Abstract

This article explores the ways in which patina is deployed in gendered celebrity culture, specifically through forms of visual communication in relation to luxury. The article is framed by literature on race and gender from apartheid to postapartheid, and texture in visual communication in relation to luxury in Africa. The author uses three magazine covers featuring beloved Black South African women celebrities to illustrate three aesthetics of Black feminine success: glitter, shine, and glow. Visually, the three patinas are linked and on the surface might seem indistinguishable, but a difference in positioning and ethic comes through in the discourse animated by each. Glitter is linked to the classic narratives of sexy fame, in which the woman featured is portrayed as the heteronormatively desirable archetype of fun and glamour. Shine is linked to a politicized ethic of visibility, the work of spotlighting presence, legitimacy, and excellence as a role model for a broader feminine community. Glow is linked to a narrative of feminine enlightenment and inner peace, in which beauty comes from within and radiates outward from the skin, and feminine aesthetic labor is harnessed to the project of transcending gross materialism while simultaneously using material cues to communicate that joyful transcendence.

Visual expression, self-presentation, visibility, and viewership are of significance to the formation of Black public spheres (Thompson 2015: 2–3), be they local, global, or diasporic. As Krista A. Thompson (2015) asks in her important book Shine: The Visual Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice, given the racist history of photography, how can Black people differently glow, shine, or bling in the public sphere (22), and how can Black subjectivities use the “luminous effect” of consumer culture in “everyday aspirational practices” (25), free from the racist aspects of neoliberal power, which historically sought to use both consumption and photography as technologies of denying agency and subjectivity (17)? This article considers these questions through the specific prism of how Black feminine success is visualized in magazine-cover celebrity portraiture in South Africa. Building on the nuances of the “surfacism of black skin” (Cheng 2011a: 110), this article shows how patina—textural surface and its interaction with light—is a key ingredient in the communicative work of visually presenting celebrities as emblematic of consumer joy. Texture is one key mode of communication within the multimodal discourses that characterize contemporary mediation, across traditional and digital media platforms. Glossiness and smoothness are key features of consumerist discourse and are deployed both on commodities and feminine bodies to communicate perfection, an unsullied state, and desirability (Iqani 2012a, 2012b). Looking at three magazine-cover portraits of beloved Black women celebrities in South Africa—Boity Thulo, Zozi Tunzi, and Masasa Mbangeni—I explore how the surfaces of glitter, shine, and glow are deployed to communicate the meanings of success. This in turn reveals more about how joy is discursively constructed by the neoliberal project and the intersecting politics of race and gender in postapartheid South Africa.

One of the narrative modes through which the “good life” is constructed is the celebrity (Driessens 2012; J. Evans and Hesmondhalgh 2005; Holmes and Redmond 2006; Marshall 1997, 2006). Fame is an important component of the global happiness industry (Cabanas and Illouz 2019: 19): celebrities actively role-model what life looks like with access to all that consumer culture promises will make us joyful: wealth, renown, and endless material pleasure. It is therefore increasingly urgent that critical scholars examine the ways in which these narratives of success and consumer-oriented joy are visually and discursively constructed in general, and by celebrities in specific.

Black Feminine Celebrity from Apartheid to Postapartheid

Apartheid was a system of economic and political racist oppression (Wolpe 1990). It not only regulated consumption opportunities racially but used sumptuary laws to regulate race (Posel 2010). The racist legal structures of apartheid, and the attendant racist and patriarchal popular culture of South Africa, gave special attention to economically disempowering Black women, who experienced, as elsewhere in the world, intersecting oppressions on the basis of race and gender (Crenshaw 1991). Work opportunities were curtailed through racist geographic segregation, job reservation, and active discrimination that removed almost every opportunity for self-realization and advancement. During apartheid even low-paid retail work in Johannesburg department stores was reserved for white women (Kenny 2008, 2018a, 2018b), and huge numbers of Black women were (and are) forced into domestic labor in households in white neighborhoods (Ally 2011). One of the few routes through which Black women could achieve success during the years of apartheid was in the cultural sphere. Performers such as Miriam Makeba (Masemola 2011; Sizemore-Barber 2012; Feldstein 2013a) and Dolly Rathebe (Nuttall and Attwell 2001; Allen 2004) were able to soar in their careers, despite the brutal oppressions of the apartheid regime, through the cultural vibrance of Sophiatown and by escaping the country to actualize their brilliance abroad. Their global celebrity contributed to the anti-apartheid struggle (Odom and Widener 2020; Bethlehem and Zalmanovich 2020; Feldstein 2013b). Even through the harshest exclusions of the regime, Black feminine excellence and beauty were celebrated on the covers of magazines like Drum and Bona, which spearheaded the cultural tropes of the pinup and beauty queen in Black South African popular culture (Odhiambo 2008; Driver 2005; Sanger 2009). Magazines were a key media site for the social construction of racialized social mobility (Laden 2001; 2003).

