beauty + fitness race + gender + politics

The Skin I’m In

June 24, 2013

Tyra

Last night OWN aired a documentary entitled “Dark Girls“. And both Facebook and Twitter were buzzing in response. Men and women alike seemed to be promoting the documentary and engaging in dialogue around color issues. Admittedly I did not get the opportunity to watch the documentary, so my comments in response to the “color/complexion” is largely drawn from discussions I glanced on social media.

I won’t go into the history of color complexes in the Black American community, or even discuss the issues of color that plagues cultures of people from all over the world. The issues are deep rooted and a lot to tackle in this space, on a Monday no less. Plus, there are probably many more qualified folks to tackle that beast. For now, I’ll just write a few thoughts that came to mind on the subject of color.

Now, I’m considered “light skinned” to most Black people who care enough to label me. I’ve always just considered myself brown. Mainly because “light skinned” makes me feel uneasy and categorized as something that is often meant to be a compliment but is more like an insult. Growing up, I hated being singled out as “the light skinned girl” and being referred to as “Red” (I’m not even that light!). I had friends of all different shades, but even as an adolescent, I could see that many people in my age group exalted light skinned-ness. At school, light skinned girls/boys were considered more attractive and received the most attention from the opposite sex (of all shades). And if a kid was light skinned and had “good hair”? JACKPOT!  I was placed into yet another category – the light skinned mixed girl with pretty hair, a trifecta. The only thing that could skyrocket that combination would have been an added pair of green eyes. While many girls like me loved the attention and used their assests to their advantage, I HATED being praised for something I had no control over. And I hated even more that people with dark brown/black skin, were teased and made to feel ashamed. I didn’t find my skin color, hair texture, or mixed ethnicity to be a badge of honor or something that made me higher than anyone. Sure, I was proud of who I was but I didn’t adhere to the notion that these appearances made me more attractive or better than anyone else. I didn’t want to be set apart, I just wanted to fit in.

It has always offended me to hear people tell some one dark brown skinned that they are “pretty for a dark skinned girl” or acting surprised when they met a dark skinned girl who was pretty. When I would express my dislike of people (namely men) saying this, it would enrage me for them to respond with, “but you’re light skinned, why do you care? You should be flattered.” As if I would accept your ignorance and shameful perspective as a compliment! While to some degree I understand how people can associate attractiveness with skin color (especially after reading Survival of the Prettiest with #NBR), it still pisses me off to hear these things as an adult. It’s 2013 – get some therapy and read a book!!

I’m thankful to have the parents I did and be surrounded by people who taught me that all black/brown is beautiful. My parents didn’t teach me to place value in fairer skin and straighter hair. Most of my dolls and barbies were brown skinned (they didn’t really make “light skint Black” baby dolls in my childhood lol). I loved being in the sun and watching my skin become a deep bronze. For me, darker skin was a prize. My best friend and I would have competitions of who could get darker. I think for us, Blackness was a gold beauty standard, so we wanted to be as close to Black as we could. I guess we’re afforded the luxury to have these desires because we didn’t face the cruel attention or lack of attention all together because of our skin.

Though I will never know the personal struggles of being a dark skinned Black woman, and I can only speak from the outside looking in, I appreciate this conversation and the awareness that it brings. So much of our individual identities and self worth are tied into how the world sees us. And if the world is telling us we’re not pretty because our this is ugly  and of no worth – and we have no one else combating this by telling us we’re beautiful as we are – then we will begin to internalize that and hate the skin we’re in. I hope the more dialogue we can have about this, the more we can change our perceptions and how we treat each other so we don’t have to make another Dark Girls in 2033 because we’re still battling the same ignorance.

Did you see the Dark Girls documentary? What are some things that come to mind when you think about issues of color/complexions? Did you grow up with a color complex, and if so how did you deal with it?

