“Ya know, you are pretty cute for a…”
Statements like that have always been a setup for a fail. Epically. Somewhere right after the “for a” they negated any and every compliment they possibly intended to give. I used to take pride in the fact that a man of the opposite sex actually thought I was pretty. When you grow up with a look that didn’t always fall in the first round picks, the second, or maybe even be the third choice you began to normalize the idea of being in someone else’s shadow. You’ve settled with the fact that you aren’t the “ideal” or measure up to what/whom society thinks should be in first place.
Subconsciously, after internalizing for so long the perspective that came from my conclusion the world thought of me as, I began to resent everyone who didn’t have that problem. I always joke with my mother stating that she refuses to claim me, because she thinks that I look more like my dad instead of her. She usually laughs, reassuring me that regardless of how close our resemblance is I am “still her baby girl” and I believe her. But for some people, like myself, we identify ways to cope with feeling like the outliers or black sheep. It wasn’t until recently, that I learned of my use for humor to mask the things that hurt or bother me the most (physically and emotionally). I found that if I could make myself or others laugh at it, it’d take the attention away from them knowing how much that part of me stung. It was and still is my defense mechanism. “Laughing through your pain” as Kevin Hart calls it.
Ironically, our family is split into two extremes when it comes to shades of color. We are either the fairest of skin complexions or a deep cocoa brown hue. When I reached an age where I began to learn about color and was kindly educated by my peers that I was a dark-skinned girl, I immediately remember feeling UGLY. Now don’t go feeling sorry for me, because ask me now and I will confidently remind you that I am the ISH! However, for an impressionable, young adolescent girl to be belittled and told she wasn’t as valued as the girl sitting next to her was life changing. I began to look at my mom and sisters (at least the ones who were fair skinned) wondering why God saw fit to make me this way.
It’s something about a mother and her influence on a girl’s life as the first introduction and model of what a woman is supposed to look like. I adore her still to this day and feel like she is the most beautiful woman that I have ever laid my eyes on. So when I associated what my peers saw beauty as and noticed how it resembled my mother’s appearance (which I could not see in myself) it made me resent the color of my skin. I wanted to be like my mother, and look like her which fueled my obsession with trying to change my skin complexion.
In high school I was introduced to a popular African American skincare product that my sisters swore by for its ability to promote clear skin. One of its active ingredients however was one that had skin bleaching abilities. The back of the label was kind enough to include a warning, but nonetheless it didn’t deter me from using it. Over a span of months I began to see how quickly my skin responded to the ingredients and admired the flawlessness of my skin. But there was still one thing that I didn’t care too much for of my newly “improved” skin tone. I began to look gray! Yes gray, like a dead person. Ya girl looked casket ready guys and there isn’t anything cute about that! Luckily, that instance was enough for me to throw it away for good with a concern that still lingers till this day of others that may abuse the product.
So what happened after that? I left the creamy crack alone and rediscovered the beauty from my natural melanin filled skin. I began to see more powerful, influential women in the media that looked like me and it made me proud and empowered to be a dark-skinned woman.
Great right? But the real problem still lingered and that was my deep-seated resentment towards the women of fairer skin. The ones for so long I admired and wished I looked more like. The women that favored my mom and sisters. Deep down, I may not have ever said it but I felt like life was easier for them. I mean look at them! The world glorifies their beauty and uses it as the benchmarking for the ideal woman till this day. It amazes me however, how God has the cleverest ways of opening our eyes so that we can see our own unconscious biases and how that has altered the way we view the world and ourselves.
The fall of 2007 I entered college with the intent to align myself with like-minded friends that I could identify with and establish healthy long lasting relationships. I began to embrace my newly found self-love that I never felt. I was determined to not let my old cultural paradigms dictate my ability to be open minded when meeting new friends. Low and behold, two fair skinned young ladies walk into my life. Two young ladies that would ultimately be my catalysts for change, totally shifting my mindset and completely dismissing every stereotype I ever once had.
Sometimes, and I admit that I am guilty of immediately thinking that the grass is greener on the other side or that someone has it better than the next. When in actuality, we have no clue what is going on in people’s lives or what they’ve experience or struggled with in the past. So who am I to sit here isolating and generalizing the struggle of colorism to ONE COLOR?! Brown skinned, yellow-skinned, blue-skinned, red-skinned. There is no hierarchy when looking at color and if we continue to encourage this mindset we are only adding fuel to the fire.
I challenge us all, as women, to recondition ourselves and the way we chose to allow society to dictate our value and existence. Eliminate the “Us vs. Them” mindset and embrace the WE. Have the courage to speak out when we see that message communicated, especially around our impressionable youth.
Our past may have gotten us to this point, but it is up to us to no longer carry it into the future.