In the postapartheid setting, consumer culture became democratized, or at least the message of it did (Iqani 2017; Iqani and Kenny 2015). Global business rushed through the borders, formerly closed from the inside by strict censorship and propaganda and from the outside by the cultural boycotts of the global anti-apartheid movement. The arrival of McDonalds and other global brands came to characterize a new urban cultural economy that centered consumption (Nuttall 2004, 2008; Mbembé 2004). The media industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s boomed (Olorunnisola and Tomaselli 2011), with a new rainbow-nation-ism that catapulted many into the public spotlight, from beauty queens to television personalities vying to be ambassadors for the good life to which the birth of democracy had promised access for all.

Along with this consumerist surge came an upwelling of postfeminist culture, from the vivacious sexy stage performances of girl bands like Boom Shaka in the 1990s, part of the Kwaito movement (Blose 2012; Steingo 2005, 2016), to the contemporary visibility of social media influencers (Iqani 2019). On TV and social media wealthy Black women celebrities present themselves as willingly and happily profiting from their sexiness, in the vein of good-time girls and sugar babies (Ligaga 2014; Shefer and Strebel 2012; Selikow and Mbulaheni 2013). Although the postfeminist sensibility was first critiqued from a Western perspective, specifically the claim that women could achieve, indeed had achieved, empowerment and freedom through embracing heteronormative sexiness and the pleasures of consumer culture (Whelehan 1995; A. Evans and Riley 2013; Gill 2007, 2008), a growing area of scholarship is exploring how postfeminism plays out in other contexts. Critical scholars are showing how hyperfeminine self-styling and sensibilities take shape in contexts like Lagos, Nigeria (Dosekun 2020), in Bollywood, India's film industry (Chatterjee 2014), and in selfies by African celebrities (Iqani 2016). Although postfeminism is not “for western girls only” (Dosekun 2015), it carries with it traces of debates about the homogenizing effects of globalization and questions about cultural imperialism. Luxury is a key modality through which feminine success, in particular, is communicated. Some studies have shown that some Black women communicate that being able to afford certain high-end luxury items shows that they feel they have arrived in a zone of full economic empowerment (Alweendo and Dosekun 2019).

To sum up, in global South and African contexts, wealth, luxury, and material success are tied into narratives of successful femininity. Despite the contraction of the magazine industry, magazines remain a central site for the mediation of both gender and consumer culture. This is true, perhaps more than ever, in postapartheid South African popular culture.

Communicating Consumer Joy: Magazine Covers, Texture, and Fame

Despite the rise of social media as the preferred route through which visibility is achieved and popular reach entrenched, and despite the fantastic recent collapse of parts of the South African magazine industry (Business Tech2020), the genre of the magazine cover retains a strong emotional and affective appeal (Kitch 2001; Iqani 2012b). Indeed, achieving a magazine cover is something that celebrities remain keen to boast about, and being featured on a magazine cover is a central story in social media promotional posts for any celebrity. Appearing on the cover of a magazine says something important about a celebrity: first, that they are a celebrity, having been broadly stamped as such by the mainstream media industry. The aesthetic modes of glamour photography favored by the consumer magazine cover portray, without fail, the celebrity in the most flattering light, wearing beautiful clothes, and through the most professional of modalities. In other words, the glossy magazine cover genre makes the celebrity look as celebrity-like as possible, driving home the message that this individual is elite, rarefied, desirable, cultured, and “royal,” to whom ordinary viewers should direct their adulation. When celebrities promote their appearance on a magazine cover, they are promoting not only their personal brand and the brand of the magazine but also a deeper narrative about fame's presence in a particular modality of communication. Social media are arguably another important component of the global happiness industry (Cabanas and Illouz 2019); indeed, at least one key study has shown how young people see the primary function of social media participation as the presentation of a public narrative of themselves as happy individuals (Freitas 2017). So too are celebrities, those uber-glossy role models of happy neoliberal selves, compelled to present a picture of themselves as highly joyful and successful on social media.

