One evening during my middle school years, I entered the bathroom and stared in the mirror examining my dark skin. I made my way to the kitchen and picked up a scouring pad, made my way back to the mirror, and began scrubbing my face very hard hoping that “the black would come off.” My efforts resulted instead in a bloody mess. When I thought that the wound would become quite noticeable, I stopped, washed it, and applied Vaseline to dress the wound.
At this point in my life, no one made any remarks about my skin directly. So why did I do that? Why was I so convinced that my dark African skin was not beautiful enough that it required some kind of “fixing”, even to the point of hurting myself?
It’s because the media is powerful and we underestimate its effects on young dark-skinned girls. It’s because those rejections from boys during elementary and junior high years that resulted in statements like, “You’re ugly” translated into, “You’re dark; therefore, you’re ugly.”
I recalled many instances when black girls who were lighter-skinned would get the attention of any guy they wanted. I wished I had their ability to do so, especially since I was around that age where starting to think about boys and how they see you was normal. At this point, it was only my dad and the old women at my church that would call me beautiful and that made me feel weird. First off, my dad is supposed to say that because, well, he’s my dad. And the old ladies? Well, I appreciated their compliments but it didn’t change my perception.
It took me until college for me to be fully convinced that I am beautiful. That’s almost a decade of time to convince myself. Luckily, it didn’t take a guy’s validation or validation from specific people for this breakthrough. It required me to intentionally know myself and to appreciate what makes me me, quirks and all.
I will admit, though, that I get frustrated from time to time when I hear men say that they would never be with a dark-skinned girl. It’s worse when negative assumptions are attached my shade of skin (i.e. dark-skinned women are terrible people, etc.). It also never ceases to amaze me when an obviously beautiful dark-skinned woman walks by men and they don’t flinch until a lighter-skinned woman walks by, whether she is Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, or White. It’s things like this, regardless of my healthy self-esteem, that remind me that my shade of skin is not considered ideal in the eyes of society so naturally, most people won’t consider it that way either.
To prove my point, when you Google “Beautiful Women” from ANY corner of the world, here is what about 99% of the results consist of:
So not only is this standard set in America, it’s established globally. It’s the reason why the purchasing of bleaching creams is so rampant in countries of colored people like India, Caribbean countries, African countries, and elsewhere. It’s what ignites this self-hate in women and even the hate of their own people. It’s very damaging. Weirdly enough, this standard of beauty did something else for me.
This standard of beauty is one of the reasons why I am actually glad I am dark-skinned. I have learned to appreciate my beauty without having to rely on the global Eurocentric standard of beauty to do so.
I almost feel like I did the impossible by doing that. But sometimes it gets tough trying to find the right make-up foundation or the right pantyhose. Or even wrestling with society’s concept of “nude” colored items when your definition of nude is a completely different color. But as much as I can try to make sense of beauty in regards to girls like me, it will only make me frustrated. So instead I will leave you with the wise words of Lupita Nyong’o:
“My mother used to say to me, ‘You can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you.’ What actually sustains us, what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul.”
And that, my friends, is not limited by your shade of skin. 🙂