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Beauty has evolved since Nigeria gained independence in 1960

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

We have sought beauty in several ways; as we tire of one trend, another emerges. What is fueling these seamless transitions? Let’s take a look at our history and how beauty has evolved since Nigeria’s independence.

The giants of Africa that we are, Nigerian women and men have never shied away from a challenge. Ask for applause and we’ll give you drums, ask for plays and bring the whole circus. This highly competitive nature has made it almost impossible for a person to stay atop the pyramid of beauty for long.

Whatever the duration or the duration of these trends, we will today recognize those which marked their place in our memories.

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

As at that time, we had just been freed from the clutches of our colonizers. But only physically. The immediate post-colonial era was a mixture of two extremes; to who desperately wanted to be white and to those who rejected anything foreign just to prove a point.

But like the children who have just found a new toy, the first group displayed a level of exhilaration that gradually redeemed the second. As a result, women of the 1960s, still decked out in their native clothes, developed an interest in the red lips and tiny eyebrows of white women. These traits crown the era and are even passed on to the next one.

Hairstyles in Nigeria in the 1970s. Photo Okhai Ojeikere

Nigeria, a nation ravaged by war and its share of domestic 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 be easily bridged. With the onset of military rule, Nigerian women consoled themselves as they knew best. At that time, popular hairstyles were made of yarn or wool. The more elaborate your hairstyle, the further poverty was away from you.

The wives of generals of this era usually wrapped their hair in styles of thick woven threads.

1980s fashion. Photo Oye_diran

As Nigeria saw its economy grow thanks to the discovery of oil, beauty standards have also evolved once again. As importing and exporting become “trendy”, there are more opportunities for flamboyance. This period widened the rift between the upper class and the lower class, and a single glance at a woman’s outfit would tell you which one she fell from.

Along with importation, luxurious laces began to permeate the Nigerian market. Wealthy women, especially those in Lagos, the federation’s capital, have adorned themselves with high-quality lace from countries around the world.

Not surprisingly, trade had grown. Importing was now the most important thing – the more foreigners, the better. Nigerian women continued to look to other countries for beauty advice and guidance. Between cable TV and Nollywood, we have become more involved in the world of “oyinbos”.

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

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

This era of flamboyance and wealth also saw an increase in the production of our African fabric, “Aso oke”. Only the rich could afford such fine fabrics.

Nollywood makeup of the year 2000. Photo @Babenextdoor

During this period, Nigerian music took center stage. Music, especially fuji and highlife music, was the talk of the town. The music had a radical feel, so it was no surprise that afros and bootcut jeans became famous.

It was brand new, and anyone who wasn’t wearing them was not one of them. Along with the skinny jeans and crop tops, many dramatic rings and earrings weren’t intimidated by your afro’s size.
This kind of radical clothing was popular, but for some it was a step too far. Not to be outdone, however, those who couldn’t wear crop tops just kept their hair afro.

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

Nigerian music was the only thing that thrived. Western music was too. By this time, Western music had completely infiltrated our ranks. And with Beyonce and Rihanna on our faces and on our screens, we absolutely wanted to look like them. It wasn’t just the skimpy clothes. Nigerians began to idolize the straight nose and thin face that most celebrities had. To achieve this look, they transformed into super thin, arched eyebrows that refined their features.

Braids and extensions sales are at an all time high and the weaving industry has never done better. The trend was to braid during the year, and as the year peaked with the holiday season, Nigerian women would settle on a weave.

Much later in this decade, Nigerian women developed a sudden interest in makeup, in large part. For the first time, they wore layers and layers of foundation, topped with concealer in strategic places.

To complete the look, the famous multi-ply gele remains in fashion until today. We can say that the looks were getting more and more daring. Despite how often men complain about disliking the outrageous amount of makeup, the trend continues to survive.

Women of this era still have not given up on their love for imported products. Italian shoes and their matching bags are trailblazers on the scene this time around.

Soft glamorous look of the 2020s. Photo Nigeria Guide

The decade has only just begun and we have seen an even greater renewal of our beauty standards. Between 2010 and 2020, a lot has changed. Suddenly thick eyebrows become superior to thin eyebrows. These days, no highly sought-after woman would leave her home bare edges.

One notable thing that has changed is that Nigerian women are now adopting their natural hair. Hair straightener companies are losing out with the growing popularity of natural hairstyles like afros, high updos and twist-outs.

A notable enemy for the weaving industries would be the growing popularity of wigs.

In turn, the human hair industry is making its debut. If wigs are all the rage, then women must be willing to spend a lot just to look good. Just a few months ago, we saw a peak in sales of “straight to the bone” human hair. At exorbitant prices, this hair is 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 into the skin care industry daily. Fair skin is the new makeup.

Grandassa Pat Bardonelle model. New York City Photo Museum

Main influencers of beauty evolution in Nigeria
1. Western Beauty Standards – They have perhaps been the main influencing factors in many beauty decisions. For a long time, it was a compliment for a Nigerian woman to be referred to as “western in appearance”. It is only recently that we have taken back our Africanness and started to see it as beautiful. Ironically, this only happened after pushing the same Westerners who contributed to our low self-esteem in the first place.

2. Nollywood – Actors and actresses, on and off screen, have formed another high point in the entertainment and beauty industry. As well as being on our screen in their carefully selected outfits, they were also in magazines, on our phones and just about everywhere else. And since the publicity was reserved for them, they were all we could admire.

3. Wealthy Housewives of Lagos – The wives of politicians have been setting 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. No one surpasses them when it comes to styles of lace to wear to their children’s wedding. High class Nigerian women are inseparable from their Italian shoes and bags.

One way or another, we are always looking for more, more beauty. In the current direction in which Nigeria seems to be evolving, we can predict that we will move further away from the western world and start to forge our way.

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