Beauty Is… is a new documentary from social activist and filmmaker Toyin Agbetu that thoroughly explores the topic of beauty from a pan African perspective. Featuring a number of interviews with a wide range of people including British rapper/poet Akala and British actress Judith Jacob, the film looks at how we ourselves define beauty and how black beauty is viewed by society.
The film begins with a screenshot of the word ‘beauty’ being Googled and the search results are overwhelmingly dominated with images of Caucasian women; no brown-skinned women are visible.
The risks of skin bleaching and chemical hair straightening are examined well in the film. Several informative insights are shared on these serious issues including those from professionals such as pharmacists and dermatologists.
As expected, hair is a major theme in the film, which delves into the natural/unnatural debate and ideas surrounding good and bad hair. We also hear from a woman living with Alopecia and her views on beauty.
I liked that there were a range of experiences and opinions shared by women and men while remaining balanced. It didn’t feel like the film was saying one was better than the other or more beautiful when it comes to natural or unnatural hairstyles, but more about confidence. Most of the men interviewed insisted they preferred natural-haired women to women who wear weaves or have relaxed hair.
The controversial issue of colourism is also tackled in the film, which doesn’t hold back on the light skin-dark skin debate. A woman with Vitiligo recounts a time she was asked by another woman what bleaching cream she used to get that light shade. Such an instance shows the contrast between a woman who is eager to get rid of her dark skin and a woman who is deeply upset about losing hers. We also hear from a woman who previously used skin-bleaching products who said she received more male attention when her skin was lighter.
The effect of the media, how it portrays beauty and affects our self-image, is discussed in-depth in the film, while other factors such as education, religion and relationships are also addressed.
I can’t recommend Beauty Is… enough. It’s a deeply thought-provoking, emotional and brilliantly executed documentary that will make you question and rethink your ideas about beauty. I think the opening shot with the Google search demonstrates why this is such an important film. Regardless of your race, culture or gender, it encourages you to think about more globally about beauty, which is a wonderful thing.
Visit the Beauty Is… website to find out more about the global campaign behind the film and details about upcoming screenings.
Note: I won tickets to a Beauty Is… screening and debate at SOAS University courtesy of Brown Beauty Talk, a fab beauty website aimed at Women of Colour. Make sure you check it out!