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Nigeria At 61: The Story Our Faces Tell

By Tariemi Oreoritse
03 October 2021   |   7:48 am
Time goes by, and the world continues to spin, but one thing never seems to change; our innate desire for beauty. We’ve sought beauty in many ways; as we get tired of one trend, another appears. What fuels these seamless transitions? Let’s take a look through our history and how beauty has evolved ever since…

Beauty has evolved since Nigeria’s independence in 1960

Time goes by, and the world continues to spin, but one thing never seems to change; our innate desire for beauty.

We’ve sought beauty in many ways; as we get tired of one trend, another appears. What fuels these seamless transitions? Let’s take a look through our history and how beauty has evolved ever since Nigeria’s independence.

Giants of Africa that we are, Nigerian women and men have never backed down from a challenge. Ask for applause, and we’ll give you drums, ask for drama, and we bring the entire circus. This vibrantly competitive nature has made it almost impossible for one person to stay at the top of the beauty pyramid for long.

However long or short these trends have lasted, today we will be recognising those that have marked their spots in our memories.

Styles of 1960. Photo John Hinde Collection (1960s-1970s)

As at this time, we were just freed from the claws of our colonisers. But only physically. The immediate post-colonial era was a mix between two extremes; to who desperately wanted to be white and those who rejected everything foreign just to prove a point.

But like children who have just found a new toy, the former group displayed a level of elation that gradually bought over the latter. As a result, women in the 1960s, still adorned in their native attire, developed an interest in the white women’s red lips and tiny brows. These features crowned the era and would be passed down even to the next.

Hairstyles in Nigeria in the 1970s. Photo Okhai Ojeikere

Nigeria, a nation riddled with war and its share of inner crisis, began to face the reality that they were not white. In fact, there was a huge gap between them and the whites, which could not easily be closed. Coupled with the commencement of military rule, Nigerian women consoled themselves the way they knew best. In this era, the popular hairstyles were made of thread or wool. The more elaborate your hairstyle was, the farther away was poverty from you.

The wives of generals in this era would commonly wrap their hair up in thick woven thread styles.

1980s fashion. Photo Oye_diran

As Nigeria saw a boost in its economy due to the discovery of oil, beauty standards also evolved one more time. As importation and exportation become the “in thing”, there is more opportunity for flamboyance. This period widened the gap between the upper and the lower class, and one look at a woman’s outfit would tell you which she fell under.

With importation, luxurious laces started to permeate the Nigerian market. Wealthy women, especially the ones in Lagos, the capital of the federation, adorned themselves with high grades of laces from countries all over the world.

Not surprisingly, trade had developed. Importation was now the biggest thing around—the more foreign, the better. Nigerian women continued to look up to other countries for beauty advice and counsel. Between cable TV and Nollywood, we meddled deeper into the world of the “oyinbos.”

To prove this was the famous beauty mole. After darkening her eyes, lips, and eyebrows with kohl or eyeliner, women would make an artificial mole called the beauty mole, somewhere around their lips or nose. They believed that this drew attention to the shape of their lips or nose.

One thing categorised this era; gold. We loved our gold almost as much as our government loved oil. So, we kept digging for it.

This age of flamboyance and affluence also saw a rise in the production of our African fabric, “Aso oke.” Only the rich could afford such fine woven fabrics.

Y2K Nollywood Makeup. Photo @Babenextdoor

During this period, Nigerian music took the forefront. Music, especially fuji and highlife music, was the talk of the town. The music had a radical feel, so it was not surprising that afros and bootcut jeans became famous.

It was brand new, and anyone that wasn’t wearing those didn’t belong. Along with the jeans and tight crop tops came many rings and dramatic earrings that weren’t intimidated by the size of your afro.
This kind of radical clothing was popular, but for some, it was a leap too far. Not to be left behind, however, those who couldn’t wear crop tops simply kept their hair in an afro.

As a woman in the 2000s, you needed only two colours in your eyeshadow palette; gold for your eyelids and red for your cheeks.

Nigerian music was the only thing that’s thriving. Western music was also. By this time, western music had completely infiltrated our ranks. And with Beyonce and Rihanna in our faces and on our screens, we definitely wanted to look like them. It wasn’t just the skimpy clothing. Nigerians started to idolise the straight nose and slim face that most celebrities had. To achieve this look, they turned super thin and arched brows that made their features seem slimmer.

Braids and extension sales are at an all-time high, and the weave-on industry has never done better. The trend was to braid during the year, and as the year comes to its climax with the holiday season, Nigerian women would fix on a weave-on.

Much later in this decade, Nigerian women develop a sudden interest in makeup- a lot of it. For the first time, they were wearing layers and layers of foundation, topped off with concealer at strategic spots.

To complete the look is the famous multi-pleated gele that remains in fashion until today. We can say that the looks were getting bolder and bolder. Despite how often men complain that they do not like the outrageous amount of makeup, the trend continues to survive.

Women in this era still haven’t let go of their love for imported goods. Pioneering the stage this time are Italian shoes and their matching bags.

2020s soft glam look. Photo Nigeria Guide

The decade has only just begun, and we have seen an even greater turnover in our beauty standards. Between 2010 and 2020, a lot has evolved. All of a sudden, thick brows become superior to thin ones. These days, no highly sought-after woman would leave her house with her edges unlaid.

One notable thing that has changed is that Nigerian women are now embracing their natural hair. Relaxer companies are losing with the increasing popularity of natural hairstyles like afros, high buns, and twist-outs.

A notable nemesis for the weave-on industries would be the increasing popularity of wigs.

In return, the human hair industry makes its debut. If wigs are the in thing, then women must be ready to spend loads just to look good. Just months ago, we saw a peak in the sale of “bone straight” human hairs. Going at outrageous prices, these hairs are soon becoming what defines beauty in the Nigerian beauty space.

Along with silky soft hair, Nigerian women have also taken a step back to look at their skin, pouring millions daily into the skincare industry. Clear skin is the new makeup.

Grandassa model Pat Bardonelle. Photo Museum of the City of New York

Top Influencers of Nigeria’s Beauty Evolution
1. Western beauty standards- They were perhaps the major influencers of many beauty decisions. For a long time, it was a compliment for a Nigerian woman to be called “western-looking.” Only recently did we pick up our African-ness and begin to consider it beautiful. Ironically, this only came about after nudging from the same Western people that contributed to our low self-esteem in the first place.

2. Nollywood- Actors and actresses, on the screen and off, have formed another pinnacle in the entertainment and beauty industry. Apart from being on our screen in their carefully selected outfits, they were also in magazines, on our phones, and pretty much everywhere else. And as the advertisement was solely left to them, they were all we could look up to.

3. Rich housewives of Lagos- Wives of politicians have been setting the trends for as long as they can remember. They don’t just have access to the best lace in the country; they are their suppliers. Nobody tops them when it comes to lace styles to wear to their children’s wedding. High-class Nigerian women are inseparable from their Italian shoes and bags.

One way or the other, we always look for more, more beauty. In the current direction in which Nigeria’s evolution seems to be, we may predict that we will be straying even farther from the Western world and begin to carve out a path for ourselves.

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