Diversity – we have so much to learn from the other.
kelly fonderson -What you should absolutely know before actually starting to read this article.Passport -This first year student of Politics and international relations at the University of Bath, comes straight from the Netherlands, where she spent the 18 first years of her life. Born of Cameroonian parents, Kelly has always, from her earliest years, gone to English-speaking schools and actually speaks three languages: English, Dutch and French more or less. It’s therefore not surprising that Kelly decided in 2015, after having successfully passed the International baccalaureat (IB) to move to the UK. ‘ I don’t know, I just wanted to try something new’, she says.
But politics was not her chosen field at first. A huge fan of Gospel, Kelly wanted to study music at Oxford, an ambition quickly removed, as working in the art community can easily turn out to be a struggle financially talking. It is in this context that Kelly decided to study politics. ‘Power fascinates me’, she confides in me, ‘because no matter where you go, since you’re working with more than one person, there will be this relationship with a power dynamic getting established. Therefore studying politics will enable me to understand how this power is applied at different levels …’.
About her Passions.. Aside from music, Kelly adores sport and fashion, she will even confide in me later on, a bit dreamily,of her dream to have ‘someday’ her own clothe line. ‘I’ve always adored fashion, clothes … I’m designing my own clothes, sometimes, for parties, celebrations …’ But not only that, she also participated in two fashion catwalks where she was able to present three models that she actually designed.
-Above, one of the dresses designed and worn by kelly for her graduation ceremony.
And if her career plans are still uncertain, as are many at this age, Kelly already knows one thing: she wants to work with people, and help them feel more confident.Confidence, this is the word. Slowly, our discussion takes another turn, converging towards more concrete topics. At some point I end up boldly asking her point of view on standards of beauty and their impact on women’s well- being.
And it doesn’t take long before we realize that we’re living in a world of desires massively unsatisfied. Because if European women dream of a lightly tanned skin, Asian women want a diaphanous skin, and black women aspire to have a lighter skin (obviously, those statements can’t be generalised). The cosmetics which give us the greatest pleasure are those that will stop at nothing to feed and satisfy those needs.
Although those norms seem to be disconnected from each other, they all merge on one point, all stem from Western ideals. That ideal is massively spread through the media and the fashion industry, all representing the perfect woman as a thin one with a light skin, delicate face, straight nose, thin lips and straight hair. ‘An ideal which is not attainable for many’ as Kelly says sceptically, ‘but towards which everyone tries to conform, consciously as well as unconsciously’.
And despite some magazines’ attempts to get more diversified, standards remain the same. ‘ It is harsh to say but all the beauties are not celebrated, in the Netherlands where I’m from, Turquish and arabic women are overlooked, whereas they are an integrant part of the landscape’ she tells me.
But is it a solution to categorise???
In response to this phenomenon, Ethnic Magazines have increased these last few years in order to reverse the present trend and fill a loopholes. Often considered as community-focussed, those magazines try as much as they can to give value to those women who have been so often forgotten in the process. It is the same online, where we can observe the coming of a new kind of woman blogger claiming their identity. Ambitious projects, which nonetheless do not compensate for the negativity of the main trend, as those magazines remain minor and underserved in comparison with glossy reviews such as ELLE, COSMOPOLITAN, and GLAMOUR sold in millions of copies.
Above, the statistical data of the models who appeared in the fashion section of ELLE – 88% of caucasian against 7% of asians, and only 3% of women of colour..More diversity in those magazines is crucial in my opinion, as it will resolve different kind of issues.
Quietly leaning back against the grass, lost in thoughts, Kelly agrees, even though for her such changes are not realistic at this date.And as our discussions continue, Kelly remembers how ‘when I was a kid, my mum used to style my hair with thread, I really loved this haircut because my hair was getting longer but I quickly became demotivated because of my classmates’ attitude, they could not understand my haircut’. And so for good reason, if ignorance engenders idiocy, the lack of diversity creates this intrigue and this reluctance to be different from the norm.
This haircut (made with special threads) is very popular in Sub Saharan Africa, as it lenghtens and untangles the afro hair.
For Kelly, wearing an Afro has a lot to do with the environment you’re living in, which plays a role in your self-confidence. ‘If those women are in an environment where they are in minority and under- represented, the adventure will be more complicated. Furthermore,’ she adds, ‘when you’re a black woman, dealing with your natural hair is not an easy task, however I totally refuse to burn my hair with chemical products just to look like a Caucasian, – there are limits to everything’.
Environment, self confidence: two interlinked notions, which remind us of the strong influence of media on our personal beliefs.