Film Review: Beauty Is…

Beauty Is… is a new documentary from social activist and filmmaker Toyin Agbetu. Featuring a number of interviews with people like British rapper/poet Akala and British actress Judith Jacob, the film looks at how we ourselves define beauty and how black beauty is viewed by society.

The film begins with a screenshot of the word ‘beauty’ being Googled. The search results are overwhelmingly dominated with images of white women, with no brown-skinned women in sight.

The risks of skin bleaching and chemical hair straightening are examined well. Several informative insights are shared on these serious issues including those from professionals such as pharmacists and dermatologists.

As expected, hair is a major theme in the film. It delves into the natural/unnatural debate and problematic ideas surrounding “good hair” and “bad hair”. We also hear from a woman living with Alopecia and her views on beauty.
I like that the film shares a range of people’s experiences and opinions while  remaining balanced. It didn’t feel like the film was saying one was better than the other when it comes to natural or unnatural hairstyles, but more about confidence. Interestingly, most of the black men interviewed insisted that they preferred natural hair to weaves and relaxers. Personally, I don’t think all of these men were completely honest about this but, moving on…

The controversial issue of colourism is also tackled in the film. It doesn’t hold back on the light skin-dark skin debate. A woman with Vitiligo recounts a time she was asked by another woman what bleaching cream she used to get that light shade. Such an instance shows the contrast between a woman who is eager to get rid of her dark skin and a woman who is deeply upset about losing hers. We also hear from a woman who previously used skin-bleaching products who said she received more male attention when her skin was lighter.

The media’s portrayals of beauty and how this affects our self-image is discussed in-depth and in an unbiased way, I felt. Other factors such as education, religion and relationships are also addressed.

I can’t recommend Beauty Is… enough. It’s a deeply thought-provoking, emotional and brilliantly executed documentary that will make you question and rethink your ideas about beauty. I think the opening shot with the Google search demonstrates why this is such an important film. Regardless of your race or cultural background, it encourages you to think about more globally about beauty.

Note: I won tickets to a Beauty Is… screening at SOAS University thanks to Brown Beauty Talk. It’s a fab beauty website aimed at Women of Colour so make sure you check it out!

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