I’m brown dammit,
~Gem

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12 Comments

  • Reply Mo-VSS June 24, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    My sister is dark skinned. I am not. I used to HATE when folks would see us and ask the following questions or make the following statements:

    1) Do you two have the same parents? (Yes, we do)
    2) Are you (referring to my sister) adopted (Uhm, she looks JUST like me with darker skin, try again)
    3) She’s so pretty (referring to my sister) for a dark skinned girl. (STFU)
    4) You (referring to me) must be mixed or something because black girls don’t have long hair. (STFU again)
    5) Does your sister wear a weave (no my 7 year old sister doesn’t wear a damn weave, we just have long hair).

    It got to the point where I cut my hair off because I couldn’t change the color of my skin or other’s perceptions of beauty associated with it, but I could control the length of my hair. So I cut it off in 7th grade. Myself…did a horrible job but my point was made. When I think back, it was a funny experience but especially sad that I felt like I wanted to do that in order people to see me for something other than stupid physical attributes that I couldn’t control.

    (sidebar…this proves that I haven’t been shallow all my life. I don’t know where the tide turned. I’m sorry. Lol)

    My sister is still dark skinned (shockingly! lol) and her kids are not. They are my color with curly hair. And when we all go out as a family it never fails that people come up to ME and compliment on how cute my kids are. And when I say, “they’re her kids” and point at my sister, they ALWAYS come back with some “oh, is the father white or light skinned.” (No, their father is not white, he’s my complexion with wavy hair. Apparently, people didn’t pay attention in biology class to the dominant/recessive gene lesson).

    I didn’t see the show either, but one thing I do know: My people…we have to do better.

    • Reply gemmieboo June 24, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      girl!!! i hear you completely. even at a young age i hated hearing ppl say such foolish things. even if yall were half sisters – THATS NONE OF THEIR DAMN BUSINESS!!!! ugh!

      and i so feel you in the hair thing. ive chopped all my hair off 3 times now – it was tiring for ppl to act like my hair was tied to my worth. and even though i am mixed, i hated the idea that i wasnt more than some physical traits.

      we absolutely need to do better!

  • Reply Tunde June 24, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    my family like most nigerian families is very color conscious. imperialism did a number of the psyche of a lot of nigerians. so much skin bleaching and praising straight hair. its sad really. with that said being one of the darker people in my family wasn’t terrible but the innuendoes and subliminals were crazy.

    i did notice how all the light skinned guys got all the attention but for some reason i never felt left out or the need to compete with them. if a girl didn’t like me for me then so be it. great post.

    • Reply gemmieboo June 24, 2013 at 8:58 pm

      ive always been curious about how black men felt about color in school. esp since many if the darker skinned boys got passed over for the lighter ones. most of them didnt seem to carry any insecurities into high school and college (when datk men were “in”) but its just my perception. girls with color complexes seem to carry it always.

  • Reply Wu Young, Agent of M.E. June 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    We watched some of Dark Girls and it’s sad that folks are still attached to the yoke of colorism. I’m a fairer-skinned cat so I’ll never know what someone with darker-skin will go through. I’ve watch the results of colorism, most of which comes from people who are 50 plus (see Tom Joyner’s light-skinned/dark-skinned water gun fight) and even when done in jest it’s tiring. From time to time I see #teamdarksin or #teamlightskin floating around social media and I think “come on”.* We seriously can do better.

    I never developed a color complex but I will say there’s nothing more stunning than bad dark-skinned lass and I’m a guy who doesn’t have a type. (Bad dark-skinned lasses rank somewhere between Sunday morning sex and free beer on the Keith Francis Young’s Balls to the Wall Scale of Awesome (c).) Luckily, I was blessed with an extended family that looks like a crayon box and that helped shape my mindset.

    I still dislike being called “Red”. Seriously, don’t do it.

    *As a 34 year old man I’m never going to be #teamanything it just seems overly sophomoric and I’m a man who frequently reads books with pictures involving super-powered people in spandex.

    • Reply gemmieboo June 24, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      we are soooooo >>here<<. i too loooove a dark skinned man (hell i like the look of dark women too). my mother always had a healthy appreciation for darker men (the darker the better) and it seems to have rubbed off on me too. habibi is dark and i sincerely hope our babies come out chocolate like him.

