Big Beauty Tuesday: Time Traveling in Style With The African Lookbook

It is once again Black History Month—that singular (and short) month of the year when America is called to recognize the tremendous contributions of Black Americans—and all manner of clever branding ensues. We have historian Carter G. Woodson to thank for this annual celebration of our legacy, but as Black Americans know, while we largely built this country, our journey didn’t begin here.

Here at The Root, we celebrate Black excellence year-round—and here at The Glow Up, the indelible impact of Black beauty and style. Accordingly, we always welcome an opportunity to delve deeper into the larger diaspora from which we sprang—which is why we jumped at the chance to dig into The African Lookbook: A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women.

Illustration for article titled Big Beauty Tuesday: Time Traveling in Style With The African Lookbook
Image: Bloomsbury

The African Lookbook was released on January 19 by Bloomsbury and written by Catherine E. McKinley, a curator and writer who has been collecting imagery of African women for decades, ultimately forming the McKinley Collection, “a personal archive representing African photographies from 1870 to the present.” McKinley’s collection of photographs began with personal gifts during her travels through Africa and range from unknown photographers to renowned (and oft-mimicked) Malian lensmen Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe.


Also, the author of a revelatory memoir on race, The Book of Sarahs, McKinley’s travels previously resulted in 2012's critically acclaimed Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World (Bloomsbury), “a journey along the ancient indigo trade routes in West Africa.” Now, she adds a new dimension to historic depictions of African women, images of whom who have so often been flattened by a white, male, interloping gaze—“a type of colonial porn,” writes award-winning writer Edwidge Danticat in her introduction to the book (followed by a foreword by award-winning poet Jacqueline Woodson).

Coincidentally, McKinley and I also hail from the same alma mater, Sarah Lawrence, a bond we discovered while discussing the impact of her incredible new offering this Big Beauty Tuesday, where we discuss the enduring impact African style and the ongoing cultural conversation—and tension—between Black America and Africa. Join us above.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



I cannot tell you how meaningful this is to me as a dark-skinned, continental African woman. Two accomplished, light-skinned African-American/Black American women from the U.S. in celebratory and thoughtful discussion about images in which they see themselves as a part of me is a reversal of the typical narrative-both in the diaspora and on the continent. Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat and Jacqueline Woodson of New York, by way of the South (& Midwest) are remarkable writers. This is not simply lovely, but loving. Thank you.