Josette Koukoui: Women Are Expected to Look a Certain Way Forever

I got enlightened about makeup many years ago from my traditional culture. In Africa, we have different types of makeup with natural ingredients. Many people call them ‘taboo’, but they are not taboo, just traditional ways of wearing makeup for various occasions or simply different times of the year. For example, we have a special makeup for the hunters when the hunting period starts. When I was young, I used to wear something made of a plant from my country, basically putting dark blue colour under my eyes. It is still popular amongst a lot of African women nowadays.

There was a time when I got obsessed with modern cosmetics as a teenage girl with shaved eye brows, colorful eye shadow and so on, until once my dad talked to me:“People say your mother is beautiful, but have you ever seen she put any of these stuff on her face?” She is indeed a pretty woman, and even when she wears makeup, it is just a little bit of shadow on the eyes and lip glossing. It might sound too simple, but I lost interest in makeup and never went back to it ever since. It has been for many years and I cannot even stand putting foundation on my face now. However, foundation was not popular in Africa anyway because of the hot weather. Younger generations might think it is trendy or fancy, especially with new products like BB cream. But the nature of fashion is changeable all the time. One illustration of this is weave or hair extensions, which has been a controversial topic in black community for a while, as many black females loved it but now realised the damage it causes to their own hair. I know that there are projects dedicated to encouraging African women to love the natural texture of their hair.

It became an interesting topic for me to think about why women love wearing makeup, after I personally stopped it and changed my view of beauty. One thing I observed is possibly the fact that women are expected to look a certain way forever. Looking at the media, you would find many messages from movies or news that women should try to stay young and beautiful, forever. For example, many actors with grey hair have been described as ‘distinguished’, but it probably would not make female stars more charming. Although there are countless wonderful and talented actresses there, elderly female characters in some dramas are quite stereotyped sometimes, like if you are an old woman, you have to be mad somehow.



*This article is based on an interview with Josette Koukoui on April 10th, 2017.

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