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African Women Do Not Look Good in Wigs: Beauty Rituals and Cultural Identity in Anglophone Cameroon, 1961 – 1972

by Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué

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In her feature article, ‘African women Do Not Look Good in Wigs,’ Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué considers a historical moral panic over women’s changing modes of appearance in the former West Cameroon. Reading women’s advice columns in local newspapers along with letters from their audiences – the provocative title of the article derives from a 1968 letter from a disgruntled male reader – Mougoué details the conflicting and ultimately unattainable standards to which young women engaging in new beauty practices were being subjected by not only men but the educated, middle-class women columnists, too. While new technologies such as wigs and cosmetics conferred social success and visibility, they also attracted disapprobation from some quarters. Just how much women were to beautify themselves, the fine line at which one crossed from supposedly respectable, modest and modern femininity to excess and shame, was also in contention.

Typically, in such public panics and debates over what women are doing, the voices, thoughts and desires of the women in question are little heard. This is the case in the newspaper texts that comprise Mougoué’s primary archive, making it important, methodologically and politically, that she complements this source with interviews of local women who were in their late teens or early 20s in the 1960s.

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