During my childhood, I played with white Barbie dolls. All my television characters were beautiful white women with blonde hair and blue eyes. I was exposed to the Eurocentric standards of beauty from a young age. I never once asked my parents to buy me a black dolls, I preferred the ‘Amber’ and ‘Tiffany’ dolls. I never liked my hair curly or braided, I wanted my hair straightened all the time if I could. I actually remember crying and begging my mother to perm my hair when I was young by convincing her my thick, curly head of hair was such a disturbance that perming it would make our lives earlier (this is a decision – I regret until this day).
However, despite, my conditioning – thanks to various variables in my life, I never once hated my skin. I thought it was beautiful. I was confident. Even though, I was not fair like my classmates, I enjoyed looking different. And yet, I vividly remember various cousins and friends discussing the preferential treatment lighter skin females get over darker skinned females. And, naively, I became intrigued. The insecurities of these black women I knew became transformed into anger towards their own sisters due to something as superficial as skin colour. And, it became an extremely disheartening concept to think of.
As I got older, I began to notice more and more girls that I had grown up with becoming noticeably lighter and it was not due to the change of season. My nativity of the skin-bleaching epidemic was real. My own friends caved into internalised racial insecurities. Now, we can blame Africa’s early encounters with Europeans for the reasoning behind our internalised self-hatred, as I once read a quote that said, “the most potent weapon of an oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”. However, the clear internalisation of racial ideologies that encourage shadism inferiority stem from societal discourses that comes from within our own communities.
For whatever twisted and sick reason, my generation has embarked on a whole new discourse of colourism by engaging in the ever-so insulting debate of ‘light skin vs. dark skin’. It is completely mind boggling that our community can casually separates themselves by skin complexion. Colourism not only effects self-esteem but the perceptions of beauty. It seems inevitable that girls tend to self-objectify to compensate for what they feel as a lack of preferable physical characteristics such lighter skin or longer hair etc.
It hurts that was once Europeans who deemed African aesthetics as ugly, and now it’s coming from our own community. The fact of the matter is that these disgusting light skin vs dark skin debates have forced females and even males to resort to bleaching their skin in search of a sense of value of their beauty.
We must remember that beauty is based on our own cultural context, therefore beauty can not only be subjective to appearance but rather it is based on a reflective of ones character and how they contribute to their community. That is the source of true beauty, not your mere physical appearance. That should be the values re-instilled within our community.
I hope that by having these conversations and confronting the issue of colourism, as well as the bigger picture, little black girls of any skin tone won’t ever have to question their looks. Society will learn to tell them they are beautiful, and they can respond confidently by saying, “I know”.