Our efforts to achieve certain standards of beauty can have mental and physical health consequences. A number of people, including doctors Monte O. Harris and Andrene Taylor, are doing important work at the place where self-image intersects with health and heritage.
Like a folklorist, Harris collects oral histories from his patients. He uses the well-honed performance skills of a preacher to educate about health care, and he incorporates the research techniques of a genealogist to draw the connection between health and heritage. In his practice, he works with patients to address the consequences of the overuse of chemical straighteners, too-tight braiding, skin bleaching, and the stress and poor diets that can lead to obesity in the African American population. His Do Good H.A.I.R. Project links awareness of cultural identity to beauty and artistic practice, as well as to health and restoration.
Taylor is a scholar with a PhD in African American and African diaspora literature with a focus on beauty and aesthetics. Her organization ZuriWorks for Women’s Health deals with body image, heritage, and aesthetics from the point of view of an African American three-time cancer survivor. Her projects inspire women to take care of themselves and encourage women recovering from cancer to adopt practices that are healthy through working with beauty salons and textile artists.