CITY DESIRED BLOG

A Beautiful City: Creativity, Resistance, and Coexistence among Residents of Cape Town
Adana Austin
19 August 2015
I sought to discover the Capetonian definition of beauty. A Beautiful City is a representation of various ideas and values uncovered while exploring the concept of human beauty in several neighborhoods in Cape Town

Historically, beauty standards have given power to some and oppression to others. Such standards can reflect socialization organization and stereotypes. For example, the Kenneth and Mamie experiment of the 1940s exposed the social ramifications of Jim Crow and white supremacy in the segregated American South. On the contrary, discourses on beauty have led to representation and liberation across the globe. Lyrics to India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” are a battle cry of confidence and self-acceptance in the natural hair movement worldwide. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of many authors to articulate links between power and aesthetics, concluding that political statements are found in one’s physical characteristics. 

Shortly, after my arrival to Cape Town, I noticed a difference in beauty standards compared to those at home- in New York City. I found that beauty is a broader term in Cape Town-- the people that I met, and shortly befriended, used this word when discussing others who were short, tall, big, small, dark, light, and every attribute in between. This is not my experience in New York where beauty is more narrowly defined. Thus, I sought to discover the Capetonian definition of beauty. A Beautiful City is a representation of various ideas and values uncovered while exploring the concept of human beauty in several neighbourhoods in Cape Town. It suggests that for Capetonians, beauty is as colorful as the Rainbow Nation itself, and the map tells a story of creativity, resistance, and coexistence among residents of Cape Town.
For this project, I visited several formal and informal beauty salons in a variety of neighbourhoods of Cape Town, and I interviewed stylists and owners of most of these establishments. 

I also took note of the aesthetics of the salons, products, and posters in comparison to the locations of the salons. 
These observations overlap with a map on racial and ethnic demographics of Cape Town.  The quantitative data merged with the qualitative findings shows patterns in income and race relations, but the most noticeable pattern was the fact that everyone employed through the cosmetic industry defined beauty as something invisible to eye, beauty transcends the physical form.  In fact, all Capetonians that were interviewed spoke of beauty this way while physical characteristics were mentioned only by tourists to the city. 

A Beautiful City also reflects the ideas of over 100 Capetonians from every creed, color, and life. I have chatted with men and women residing in townships, informal settlements, the city center, and suburbs. I surveyed professionals in various businesses and organizations. I have met with activists, artists, and academics. Each person offered their definitions, experiences, and thoughts around the idea of beauty. These interactions have revealed to me that despite the various expression, beauty in its highest form is an internal expression. According to most Capetonians, beauty exists within a person’s heart and soul. It is spiritual, and it must be acquired through one’s self-actualization, compassion, and actions.

By Adana Austin | Illustration by Blain van Rooyen

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