As a child in my small town, it was very rare for me to see others that looked like myself. Outside of my Saturday mornings spent in African dance classes, the only other young black girl I had to look up to within my community was my older sister. Despite this lack of representation within my life, I do not remember being particularly self-concious of my dark complexion. My parents and grandparents alike had always stressed the beauty of dark skin, building my self-confidence up from the start and encouraging me to appreciate my heritage. They bought my sister and me black dolls, read us books about black children, and told us to embrace the shade our skin took in the summer.
When I transitioned to a predominantly black middle school, I began to feel self-conscious about my skin tone for the first time. Other black people seemed more preoccupied with skin tone than my white peers had been, a fact that shocked me. We were all black, but suddenly there were “light-skins” and “dark-skins,” and everyone knew that one was perceived better than the other. I have a distinct memory of my best friend, another dark skinned girl, saying that she wanted to marry someone white or with light skin because she did not want her children to be dark like her. To me, my best friend was extremely beautiful, and her not being able to think of herself as so only made me feel more insecure.
For the first time, I believed I had a reason to not love my skin. As my insecurities grew, I became obsessed with my complexion. I searched online for “brightening” creams, convincing myself that I would be a thousand times prettier if my tone was not so dark. I remember covertly trying to see whether my hands were lighter than those of my other black friends, feeling relieved when they were and upset when they were not. The most dangerous thought that began to appear in my head was“At least I’m lighter than her.” At this point, I had fallen right into the trap that American society had set for me so many years before. As a girl who had been raised to value the dark skin that ran in my family, I now hated how I looked because of abstract standards of beauty determined long before I was born. I was pressured to yearn towards standards of beauty I could never realistically reach. Constantly comparing myself to my close white friends, with their pin-straight hair and button noses, only made my insecurities worse. I had always faced racism, but this felt somehow more insidious. It grew over time, snowballing into a constant thought in my head.
Colorism seems to be a well known piece of the black experience, but it still remains a relatively unaddressed topic. It is obvious in the celebrities we praise: Beyonce, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and countless more. Rap culture encourages the praise of “foreign” girls, which in some ways is a problem in itself. While there is the amazing Lupita Nyong’o to represent dark-skinned women, we must ask ourselves why there are not more women of Lupita’s skin tone who are widely considered beautiful. Dark-skinned women being thought of as beautiful should not be rare, it should be normalized. The images we see in the media only further these established depictions of beauty. When I began to look back at some of my favorite movies and TV shows, I was surprised at how many of them included instances of a darker-skinned woman being shown as unintelligent, controlling, and eternally angry. These stereotypes of dark-skinned women come with damaging real life consequences- the constant fear of being labeled “The Angry Black Woman.” I have felt this stereotype many times, whether it’s being afraid to be upset about topics in a classroom full of my white peers, or hesitating to speak up when I know I should be defending another person.
I recognize how lucky I have been with my struggle with my skin tone, because a supportive circle of family and friends to tell me I was beautiful when I did not feel so is a luxury thousands of people do not have when facing these same insecurities. Over time, I have come to love my skin tone. It came after a lot of time and periods of self-reflection, but I have finally gotten there.
Through this blog, I hope to create content that inspires dark-skinned women of color to feel empowered, regardless of what the world throws at them. Representation of all forms matters. I recommend watching the TedX talk “Confessions of a D Girl: Colorism and Global Standards of Beauty” by Chika Okoro, as it is what set me on my journey of learning what colorism is and addressing it. Keep reading to hear more about my path to self love and acceptance!