Title: Committed to Beauty
Author: Ify Okonta
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Date of Publication: 18 July 2017
Genre: Gender and Literature
A coming of age tale of a girl with aspirations that are constantly thwarted by a shallow world.
Facing constant discrimination since a young age due to her dark skin colour, Ella becomes the butt of several odious jokes. Far from arousing a laughter, they mar her self-esteem and morale. She is always bullied at school and struggles to not feel left out. Ugly, blockhead, black skeleton and broomstick are few of the snide remarks that are hurled at her. Somehow, her skin tone and outer appearance has set the mark for her intellectuality as most of her peers and even elders cannot seem to look past her colour into the nice person that she is.
Added to her undesirous skin tone is her frail structure. Set in Nigeria where the parameters of beauty are different from the rest of the world, Ella takes inspiration from a televised beauty contest and decides to run for a pageant one day. But fate has other plans for her. Running into the boy who spoke up for her when no one else did, she mistakes his momentary kindness as a serious interest in her. Her hopes are frequently dashed as he barely ever notices her. With hardly any friends to rely on and no one to share her emotions with, Ella subconsciously learns how to play the background character in her own life. During days of walking about as a shadow in broad daylight, the news of her father’s transfer to America makes her hopeful of a better beginning only to learn that people’s behaviour towards her isn’t much different. Earlier she was bullied, now she’s plain ignored. She is an excessively black girl in an excessively white land.
The story revolves around several chance happenings where fate and Ella’s own perseverance play a major role in her successful rise before the very eyes of those who constantly taunted her. From contesting a beauty pageant to winning it and becoming a celebrity, Ella’s life before and after the contest are not very different. She barely receives any contracts due to her dark complexion and has to hunt for directors and photographers in unfamiliar cities. The book touches upon some very crucial themes of racism and stereotypes based on skin colour. It portrays the scenes behind the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry in a realistic manner. It highlights the short lived success of reality shows and how such shows leave contestants more desperate and jobless.
Things take a drastic turn as a group of models including one of her friends die in the WTC collapse on 9/11. This begins a series of mishaps and heart breaking incidents that coax Ella into becoming a more independent person who seeks to rely only on God.
People who’ve been in odd situations and felt like fishes out of water will definitely related to this story. It rings a bell with all those who’ve been teased for their appearance or have been through gruesome experiences of stereotyping and racial profiling. The story brings out the startling idea that the society’s ideals about beauty are more or less the same regardless of the racial or geographical differences. People have idealized certain standards of beauty in wanting a fair skin texture which is seen in the episodes in which Ella undergoes trials of bleach creams to attain a fair skin. It is one of the many indications that Okonta makes about the cosmetic industry that allows for such ideals to proliferate and whose main target buyer is the one with broken self-worth. The book also shows that time is the greatest of players and life eventually turns around unpredictably for most people. Those who made fun or ignored others turn out to become worse than their victims and have to battle difficult predicaments. The story is complex and slightly lengthy though that doesn’t drag the story line in any way. Events reveal newer themes and the reader is constantly made to think about these issues with some fairly good lessons. Ella becomes the epitome of hope as a modern, independent woman who can handle her challenges and brave the world on her own terms with her original appearance which is justly elucidated in the title of the book. Okonta strives to portray Ella as being beautiful both inside and out. True beauty irradiates when one begins to love oneself.
Hope giving, captivating and inspiring struggle of a lonesome girl in battling a cacophobic society.
Click the book cover to grab your copy. Happy Reading!