By Kim Mukwa (Writer)
After watching a certain television show a little while ago’ I found myself with an urge to acquire a waist length Peruvian wig just like the one l had seen in the show. After realizing what l was thinking, I was like “uhm OMG l have just been influenced by that ‘Slay Queen’ on TV”. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with acquiring a Michael Kors handbag, a Gucci nightgown, Victoria’s Secret underwear or even below the waist Cambodian A grade hair. The issue for me wasn’t with the products per se, but the idea that these things might be defining who I am and what I stand for, in some way.
These days we are witnessing a new crop of influencers who graciously call themselves ‘Slay Queens’. The minute one goes online – whether it’s Instagram, YouTube, Facebook or Snapchat, to mention a few – one cannot help but be exposed to this new breed of women who stand for hustling, looking good, and living the good life, whether they can afford it or not. While I do hustle and I do like to look good, I am not about to let anybody label me as a Slay Queen; because in Africa the term ‘Slay Queen’ is typically used to describe women who lead a very luxurious lifestyle, often through the “aid” or “blessings” of an older – richer – man or men. The popular perception out there is that a Slay Queen cannot exist without a “blesser” aka a sugar daddy or a “businessman”. However, a friend of mine told me that there are two kinds of Slay Queens. The ‘social influencer’ kind (the real Queen), who actually has a proper job and posts inspirational content from her real life and relationship/s. The other kind is the “insta-famous” big booty ‘thirst trap’. These ‘traps’ are wannabes who compete for the attention of blessers and followers by posting skin pics accompanied by “ratchet” captions.
Irregardless of the different versions of Slay Queens out there, it seems to me like everyone nowadays wants to wear expensive brands, the longest lashes, the most pointy nails, drive the fanciest cars, and be seen in the best spots in town – especially young African women. Everyday, I can’t help but notice how this “slaying” phenomena has taken the social media world by storm. This hyped-up lifestyle has the youth in a panicked frenzy – young women are willing to stand out at any cost. Whether it’s bending over backwards into unnatural positions, face beating themselves half to death, following dubious role models, twerking at funerals, or posting nudes – it’s a competition for attention like you have never seen before; maybe in the red-light district in Amsterdam. Because of its association with prostitution, most African parents are fearful of this kind of behaviour becoming a “goal” in their homes. This is ironic because most “Queens” still live at home with their mama but dream of that Cinderella moment. Therein lies the problem.
I believe the infusion of Western culture into Africa has made some youths more susceptible to the negative aspects of the Slay Queen culture. For instance, when I was younger, I watched the Cinderella fairytale on TV; I wanted to play with a Barbie doll, and I read glossy magazines littered with supermodels and expensive goods. I just didn’t realize how these fallacies would influence my ideas about beauty and happiness as an adult. When I re-examined the Cinderella story as a grown woman, I couldn’t help but notice how it sells the idea that all you need is one outfit made by a fairy Godmother and you can fool Prince Charming into marrying you after one night of passionate dancing at a VIP event. To a poor African child, this opportunity for a chance meeting and the possibility of being noticed and rescued from the reality of everyday poverty is very appealing; especially when you add the free makeover. Who wouldn’t want to dress up like a Barb (as Nicki Minaj would say) and be somebody else while someone caters to your whimsical desires; even if it’s just for one night? To many impoverished youths these ‘things’ symbolize the ultimate arrival and the epitome of happiness – unfortunately it’s just a fantasy.
The glitz and glamour of Slay Queen culture might be highly appealing with its nuances of double lives and disguises but most youths don’t know what slaying really means. The term “slay” was hijacked from the LGBTQI community by Beyonce. Beyonce inspired a new generation of African queens with the phrase, “Cause I slay” from her hit song “Formation”. Her use of the phrase was in sync with the Drag culture’s idea of slaying. For Drag Queens, “to slay” meant to be fiercely competitive by making sure you are well dressed, you have impeccable make-up, and your hair “is amazing” when you are on stage. These days ‘slaying’ is still an ‘act’ but it doesn’t exude as much pride in the performance as it originally inspired. Wrought with superficial assumptions, “slaying” has reduced femininity to a mere physical asset and the belief that money can buy happiness. These misconceptions fueled by narcissist tendencies and delusions of grandeur, have left many African youths vulnerable to ‘businessmen’. In a bid to look more like a Westerner than an African (and to lure rich men), they bleach their skin, undergo cosmetic surgery, and over-expose themselves on social media, so that they can begin an online correspondence / offline relations with a blesser. Some would say they have just traded an abusive man for a businessman, or an absent father for a sugar daddy – who will objectify and discard them at any moment.
Be that as it may, I cannot deny that l have been influenced by the Western ideas of beauty, to deny that would be a blatant lie. Personally, I wear some make up and I do want to learn how to apply it better. Even though I love my natural hair, I appreciate a good wig; wearing a wig is way easier than dealing with my natural hair everyday anyway. But that doesn’t mean I have no confidence in my African-ness. I do know that you can still slay with your natural hair, skin tone, and body size like Shudufhadzo Musida, Lupita Nyong’o, and Zozibini Tunzi. That’s why in my world there is a place for a brand ambassador who uses social media (and her assets) to highlight certain brands and products for African women of all body and skin types. Advertisers have been using women’s body parts to sell just about anything for generations, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when women commodify themselves online. Some Slay Queens say by exhibiting and posting their assets and tips on Instagram, that’s how they have “reclaimed their bodies, and taken advantage of the exploitative male gaze. Why not? It pays the bills”. To me, whether this is progressive or not is debatable; what I can say is that the Slay Queen culture is just a snapshot of African women going through a transitional period. My hope is that one day we as women will become openly confident with all our so called “imperfections”; that way there will be enough room for more than one kind of queen on the centre stage. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with misconceptions of who I am and what I stand for just because I asked a friend – “where can I get that wig what’s her name was wearing on Real Housewives of ………………”