Black Women without Men and the Joy of the #Dontrushchallenge

A woman on a screen appears intrigued, brandishes a brush on a camera’s lens, and transforms into a chic face and a splendid outfit.

Blackout.

Another woman repeats the glorious process.

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The many ways black women are beautiful. Photos: Twitter

Each lady employs a brush, mostly, like a magic wand. It transforms the women into goddesses and represents a visual connective tissue between scenes.

They call it the #dontrushchallenge. I call it a digital vehicle of joy.

Social media photos and videos are often like romantic comedies: to star, you need to be beautiful. Expectedly, displays of the sort can spur resentment about as much as they attract attention. It begins to feel like the poster’s beauty is callous commentary on one’s own plainness. It doesn’t matter whether that the said person has no idea of your existence.

On a good day, you retweet and contemplate your unsatisfactory genetic material. On a bad day, you troll. “She no even fine like that.”

Although, some incredibly stunning women have participated in the #dontrushchallenge, its share of goodwill is much larger than the solitary great photo because the viewer is allowed to see the “before” photos. Clever women (or maybe savvy and vain women) deploy a trick of light to obscure their features but, on the whole, participating women show what they look like before the lens is obscured for a ravishing version of the woman to emerge.

This illusion of access to the process of beauty lends a groundedness to the black magic, to the black girl magic, on display. It seems to say there is something you, too, can do to be beautiful.

Ordinarily, people show up in social media photos like they were born with the perfect hair, a dress given to them by Vogue, a smile bestowed them by angels, and eyebrows carved by the gods. We might know that there is a trick to all of that but without proof, a space to be filled by resentment is created.

By pursuing playfulness, “realness”, and a generous sense of community, the #dontrushchallenge avoids the trap of negativity. For better or worse, even those in possession of what is called intimidating beauty are stripped of that qualifier and replaced with…could it be “approachable”? Maybe not, but you get the idea.

Several themes have emerged since, geographies (Kenyan edition), motherhood (MILF edition), and occupation (doctors) among them. Each time, the elements have been the same: women, a brush (or some other “magical” totem), a transformation, and a copious amount of joy (sometimes on the women’s faces but always on the viewer’s). To this viewer, they have all been delightful to watch. (A beauty products communications personnel should take note.)

It has been said that makeup can be empowering and there is proof in these videos: in some ways, it isn’t quite the same woman we meet at the start that turns up at the end.

“I woke up like this,” said Beyonce in what is almost certainly a lie for most humans.

The #dontrushchallenge is more universal: You might not wake up like this but this is possible to attain.

As with many people on social media, I have been inundated with these videos, and each one makes me smile. Perhaps it is because I haven’t beheld the joy of black women online for quite a while. Or maybe it’s because of the poetry of transformation these videos represent. Or maybe it’s because black grief and a woman’s woes sell but the #dontrushchallenge is a break from all of that. Maybe there is something atavistic about smiling at a smiling face.

In presenting women alone with the camera, the challenge highlights each woman within a community of women. It is the kind of mutually supportive association that has eluded women in heterosexual relationships for centuries. In these videos, for a few seconds, a woman can be the hero of her own story even as she plays a supporting role to other women. The smile and look project confidence and ease in every scene, and as the videos turned up on my timeline, I kept wondering why the smiles were so wide, genuine, and charming.

I don’t have a definitive answer. But I do have guesses. Could it be because most people look better smiling?

Or…could it be…could it be…that these women are happy because there are no men in the frame?

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Nigeria’s most acclaimed writer-reviewer. Business: www.criticsandbylines.com.

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