The rest of this article examines and theorizes three magazine covers featuring three Black South African women celebrities—Boity Thulo, Zozi Tunzi, and Masasa Mbangeni—all of whom shared their cover feature on their personal Instagram profiles. Although Instagram stories are building in popularity and use, the highly glossy visual grid of curated static images of the profile home page carries much cache and serves as a kind of constantly updated advertising billboard (Lee et al. 2015; Ilich and Hardey 2018). The posts analyzed in this article are taken to be part of a broader commercial discourse, in which brands and promotional meanings travel intertextually and across platforms (Hardy 2010), thereby adding to their broader discursive power. The posts are adverts for both magazine and celebrity, and their purpose is to sell magazines and the various products whose ads the celebrity features in. They are also, as the argument will go on to show, advertisements for what joyful consumer identities look like, and how these take shape in raced and gendered ways.

All three images analyzed represent Black women celebrities in a manner that suggests they have reached a pinnacle of neoliberal success; they are presented as role models for ordinary women. All three images portray a sensibility of beauty, joyfulness, and individualized happiness, and they fit within the genre of glamour photography (Cheng 2011b; Thrift 2008; Willis-Tropea 2011). Yet each, using patina, also constructs a slightly different message about what that joy means and how it is socially relevant. In this article, I borrow the notion of patina from art history, where it is used to refer to “the buildup on old paintings or to various natural and artificial surface effects on metal objects” (Dawdy 2016: 12). Following Mieke Bal (2003), I argue that patina is also discernible on visual objects, and that especially in relation to the work of light on surfaces, it plays a key role in celebrity imaging in the genre of consumer media.

Sexy Glitter and Super Stardom: Boity on Bona

Published by Caxton, Bona magazine is a monthly magazine published in English, Zulu, Sotho, and Xhosa. It is aimed at Black women readers and claims a monthly readership of 3 million. Its January 2020 cover features musician and reality television star Boitumelo (Boity) Thulo. She is certainly one of the most famous women in South Africa (as her Instagram following of over 4.2 million evidences), with her career spanning television presenting, rapping, acting, and entrepreneurship (she recently launched a perfume line). In mid-December 2019, the month before the magazine hit the shelves, Boity shared an image of her Bona cover (fig. 1) on her Instagram page, with the caption “COVER GIRL. This is most definitely the mood I intend to maintain throughout 2020! Thank you @bona_mag for the opportunity! #OwnYourThrone #BONAJanuary @bet_Africa.”

The portrait shows Boity wearing a shimmering, tasseled, silver-sequin mini-dress, with her arms raised in a posture suggesting that she has been captured mid-dance. She wears a long, curly weave that drapes over one shoulder and behind the other. The sleeveless dress reveals creamy-brown arms and underarms. The dress is short, with a tasseled fringe at the hem revealing most of her thighs, and a second tasseled seam at the waistline just below the bust. The tassels whip this way and that, capturing a sense of joyful movement. Boity's expression speaks of sublime pleasure. Her eyes are gently closed, suggesting an inward turn, and her mouth smiles beatifically, as though she is dancing to her favorite song. Her makeup is flawless yet quite understated, with tones of bronze on her eyelids and cheeks blending smoothly with her skin tone, her lips painted a subtle pink. On her right forearm, exposed to the camera by her mid-dance-move posture, some tattoos are visible: interlinked heart symbols at her wrist, some text running along the length of her inner forearm, and another larger heart, rendered as a cut gem, near her elbow crease. She wears large hoop earrings studded with white crystals, which match the cool white shimmer produced by the reflection off the sequins, accentuated on her bust and tops of her thighs. Indeed, her outfit, deportment, and expression capture the mood of party, specifically a New Year's Eve or Christmas party. Boity personifies the mood of one of the cover taglines, which promises to show readers how to “Rock silver all summer.”

