I think the way that people in Namibia view ideal beauty is really interesting. Obviously this varies a bit from person to person, but just as there are certain very American views on this subject (don’t even get me started, reminds me of waay too many classes I have taken…) an ideal exists in Namibia too. Here’s a breakdown of what I can gather.
Hair: Hair should be long and straight. Women here go through a lot to get this look. Most common is plaiting (braiding), but wigs (worn over a tight braid to hide natural hair) that are made out of straight hair and relaxer/ straighteners are also common. Kids are amazed at my hair, not just because it’s long and different from theirs, but because they cannot believe that I don’t have to use multitudes of products to get it to be straight.
Also hairy bodies are totally normal and considered beautiful. My kids cannot believe I “cut” the hairs on my legs and they think it’s totally weird. I also had someone tell me they loved my armpit hair (yes that’s a glimpse into personal hygiene here ;) ) which I can certainly imagine is not a compliment I’m going to hear back home.
Skin: Generally people think that lighter skin corresponds to more beauty. I have seen women put powders and chemicals on their faces to lighten their skin and often hear my kids put themselves down saying their skin is ugly. It’s upsetting to hear and I’m not sure if it is a remnant of colonialism or even apartheid, but this is probably the most talked about part.
Size: Ideas about size are really interesting. Namibia has already been bombarded with western ideals of beauty so people already think that pop stars and actresses should be stick thin with a large chest. But on the day to day, things are different. I am constantly told that I am beautiful because I’m fat (ha I still have not gotten used to taking it as a compliment) and “shaped like a woman”. I had one learner tell me “Miss you have such a beautiful body. You look like you’ve already had two children.” A. Ouch. B. This is a much healthier way to idealize women’s bodies, and I really do appreciate how ingrained into people it is.
Teeth: Straight, white teeth are an important part of beauty only in the upper classes. In the lower class it makes no difference, they can be discolored, missing, or pointing in interesting directions and it doesn’t seem to matter. Across all levels of society, however, gold teeth are in, especially third from the front on either top or bottom. People even put little gold stickers (ok... not actually stickers, they last longer) on their front teeth. I have seen stars, moons, dolphins, and circles. It’s amazing how common this is. Mostly when I think of teeth in Namibia, though, I can’t help but picture the pre-primary kids out brushing their teeth by the fence every day after break. As a friend of mine would say, it’s so cute it causes pain ☺