On Thursday when it was my last day at the Louis Marie School, I was trying to explain to some students how I might never see them again because I was leaving soon to go back to America. However, as I tried to do this, many were too focused on my hair. “Auntie, your hair is so soft and silky.” “Should we braid it?” “What do you do to your hair?” While I was too focused on trying not to cry from saying goodbye, they played with my hair.
Standards of beauty are different all around the world and much like anywhere else, Ghana has its own expectations to what is considered a “beautiful” woman. Some of this beauty consists of hair and skin, which to me seems to be some of the most noticeable that people pay attention to.
Despite being banned in Ghana, skin bleaching creams still make it on to the market. Influence from the media is often thought to be the main culprit responsible for the popularity of skin whitening among Ghanaian women; many believe paler skin to be a sign of beauty and will go to extreme lengths to achiever a fairer complexion. For instance, as I rode a tro tro one day, a mate (the man who gets people to board) randomly tapped my shoulder and said, “I like your skin. I like the color.” I was very shocked and surprised because usually any interaction I have with any Ghanaian is either saying good morning to me, asking how I am or where do I come from. Although there are some natural techniques used to lighten the skin, the results can be quicker and more noticeable with creams, many of which contain dangerous chemicals and ingredients. Because of this danger, the creams have been outlawed in Ghana but it could be a matter of years before the market is free of the goods.
In Ghana, long, luscious hair is favored above short styles as being more beautiful, and many Ghanaian women spend hours in hair salons to achieve the long locks they crave. Hair extensions are popular in Ghana, where women enjoy the variety of styles that can be created with longer hair. When applied correctly, hair extensions can last for months with minimal damage, but too-heavy extensions or poorly fitted weaves can result in hair matting and tension alopecia – where tension on the scalp causes the hair to fall out. Many styles of braiding are popular, either with or without extensions, creating different concepts of “beauty” to different people.
As with anywhere else, beauty techniques and associations have positive and negative elements; the female body shape is admired, which can be empowering for women, but the trend towards some routines that are harmful highlights the flipside of beauty standards in the nation. Mainly every woman has tried to change something from themselves to be considered “beautiful.” However, after seven full weeks in Ghana, I can say that the people, the experience, and my friends made me gain self-esteem. As a joke but also to give confidence to each other, my friends and I say, “You look good” (if you know, you know) (vine video).