The Cost, Paradox of Fashion

The 21st century and its ever-changing, yet redundant and contorted, beauty standards are enough to leave any trend-follower in awe.

Advertising and marketing strategies, generally portraying women revealing skin – even on products unrelated to skin care – are constantly bombarding the psyche with new ideas as to what it is that represents beauty. The evolution of beauty standards tends to reduce anyone’s liberty of choice down to ashes, and it has now reached a peak in Addis Abeba.

Our city has seen its social, cultural and artistic gatherings grow over the past few years, with events left and right. This has reached to a point where it has become difficult to keep up with what to do throughout the week.

A couple of friends and I had made it our business to explicitly express our discontent at last Saturday’s fashion show, held on the famous and ever-busy Bole Medhanialem, without necessarily knowing how to go about it. A show in all its glitz and glamour, which had young, well-dressed Ethiopians entering the venue in their Sunday best.

It wasn’t so much the glamour that had us wondering about the realism of the occurrence, but rather the objective of the event itself. A human hair fashion show held in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, sponsored by three of the biggest companies in the country. Had the purpose of the event been for cancer patients or anyone in vital need of human extensions, I think it would have alleviated the anguish of seeing our women being unconsciously forced into expensive monthly investments – without even brushing on the human hair traffic issues.

We weren’t sitting over dinner being judgmental of the event, the sponsors or the attendees, but rather assessing the pros and cons of hosting such an event in our current society’s state of mind. It is undeniable that any woman has the right to beautify herself in any way she pleases, by adding colour to her hair or extensions on her head, or even her body for that matter.

However, given the damaging effects of such alterations, should they not be viewed as unequivocally damaging – not only to each individual, but our society as a whole, physically, psychologically and culturally? Will the admiration of such aesthetics at this level and the spotlight it was given not alter our society’s sense of what is appropriate and what is not? Will it not, if it hasn’t to some extent already, change our people’s view of natural braided hair or afros?

As we sat engaged in our conversation, we pondered on the identity crisis that our youth is currently facing, with the acceptance of straight ironed hair as proper and natural hair as unkempt and untidy. Though the extent of this perspective is less flagrant in Ethiopia than in the West, it is nonetheless an up and coming trend that is forcing our women to queue up at the abundance of hair salons in our city.

Should we have to witness celebrities, such as Alicia Keys, boycotting make-up to make us realise the true worth of these products or understand the strategies of such companies to make us dependent on them from our teenage years to death? Should our natural state not be our individual pride and authenticity, rather than feeling an urge to look like the women, almost always Caucasians, featured in all of the high end fashion magazines?

This is a topic for each one of us to take the time to thoroughly think through, as to the actions we are taking on similar matters and what it says about our sense of self-acceptance and the society we live in. This is not about adhering to an all-natural feminist party line, as most would think, but rather about the understanding of our own standards of beauty and accepting ourselves. All that being said, it makes one wonder if the organisations that sponsored the event were fully backing its objectives or if it was yet another marketing opportunity to increase the visibility of their respective brands. Even so, we sat there wondering whether or not it is each and every citizen’s and company’s responsibility to fully know and understand what we are attaching our names to.

By Christine Yohannes

Published on Jul 26,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 847]



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