In the 1970s conservative Malawian president Dr. Hastings Banda imposed a strict dress code on his country, prohibiting women from wearing short skirts and trousers. A decade later, then Minister for Community Development and Women’s Affairs, Joyce Mujuru, banned beauty contests in Zimbabwe. In 2001, two hundred people were killed in northern Nigeria after an article on the Miss World pageant being held in the country sparked religious riots.
Each case is an example of an attempt to defend the African female identity from being exploited by Western conceptions of beauty. It is a debate that has been discussed since the advent of colonialism and the introduction of an opposing set of ideals. And as our own society becomes more influenced by the outside world through the effects of globalisation and mass media, it is something that Zimbabwean women consider on a daily basis – negotiating our identities through the beauty choices we make.
This short photo essay examines the thoughts and experiences of women in Harare as they attempt to define identity through beauty. A selection of these images were photographed for the Open Society Initiative in Southern Africa’s (OSISA) annual journal BUWA under the title ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’.