Boity is portrayed as the ultimate party girl, a Josephine Baker-esque diva with a “penchant for glittery metallic gowns” (Cheng 2011a: 85), similar to Mariah Carey, also emblematic of glitter (Coleman 2020). Her pose and outfit are reminiscent of the glamorous portraits of Dolly Rathebe and Miram Makeba in their Sophiatown heyday, introducing a nostalgic element. Indeed, the metallic qualities of her at-once flapper and disco-diva dress are also written on the surfaces of her skin, through the makeup and jewelry with which she is adorned. The silver sheen and shimmer of Boity's dress mirror the sparkling joi de vivre of her personal brand and illuminate the notion of bling, the imagined sound light makes when reflected on precious metals (Thompson 2015: 24). In this image, Boity is presented as a diamond (echoed in the tattooed gem on her skin, the stones in her earrings)—the feminine personification of bling. She personifies “post-feminist luminosity where . . . becoming celebrity is key” (Coleman 2020: 103). She is the “Black Diamond,” that media construction of a newly wealthy Black middle-class consumer (Kitis, Milani, and Levon 2018; Simpson and Dore 2008). She has become the “endlessly appealing glossy surface” (Cheng 2011b: 114) off which light is reflected; in adorning her body with metallic glossiness she takes on that shine and becomes a screen (Thompson 2015: 33). Not only is she visible in her joyous glory, but she is the mirrored surface reflecting the joy to those who admire her.

The profile of Boity that is included in the magazine is advertised in a tagline, included underneath a large rendering of her name and surname in a handwritten-style font that suggests intimacy. It reads, within inverted quotes signifying that it is a direct quote from Boity herself: “Trust that the universe, God and your ancestors will support your dream.” Indeed, she is dancing under a spotlight in the center of that reverie of glittering pleasures. The message here is that superior cosmic forces have augured Boity's success, that her stardom was written in the stars. Boity's invocation of spiritual power evokes, like evangelical preachers of prosperity gospel, the promise that her viewers too might “snatch a little of her victory” (Ehrenreich 2010: 237). The “universe, God and your ancestors” become supporting acts in the story of Boity the glittering star; no longer awe-striking, these cosmic forces exist simply to facilitate the path to riches and fame (238). Boity humbly implies that her success is not due to some gargantuan individualized effort on her own part, but to an alignment of her spiritual practices with her career goals, and the receiving of support from powers well beyond her own capacity. She is saying that she was chosen—by the stars, the omniscient Western God, and her own array of kind, loving, and infinitely wise ancestors—to become the “COVER GIRL” that she is. I summarize this intersection of messages as the glitter of success. This glitter walks the line between bling and kitsch, introducing a playful allure that seems to emphasize youthfulness while also suggesting nostalgia for the glamour of decades past.

Boity's glittering joy is highly individualistic: indeed, individualism is the “ethical precondition” for achieving happiness in neoliberal culture (Cabanas and Illouz 2019: 111). The version of successful femininity portrayed on Bona summarizes excellence as belonging to the terrain of sexy beauty, individualized performative wealth, and being in the spotlight. It aligns with the classic idea of celebrity as occupying a rarefied realm, closer to the heavenly, in which fame is a kind of divine right conferred by mysterious superior powers (Dyer 2013). In the classic narrative of celebrities, the ethic of glitter communicated by Boity's cover portrait is that her stardom (and indeed her loftier beauty and sexiness) was preordained, and she is simply fulfilling her destiny. In an imperial directive, she tells her fans to trust that their dreams, also mapped out by the stars, will also come true if they have faith. She does not reveal any slog of hard work that she needed to do, or obstacles that she needed to overcome. Her celebrity is without question, without blemish, and it sparkles in its perfection, born from the universe fully formed: she is glitter personified.

