I recently watched Dark Girls, a documentary on African American culture. The focus was on prejudices based on skin tones within the black community and how this leads some women to devalue their skin and hair. Each women told a personal story of how she was disgraced by the shade of her complexion. Of course I am aware of this cultural phenomenon. However, hearing women of all ages share their intimate stories puts it in a perspective that would make any woman emotional on behalf of these challenges.
When I was a child, I was so envious of dark skin. First, you should know, growing up, we were the only white family on our block. I would swim with the neighbor children and watch the sun bounce light off their dark chocolate skin. On the playground, so many of the girls wore the plastic marble ball bands to hold their braids- which seemed to stand up, defying gravity. My little sister and I were so jealous of those hair bands! (Along with gravity-defying hair, of course). Hair that could twist and mold one moment and appear soft to the touch the next.
We got our wish for those marble ball bands once, but our braids fell limp. I suppose I thought the magic came with the bands. But that experience made me realize the girls on the playground just had magic hair that I would never acquire.
Everyone in our neighborhood had a special unique skin tone all their own.
Back at my crayon box there weren’t enough crayons to express all of my neighborhood playmates. Only one color to express my family though: Peach. When I asked what color we were, my mother said we are “white.” Confused, I responded, “No, we are peach,” and I ran to get the correct crayon to prove it.
Our Barbies we had collected up until that point were all the same color: Peach. The only variation was hair color. At this point, I asked for more colorful Barbies. That Christmas I got a Hawaiian Barbie. She had coffee skin, almond eyes, and long black hair. She was my favorite Barbie. My mother remembers this story and says at that time Hawaiian Barbie was the only non-Caucasian-looking Barbie she could find.
I’m really not trying to open up a can of worms with this entry. However, what struck my heart the most in the documentary was the little girl of around 3 or 4 who was asked to identify the ugliest and dumbest child. Each time, the African American girl pointed to the darkest of all of the images. And the prettiest, smartest child she believed was the lightest image. That experiment is a heart-crusher. If not, go get your vitals checked.
Below is CNN’s version of a similar experiment.
Without knowing the history and socioeconomic influences, she envies the light skin girl with the light hair and light eyes. And without knowing the history and socioeconomic influences, I envied the girls in my neighborhood with the chocolate brown skin and the magically soft hair.
Why do we always want what we don’t have? Why can’t we appreciate the beauty of others without depreciating our own beauty? Why do we grow up and cast judgement on others for being slightly different from us? I suppose this is the human condition. But just because it’s how we lean doesn’t mean we can’t learn to stand up straight, you know?
Please tell someone they are beautiful today. You truly are.
“You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”
Song of Solomon 4:7