  • Reply That Damn African June 24, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    I didn’t see the documentary either.

    As a “dark-skinned” black guy, I experienced name-calling and insults, but I can’t remember it being that egregious and I can’t remember any specific instance of being insulted. It was more subtle. Getting made fun of for being short, skinny, African (although you can argue that my dark skin made me more likely to receive “African” insults), and somewhat awkward were more frequent for me. The hierarchy of skin tone was something I never experienced in my family. But I still remember times where I felt ashamed of my skin tone. I always knew that the lighter skinned boys were more attractive to girls. Even seeing how lighter skinned girls were more attractive to boys made me feel less attractive by default.

    What’s interesting is that I sometimes make fun of my girlfriend for being really light skinned. It’s usually just a quick joke here or there, but I’ve never thought about how demeaning it sometimes is. Like yesterday, my girlfriend mentioned how she really wanted to watch the documentary. We caught the trailer online and as they played testimonials from people who had bad experiences, I turned to my girlfriend and jokingly said “You don’t know nothing about that.” She was so insulted by that and I didn’t realize how much of an insult it was at first. I effectively alienated her just because her skin was lighter and belittled her own experiences growing up. Light skinned people get to have their hardships and self-esteem issues effectively ignored because they’re light skinned. That’s not right either.

    • Reply gemmieboo June 24, 2013 at 9:04 pm

      hmmm interesting. i forget that men also face a lot f scrutiny as boys – puberty can be a bitch in that regard. the skinny/short/african insults also used to make me so uncomfortable. kids find thigs to pick on but it can be so damaging for some ppl.

      im often teased and put down about my lighter shade. i hate to even be acknowledged by my color. but ive done it too – talking bad about lighter skinned guys (esp since so many of the ones ive known revel in their light skinnedness). i guess we all have to be more cognizant about our words, esp when it comes to such touchy subjects.

      • Reply Wu Young, Agent of M.E. June 24, 2013 at 9:30 pm

        A chick in college used to make light skinned jokes. I told her my blackness would be evident if the cops rolled up.

  • Reply racjemison June 24, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    Although I haven’t seen it, I heard/read a lot of the reactions over the documentary. I was actually reading some of the comments on VSB on a similar topic and read that at the end of the day many people don’t care as much about the skin color as they do the skin quality, and it struck a nerve.

    I don’t want to go too deep in my childhood, but I will say that it’s a hard knock life for a dark brown girl with bad skin. Especially growing up in an overly looks-oriented location like California. While at times I definitely felt ignored by the opposite sex because I was dark skinned (I was about 3-4 shades darker while living in Cali), I felt most insecure about about my acne-prone skin. I was teased about it, mom pointed it out in public, and I felt embarrassed over this “condition” that seemingly nothing could help.

    We as a human race are naturally drawn to attractive, flawless people, and a number of cultures have exalted the fairer-skinned folks (I too have read Survival of the Prettiest; interesting read!). Is it right? No, of course not. But there has to be a way to do more than just point out the problem via these documentaries. There has to be a way to address the low-self esteem, self-hatred, and insecurities, as well as the ignorance and insensitivity on the other side. It all starts at home, and it’s up to us to break these self-enslaving mentalities with future generations.

    Great post Gemmie.

    • Reply gemmieboo June 24, 2013 at 9:08 pm

      thanks for bringing this point up racqs – i hadnt thought about the added “undesirables” on top of skin color, creating even more opportunities to be a punching bag for cruel ppl. i imagine its especially hard when your own family isnt helping assuage the situation.

      we have to set better examples and take the time out to teach our kids about how to treat each other an love themselves, regardless of what they look like.

      thanks for your perspective!

  • Reply Friday Forgiveness: Getting Over This Week In America | That's What GEM Said June 28, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    […] the Dark Girls documentary aired, and all the commentary centered around skin color (including my own), many of “us” Blacks have decided to shame this girl for being dark skinned and […]

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