Shine, Black Excellence, and Taking up Space: Zozi on Cosmopolitan

Zozibini (Zozi) Tunzi is Miss South Africa 2019, and she was crowned Miss Universe at a pageant in Atlanta, Georgia, in November 2019. South Africans were wildly proud of what they saw as a huge achievement for a Black woman, one of their own, being named the most beautiful and elegant in the “universe.” In particular, many Black women and girls were enthused by Zozi's choice of self-styling in the pageant, in which she competed with her own, natural coily hair in a close cropped style similar to the everyday look worn by many Black African women, and implicitly rejecting the wearing of long, straight-haired weaves that some Black beauty queens and celebrities favor. Zozi quickly became a household name and graced the covers of many magazines. It was Cosmopolitan's turn for the May 2020 issue, the last published edition of the South African franchise of the magazine after its publishing house Associated Magazines folded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (Anderson 2020). Cosmopolitan has been a key site for the shiny consumerist discourse of globalized postfeminism (McCracken 1982; Machin and Thornborrow 2003). In sharing the cover on her own Instagram page (@zozitunzi, 22 April 2020), Zozi calls the feature “such an accolade” and a “humbling honour.” She underlines that the issue takes a #MadeInAfrica focus, featuring fashion and beauty from African designers and entrepreneurs, and urges her followers to support local businesses during and after lockdown (at the time of writing, the country was in the grip of a strict COVID-19 lockdown, meaning few could leave their homes). She adds a personal note:

This actually reminds me of my late uncle, we used to call him Mchina. Every time I came home kuTsolo even growing up as a child he used to say “awumuhle mamTolo ngathi uzovela kwi khatarok (magazine ), unfanele yo katharok.” Translated to “You look so beautiful like you should be on a magazine, you belong in a magazine.” At that time this was something that seemed unattainable to a village girl sitting on a stoep with his [sic] uncle. It's so unfortunate he wasn't alive to see me win @missuniverse or his long dream of me being on a magazine. I do know that he is with the rest of the clan and God. Right now they are all smiling .

The portrait of Zozi is set against a sky-blue background, the wisp of cloud and blurred horizon in the distance suggesting it was taken outside (fig. 2). She is wearing an oversized fuchsia blazer tied at the waist with a purple rope-belt with elaborate yellow feathered tassels on the ends, over a short bubble-textured mini-skirt. The sleeves of the blazer are shuffled up toward her elbows. Her right hand touches her ear, while her left swings free, suggesting she has just turned to face the camera. Her hair is in her characteristically short style, cropped close around the ears with a little length on top. She wears shiny gold statement earrings. Her makeup is fun: wing-tip eye liner and metallic-green eye shadow complement shiny, dark-burgundy lips. The mood is cheerful and bright. The masthead of the title matches the color of her jacket, and her name in the callout line matches the bright yellow of the feathers on her belt. It reads, “ZOZI wants you to / Take. Up. Space.” In the gap between her raised arm and shoulder, another little caption has been included alongside a twirly arrow: “Hands up if you're in the Zozi Stan Club?” A “Stan” is an exceptionally overzealous fan, which indicates the fervid appreciation of Zozi by South African audiences, especially presumably among Cosmopolitan's readership.

The image is sunny, and Zozi shines. In the blue sky of the background, and indeed as her caption notes, it is easy to imagine the host of ancestors—her “clan”—up on high observing her “taking up space,” on the cover and in the world. In particular, her face, both in texture and expression, shines radiantly. Her flawless skin seems to diffuse sunshine, echoing the golden glow of her earrings. Her world-famous smile is warm and empathetic, connoting optimism, authenticity, and positive affect (Ehrenreich 2010: 25). The image places Zozi as the sun in the blue sky of the background, and indeed she is more than a star to the South African public. She embodies the beauty and grace of Black African women, a beauty that has dominated a world stage. She has attained, won, is seen, has “taken up space,” successfully, and she wants her fans to do the same: to demand and receive a place in the sun, a seat at the table, recognition for their inherent value. Zozi embodies self-appreciation and confidence and stands as a role model for other women. Her shine is a form of relationality (Cheng 2011a: 115). In her shining existence and success, Zozi pushes back against the history of Black women being rebuked when they step into the light (Thompson 2015: 27). She shines so that other Black women can also shine. Like the products that this particular issue of the magazine promotes, Zozi is “made in Africa,” and she wants all that is made in Africa to be appreciated.

