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Generational Beauty Traditions and Inner Beauty

Updated: Feb 29

Our outer beauty is closely related to our inner beauty. We often engage in certain behaviors or avoid others without realizing their connection to our family history. Colonization has given the black community trauma as it relates to our appearance. More than ever, people are curious about their family trees but usually only know their ancestral origins and physical appearance. We have all heard comments like "You look just like..." or "You remind me of..." or "My mother used to..." These are transgenerational ties that continue to shape who we are. For example, most women in my family have always been obsessed with beauty and health. From my great-grandmother, who used to do her nails weekly, to my grandmother's skin care, to my mother, a cosmetologist, all of these self-care habits have been passed down to me. Today, I have taken all I’ve learned and made my appearance intentional through radical self-care as a movement.

Black Salon Family business
Visualizing myself in my future salon

Wellness is a concept that emerged in the 19th century (GWI). However, wellness was not accessible to my enslaved ancestors due to slavery or recent freedom. Black people were oppressed and forced to shop amongst themselves, which led to the emergence of kitchen beauticians. One of the famous kitchen beauticians was Madame CJ Walker (Byrd & Tharps, 76). Although the term wellness was not yet used, it was something that we all practiced. We inherited many family traditions from our ancestors without knowing their origin. Only during health crises did we start questioning and innovating ways to care for our bodies.

Hair Story Book for Black American Hair history
My references are from the 2001 book version, even though this is the 2014 version of the book.

In African American culture, the way you look and your isms determine how you are perceived; thus, your success in life is predicated on this very appearance. Though most of my family lineage came from struggles, knowing how we present ourselves as others in society was essential. We were not allowed to wear certain things outside the house. We were to be seen and not heard, be always ladylike and polished. When I was a kid attending Columbus Africentric Early College and doing personal studies, I thought these practices were slaves mentally (Salih). It wasn’t until I attended cosmetology school that I greatly appreciated these practices. I started to question the intentions behind these practices versus wanting to reject them. 

Netflix: In our Mothers Garden
A very touching documentary about black women and our family traditions and radical self care.

When going off the path of these unintentional and traditional self-care practices, I felt out of sorts. I almost had panic attacks when I didn't keep up with my appearance and didn't do my nighttime routine. I started to journal and question these feelings. Rejecting the traumatic feelings and embracing the intention was to recode these self-care practices and add more loving intention behind them (Lewis). I like to wear athleisure as a versatile option indoors and outdoors. I found my confidence and voice while working as a hairstylist and being appreciated for my skills. I started caring for my physical health, which made me feel good from the inside out, and my inner beauty radiated outward. I also incorporated

my mother's beauty practices into my routine, but with a modern twist. Thanks to this transformation, I can keep my mother's traditions alive in a loving, intentional, and contemporary way.

What Generational Beauty Traditions and Inner Beauty have you put your twist on?

Works Cited

Byrd, Ayana D, and Lori L Tharps. Hair Story : Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2001.

In the early 1900s to mid-1950s, two black women pioneers, Annie Turnbo and Madam C. J. Walker, utilized marketing, business acumen, and psychology to establish successful beauty businesses and products.

Lewis, Shantrelle P. “Watch in Our Mothers’ Gardens | Netflix.”, 2021, Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.

This touching documentary film interviews black women, sharing their childhood stories and impressions of their mother figures. It is a beautiful story highlighting how black women in America have relied on family and ancestral self-care to get where they are today.

Salih (she/her), Tai. “Reclaiming Healing: Embracing African Indigenous Practices for Black Women’s Wellness.” ZORA, 28 Sept. 2023, Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.

Discovering the potential of traditional African practices for healing can empower us to overcome the trauma of colonization and embrace our inner strength through struggles.


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