret is autonomy.”

The reaction to Shudu’s win showed the world that Africa had figured out the secret to defining its beauty. It showed that the confidence that comes from knowing you are beautiful no matter what anyone says is the real plug. The knowledge that you can choose to enhance your aesthetic and your beauty and and your Africanism wouldn’t falter one tiny bit was huge.

After Shudu won, people on social media (particularly Twitter) started comparing her to Zozi. Shudu kept her head held high and reiterated that it was Zozi who inspired her to enter the pageant due to her “grace and her ability to make a statement without straining her voice”.

What started off as a comparison of body features, hairstyles and essentially their “beauty”, ended up as ugly conversation where mainly men policed how women ought to define beauty and what they see as beautiful. Then Zozi stepped it up and summed up the discussion with one, frame-worthy tweet:
 “It's actually not about that. It's about autonomy. The ability of women expressing themselves however they choose to. It's about saying we are all beautiful in our natural hair and in weaves for those who choose to. It's not a competition but a celebration of ALL Women.”