“That which is striking and beautiful is not always good, but that which is good is always beautiful.” -Ninon de L’Enclos
Recently, I’ve been studying (with Beth Moore) the biblical character, Esther. This young and naive woman was chosen to become queen through a beauty contest. A beauty contest to determine a political office! And so my mind has been musing the concept of beauty. Simply put, I’m on a relentless quest to find the true meaning, fusing time periods and cultures to determine my personal philosophy of beauty.
From my initial analysis, I’ve concluded that the perception of beauty is culturally dependent. The United States spends $29 billion annually on the beauty industry. We have bought into the unsettling notion that we are only as valuable as we are beautiful. In the West, beauty = youthfulness, thinness, makeup, breasts. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In Congo, as you’ll see below, the understanding of beauty is nearly opposite.
Earlier today, I sat down with three Congolese men (students at UCBC) to discuss the concept of beauty. We engaged in a rather heated discussion regarding the qualities of a woman which these men find attractive. By and large, the most important physical aspect of a woman is her child-bearing hips…but allow me to paint the picture in a bit more detail.
The modern-day, Congolese version of Esther (beauty queen) has fair skin. Milk chocolate as opposed to dark chocolate. Not quite like a muzungu (white person), but certainly more fair than a jet-black, ebony tone. She stands at about 5′-3″, just a few inches shy of the average Congolese man. In a beauty pageant, this woman shines in every area of competition:
She knows how to accent her shapely figure with a stylish and modern version of the typical African dress, ensuring that her kikwembe (skirt) covers her legs. Her small breasts contrast with her large birthing hips, but still, her curvaceous figure is perfection. She wears no makeup or jewelry, but rather adorns herself with the glimmer in her eye when she smiles.
This category will be conducted in private, as women wouldn’t dare to bare their knees or thighs in public. However, extra points are awarded for women with outstanding features like hair on their chin, chest, and legs.
All women are expected to know how to cook, sew, and sing, therefore, the talent competition in this beauty pageant is a demonstration of endurance, perseverance, and industriousness. She will be judged in the talent portion as she cultivates her field, carries water, and sells products as the market.
Her personality and poise shine through during the interview portion. She is polite and charming, inviting you to take tea in her home while gladly receiving you in utmost hospitality. She extends a warm welcome and can make anyone feel at ease.
The basis of her mission is not diabetes awareness, promoting world peace, or preventing infant mortality. Rather, her platform is women’s education. She, herself, a survivor of rape and gender inequality, knows that providing women with knowledge and wisdom will prevent this tragedy from continuing to occur. She speaks eloquently and is well-informed about the issues of her country, pleading with business and civic leaders to advocate for change in the educational system.
Overall this Congolese beauty queen transcends the western idea of beauty. I hope you find it refreshing to know that beauty is not universal. I certainly do. Yet to be perfectly honest, I’m still trying to embrace the fact that in Congo, when someone greets me with “You’re fat!” they are giving me a sincere complement.