Exploring Beauty in South Africa & Feeling Welcomed in a Foreign Space
This blog post is written by Education Abroad Peer Advisor, Nadia Mendes ’17…
I’ve been fortunate enough to study abroad in many places, but my favorite trip has to be traveling to Cape Town, South Africa. Not only was I really excited to further my studies of the impacts of the European Standard of Beauty on Black women, but I was really excited to experience being black in a predominantly black country. I’ve never had that experience before, and I was eager to see what it would be like. There were small things, like how people viewed me and interacted with me that made my time there special. I was able to speak candidly with strangers, and feel comfortable in a foreign space. I remember one of my Uber drivers telling me that it was refreshing to have a conversation with someone that went beyond asking about the best tourist spots. I learned about the racial climate, the experience, politics, and employment in South Africa from the backseat of a car. Every minute was exciting, and I was overlooked sometimes, as though I was just another citizen who belonged there. Compared to when I was in Argentina, and my identity as a black woman resulted in being called “negrita,” because they weren’t used to seeing many black people in their country; or being in Malaysia and having high school girls take pictures with me because I was simply a foreign object. It was nice to be in a new space but feel completely welcomed. The city is truly beautiful and I admire the spirit of the people there.
My research in Cape Town was in pursuit of studying beauty and understanding the harmful effects of beauty standards. I chose Cape Town because, I initially studied beauty standards within America, and was curious if this is a global phenomenon, and ,unfortunately, it is. There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between Cape Town and America due to slavery and links between the apartheid and segregation. These defining moments in history have had lasting effects in both locations, with beauty and the business of beauty as side effects to the racism, wealth gap, and other larger problems created by both apartheid and slavery. South Africa is a predominantly black country with diversity abound. Beyond getting a deeper understanding of beauty in South Africa, I also paid attention to the advertisements to see if the marketing campaigns of a variety of companies featured some of the rich diversity that Cape Town has to offer. To obtain details for my research, I visited museums, a Fashion Week show, read books at Cape Town University’s library, and spoke to everyone: students, waitresses, Uber drivers, my AirBnb host, my South African family, people in line in front of me, anyone that wanted to share their beauty story or talk about their experience in South Africa. The experience was amazing, and Cape Town has become my new favorite city!