Growing up Nigerian, I never paid much attention to what I see as beautiful in our black women today. Perhaps I was just too busy living in the bright innocence of my childhood to pass judgement down on an individual's outer, material appearance. I have always looked towards the width and warmth of a smile, how the eyes narrow with the expansion of the lips, and how the body moves together with a laugh. Of course as a child, I wasn't completely blind and naive to the standards of beauty that were set up for women. I would notice the light, blotchy effects of bleaching cream on certain women that let their faces stand out from the rest of their dark bodies, the black dots on their cheeks created by eyeliners to emphasize the depth of their dimples, and an occasional chipped tooth or two caused by an attempt to artificially create a gap between their front teeth.
I never paid much attention to the different shades of skin that I saw back at home. I saw it all, although I have very patiently tried to explain to a few people here in the States on several occasions that not all Africans have the same skin tone. As I delved deeper into my studies at the Africana Studies Department of my University, I was taken back to the era of slavery and I have come to realize that the residue of the 'house' and 'field slave' mentality still lingers amongst us. Now of course bear in mind that the African and the African-American experience differs in several aspects, but there is still a fine thread that connects us all. An active member of the black community here, I have been a part of several discussions pertaining to black beauty. We've touched on it all. Weaves, clothes, make-up, how 'mixed' a woman is and so on. Women insist that they can't have natural hair because they don't have that 'good hair'. That they don't have 'Indian' in their family. That they need make-up to cover their blemishes. That weaves are essential. It really isn't anything that we haven't heard before.
Then we turn to the media. Where black women fit into certain roles. We have our Jezebels and video vixens. Women who become highly sexualized beings in movies and music videos, most bearing a certain lighter skin tone. We have our Mammies, the often overweight, good-natured black women that lack any desirable female qualities. Then we have our sassy, usually dark-skinned, finger snapping, head-rolling, ball-crushing woman. The list really does go on, but I'm sure that you can recognize the mentioned three in media and perhaps in real life as well.
So I did the Clean Faces Project. I walked around campus and invited as many black women as I could find to be a part of it. I asked them to come make-up free, free of any artificial layering that would be distracting from their natural beauty. I told them that they could wear their hair in whatever state that they preferred, mainly because I believe a black woman's hair tells a lot on the woman's personality. I ask you all to look closely at each woman in these photographs. We all have our unique looks, a trait or feature that makes us stand out so let us step away from what the media tells us, what men want from us, even what our parents expect of us and see the plain, simple beauty that can be seen in our everyday, not-so-regular black women.
Photography: Cameron Davis (http://camerondavisfotos.tumblr.com/)