As Zozi comments, she sees her job as representing the beauty and excellence that her family and clan see in her; indeed, this can be abstracted to her sense of duty to the whole nation, even, perhaps, all Black African women. She stands as a representative of their excellence, and her claim to visibility is on behalf of this collective. She is the embodiment of the “Best Possible Self” (Cabanas and Illouz 2019: 354), having succeeded at the loftiest levels at only twenty-seven years of age. Zozi embodies the social media hashtag #BlackExcellence.1 It is her job to perform and embody the idea of the very best that a (Black) South African woman can be. As such, Zozi bears a formidable responsibility to act as the ambassador for Black feminine excellence and to shine as a beacon in mainstream media culture, which is only recently waking up to the humanity of Black women, never mind their brilliance and beauty, something long argued by African and diasporic feminists (Lewis 2001; Collins 2000; Gqola 2001). The portrait of Zozi contradicts the humble orientation that Western and white observers have historically demanded from Black women. Her job is to shine, and by shining to remind other Black women and girls that they too deserve their place in the sun. Zozi's shine is warm and radiant yet slightly more restrained than Boity's glitter, implying the kind of confidence that might come with middle- and upper-class mobility. Although Zozi is no longer a “village girl,” the portrait holds back on showing her as too shiny (which would be read as a sign of nouveau riche by some observers).

Zozi wields her shine with grace, presenting it as an icon for Black excellence. Black femininity is not a single thing, and even though the Miss Universe and Cosmopolitan brands would have it summarized as model-like grace, fun fashionability, youthful slenderness, and a dazzling, gracious smile, this does not encompass all the multitudes of Black womanhood, including nonfeminine versions, that exist in the world. While Zozi's shine is presented as doing the work of uplifting other Black women, it is important to also recognize how that shine is deployed by the neoliberal agenda to eliminate other possible platforms for visibility and recognition of other Black women.

Glow, Enlightenment, and Finding Inner Peace: Masasa on True Love

Masasa Mbangeni is a South African actor who has played multiple roles on television and the stage. She was featured on the cover of True Love magazine's March 2020 edition, which came out in mid-February 2020, and was shared by Masasa on her social media platforms. True Love is published by Media24 and claims a monthly circulation of over twenty-two thousand. The caption to Masasa's Instagram post (@madlomo2, March 17, 2020)2 sharing the cover image of her on True Love magazine reads,

Last week of @truelovemagazine featuring me. Friends and family, I cannot thank you enough for the overwhelming messages of support & love I received when & since this cover came out! My birthday month has been filled with nothing but incredible joy and I thank all of you for contributing to it. I thank the @truelovemagazine team, under the incredible leadership of @mbalisoga for seeing me as I see myself: in bloom & unafraid! In the words of my favourite artist @beingupile “Being this ebony / Having this name / Carrying this language in my mouth / There were times when I only wanted to blend in, / To be unnoticed, / un-special / But blending in is fading out.

In the True Love image (fig. 3), Masasa is shown seated with her stacked knees drawn to her right, and her arms forward, hands resting on the floor. She wears an elegant, tight black mini-dress with long sleeves and a cut-away back detail, which is just visible because of the lean in her posture. She wears her hair short, her natural kinks framing the edges of her ears and raising into a little afro. She wears large, shiny gold or brass earrings featuring a fluid geometric curve. Her makeup is understated yet glamorous: bronze tones highlight her forehead and cheeks, dark-bronze lipstick, black eyeliner, and metallic eye shadow. She does not smile but gazes at the camera with a peaceful, beatific expression. Although seemingly dressed for a glamorous event, she seems relaxed and at ease, as though she has already attended it and is now relaxing at home, having kicked off the high heels. Aside from her face and neck, the only skin visible is her thighs, the slice of back showing out of the backless dress, and her hands. The citing of the line of poetry, “being this ebony,” hints at the importance for Masasa of being a darker-skinned woman featured on a magazine cover. This is key in an industry that, even when it features Black women, often prioritizes lighter-skinned and white-oriented aesthetics (Hunter 2007; Pilane and Iqani 2016). I summarize the aesthetic illuminated by Masasa in this portrait as “glow”: a calm, interior radiance that projects peace and confidence.

