A couple of days ago I came across a speech by Lupita N’yongo on Facebook.It was so true, touching and struck a chord with me, that I was compelled to talk about this on my blog.
Lupita touched on the subject of growing up as a dark-skinned African woman and the struggle to find self acceptance and the acceptance of people within her community, her field and the world as a whole.
This is something, I myself have battled with whilst growing up and something that still has me doubting whether I can be classified as beautiful or pretty.
I am a dark-skinned African woman and have been all my life. Both my parents are black Africans; my father is dark skinned and my mother is lighter skinned. I have two brothers and two sisters. Both my brothers are darker skinned, but sisters are significantly lighter than me.
“I was teased a lot growing up, because of my skin tone,”
Khoudia Diop – 19-year-old model.
You would be surprised what people are happy to utter to your face when it comes to beauty and skin tone. I remember being compared to my sister once and someone saying to me “You look ok, but your only problem is you are darker than your sister; she is prettier.” or ” I never knew you were related, you are so much darker than your sister. “You look so different ”. Countless times, people would comment on how much darker I was and how this attribute was what stopped me from being beautiful. Whilst these comments were a proclamation of both my sister’s beauty, they did shun my dark skin which had a huge impact on me growing up.
The affirmation and reassurance that I received from my family did not negate or distill the fears that I felt as a teenager. The girl at school that was lighter was always perceived as more attractive and the females I saw on my television and in magazines were never my shade of dark.
My plight is neither different to anyone else’s nor more painful, but it is still something that grips me to know that we are still recovering as people and that we have been indoctrinated to believe that to be right, you must be light.
“My skin absorbs the suns rays and my hair defies gravity. Now you can’t tell me I’m not magical!” –
Nyakim Gatwech, 24 – South Sudanese model
Slavery and colonisation taught us to differentiate our worth by the colour of our skin tone. In those times, anyone who was of a lighter skin tone was treated better within society. Sadly in those times, your lighter skin tone was a direct comparison against a more superior part of society, the white people.
That idea of superiority and its correlation with beauty has plagued our society as a whole and is a stark reminder of how racism still holds a tight grip on us all.
Even though we are all black we somehow have adopted this colonial mindset where our beauty is determined by the shade of our skin. It is surprising to me that in this day and age, long after colonial and slavery times our minds are still shackled to this outdated and primordial way of thinking.
This perception of beauty has driven young women to opt for dangerous methods of achieving a lighter skin tone like skin bleaching to embody the world’s view of what black beauty is. Writing this took me back to one of my favourite youtuber/bloggers, Wandesworld. Please check out Wande’s videoon Skin bleaching as she bravely speaks about her own personal journey.
We have been conditioned to believe that being lighter is an asset and an advantage. We use highlighters and foundations, shades lighter to achieve this. We opt for filters that remove our darker skinned identities and those are the ones that are chosen for your profile picture and that is how we want the world to see us. The comments, the likes from people in effect validates us and our idea or beauty. As a result we only associate that with being lighter skinned and it affects our self-esteem.
African people come in a variety of skin shades and tones. This is something that we are all aware of. Somehow there is a disgusting behaviour that is still plaguing us. Growing up as a darker skinned girl definitely made life interesting and it is one of those things that made me relate to Lupita’s plight and that of other darker skinned women.
For instance in the modelling industry we have wonderful role models like Alek Wek, Khoudia Diop, Nyakim Gatwech, Maria Borges and Nyadak Thot, all with rich, beautiful African skin. These brave and beautiful women have helped pave the way for the fashion industry to include African women of all skin tones within their campaigns. They have made being dark-skinned fashionable in a way that wasn’t around when I was growing up, something I am truly thankful for.
Because of these women, the images we now see and the products we now purchase have evolved to include all ranges of skin tone. Beauty companies had advanced their ranges to have darker shades and you won’t just have one ‘Cocoa’ or ‘Caramel’ to try to work with when you enter a pharmacy or drugstore or the many higher end makeup brands. Lo’real has recently expanded their own brand to include more shades for women of colour.
I am proud to have amazing dark-skinned women dominating in many fields across the spectrum to show how far we have come and how they are changing the world’s perception of beauty. Industry leaders in sport, modelling and film like Serena Williams, Alek Wek and Lupita Nyong’o really give me a sense of motivation to push boundaries and truly become my own person too regardless of what shade I am.
My dark brown skin is who I am. Beauty comes in so many shades, but in a world that only popularises the acceptable form of beauty; light skin, yellow bone or mixed race we fail to have a true representation of the many forms and shades that black beauty comes in.
“I AM BLACK, I AM AFRICAN, I AM DARK and I AM MY VERY OWN MEASURE OF BEAUTY.” –
This is definitely not an easy topic to address, but I felt compelled to share this with you and any other dark-skinned female out there who is going through or has gone through this before.
How do you feel about this and what are your thoughts?
Please let me know in the comments sections below.
I’d really love to hear from you.
Until my next post…