Although it is quite common for celebrities to thank the magazines that feature them on the cover in their social media posts publicizing the co-branding effort, it is notable that Masasa uses the opportunity to personally thank the editor, and to also promote the art of Malawian poet Upile Chisala. Considering that the magazine cover is a platform promoting the celebrity brand in question, it is considerably generous that Masasa chooses to recognize the work of two other Black women, the editor and the poet, in a moment when she could have claimed all the attention for herself. The image, and the signposts for the content inside, suggest that inner journeying to become this magnanimous self is the main story that Masasa wants to tell through the feature. The callout line on the cover of the magazine quotes its subject—“‘I've had to do a lot of inner work to cope on the outside’”—and is echoed in the headline on the main page of the article inside the magazine, which Masasa includes as a second image on her Instagram post. It reads, alongside a more energized portrait of the actor twirling in another black ensemble including a wide, translucent circle skirt and a feathered top, in italicized capitals, the headline “CHASING INNER PEACE.” The choice of black is key in the styling of the fashion shoot for Masasa (the interior pages reveal a range of elegant, glamorous black outfits from various designers). Black signifies an understated style, of not having to try too hard to shimmer or shine, with metallic dresses, bright colors, textures, and avant-garde frills and tassels. Often associated with older, sophisticated women, black clothing signals spiritual and emotional maturity. Although the black dress she wears in the shoot is beautiful, expensive, and desirable in its own right, it functions most crucially as a backdrop for the powerful glow of personality.

As Masasa says in the caption, she feels that the magazine showed her as she sees herself—“in bloom and unafraid.” She has “flourished”; her joy is based on an “authentic sense of personal growth” (Cabanas and Illouz 2019: 345). Glow implies that Black feminine empowerment can evolve from glitter (how one is seen and desired by others) through shine (the extent to which one embodies the hopes and dreams of others) and into self-actualization. The message here is that true happiness comes from within—from a capacity to blossom, or unfold one's creative potential, from learning to live without fear. This narrative is in line with the neoliberal imperatives to work on the self (Rose 1990), to achieve individual self-realization, to find solutions to social problems within oneself, and to find happiness through self-belief (Cabanas and Illouz 2019). Masasa embodies the notion that joy requires making the self reach its fullest expression. Masasa has done the “inner work” that has allowed her to find “inner peace”; this in turn lights her up from the inside and presents her as an icon of enlightened happiness. Although Masasa reaches out to name and recognize other Black women, in the image the discourse of success is internalized and individualized as a personal task. Through glow, Masasa is imaged as an example of an evolved psycho-social subject, a “psytizen”: an “individualistic and consumerist subjectivity” for whom “the pursuit of happiness has become second nature, upon the conviction that one's full functionality and value as an individual is strongly tied to the continuous self-optimization through psychological means” (304). In addition to all the other forms of laboring on the self that Black women are expected to do, is the work of creating an inner glow—finding inner peace and self-enlightenment.

Joyful Subjectivity and Black Feminine Success

Texture plays a central role in the visual construction of consumer subjectivity; this is well established in critical literature on visual communication in relation to both race and gender. In the South African context, Black feminine success is highly charged in political terms, considering the long history of exclusion of Black women from economic prospects and wealth. So far, this article has shown how celebrity portraiture shows feminine success as achieved through consumption, and that empowered consumption is figured as the outcome of success. The joy of having arrived at an empowered place is materialized through the embodiment of fully agentic consumer subjectivity. The three magazine covers discussed suggest an aesthetic progression through successful feminine subjectivity, from the more playful and brash imagery of glitter, to the slightly more restrained aesthetics of shine, to the sophisticated immaculate visuals of glow. These may indeed be tied to differing representations of class tied to the differing readerships of Bona, Cosmopolitan, and True Love, which in turn give insight into how magazines serve as manuals for education in social mobility (Laden 2003). Consumption is revealed and masked in all three iterations: first it dazzles so that it is highly visible to all; then it shines, keeping it visible though muted; and finally it glows such that only the sophisticated will recognize the luxury undergirding it. Each of these is joyous in its own way, but as the patina is worn, the narrative becomes more complex. While Black femininities take specific shape in specific national and cultural contexts, so too does a global and transnational set of indicators about Black feminine subjectivity (Dosekun 2020; Pinto 2013), perhaps best summed up by the celebrity aesthetic. The material surface of the magazine cover—increasingly implied in the modality of social media sharing of such images—can no longer be theorized as a flat modality of “gloss” that simply suggests a message of perfection, sexy desirability, and ideational links to commodity culture (Iqani 2012a, 2012b). Texture as modality carries multiple levels of nuance that are illuminated by the consideration of the representation of the Black feminine celebrities presented in this article.

As the analysis has shown, glitter can be linked to an ethic of sexy stardom; shine, to an ethic of representing excellence; and glow, to an ethic of personal self-optimization. There is no space for failure in these images of femininity, only for joyful striving to improvement and self-realization. Of course, the three textural modalities are linked, as they all refer to the way in which smooth surfaces, embodied, catch and reflect the light. All function as patinas operating at the interface of subject and object, gesturing to ideational narratives of what a good life looks like, and how success is embodied in high-profile Black women role models, and indeed how celebrity identities are commoditized in particular ways. Joy and success are not monolithic objects; they can take shape in different ways for different Black women. Although to an extent the answer will be shaped by local customs, indigenous belief systems, and the particularities of national and regional cultures and systems of trade, we cannot turn a blind eye to the role that globalization and the march of Western consumerism has had on the broader narrative that claims wealth as the main thing that produces joy and success. It is significant that individualism is evident in all three images of joyful femininity. Yet in different ways, all three images and their self-presentation by the celebrities also speak to certain kinds of collective projects: Boity to communities of faith and belief, Zozi to social ties of family and nation, and Masasa to the role that self-love plays in supporting the work of other Black women.

The three ethics of Black feminine empowerment theorized in this article of course overlap and inform one another to an extent, and they are driven by intersecting and complex social, cultural, and historical factors. I argue that each is linked to a specific dynamic of achievement: glitter to sexiness, shine to excellence, and glow to enlightenment. In the surface of glitter, texture is deployed to whip up a sheen of desirability organized around individualized sexy visibility. In the patina of shine, texture is deployed to communicate the radiance of personal excellence, which is held up as a form of advancement and inspiration for an entire group. And in the surface of glow, individual self-understanding and knowledge are shown to be the most enlightened route to advancement. I want to be careful about suggesting that each ethic is in some way permanently and simplistically linked to the public profile of the celebrity that I have introduced as a visual reference point for developing these theoretical contributions. Each celebrity has a complex personality and public life and, indeed, seeks to present various facets thereof in strategic ways through their ongoing publicity campaigns. Boity is most certainly more than simply a woman who represents the apex of marketable sexiness; Zozi is most certainly more complex than an icon of Black excellence; and Masasa is not simply a spiritually in-tune individual. All three women are talented, beautiful, intelligent, and sexy, and they market those features in multiple, complex ways in all their public-facing work and personal brands. The images focused on in this article should not be taken as summaries of each celebrity's identity, but as indicative of a certain discourse crystallized into visual form in a particular image at a certain moment in time, which happens to feature them in a particular magazine cover. Each visual strategy and textural modality—glitter, shine, glow—is part of a larger and more complex visual narrative about Black feminine success, which of course takes particular shape in the context of postapartheid South Africa, and is presented as a cause for celebration and emulation. This article has shown how these ideas link to existing writings relevant to the Black feminine experience, neoliberal subjectivity, and the postfeminist moment; future research can explore the links and resonances to case studies from other contexts in more detail. How is patina deployed by and for gendered and raced neoliberal discourse elsewhere?

Notes

1.

Some media commentators are starting to write about the specific burden carried by successful Black women to continuously perform this excellence under the hypervigilant gaze of the public. But this issue has yet to receive critical scholarly attention, to my knowledge.

2.

Masasa's Instagram profile is not public, but she has eighty-eight thousand followers, suggesting that she uses the privacy function to maintain a semblance of control over with whom she shares content. In a personal communication, she gave me explicit permission to discuss her post in this article.

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