‘You’re Pretty For A Dark Girl’
“You’re pretty for a Dark Girl”
When I was younger, I was labelled as ‘light skinned’. My fair complexion made me stand out in comparison to my darker siblings and somehow made me desirable, I was ‘cute’, ‘pretty’, and ‘admirable’. However, after I turned 10, my fairness caught a permanent tan and my most desirable feature became my downfall. Not only did I have to face racial discrimination from outside of my race, I had to find a way to be accepted within the social confines of its cultural expectations.
Over the past 50 years’ women have breached the boundaries of economic power structures, overcome legal and material hindrances, gained independence, power and legal recognition. Nevertheless, we have been flogged into the mindset that none of these qualities matter unless you’re beautiful. Beautiful: fair, thin, youthful, small nosed, silky haired and smooth skinned. Features that have driven cosmetic surgery into the fastest growing industry with eating disorders rising exponentially. And yet these beauty standards remain unrealistic for the average woman. Not all body types can withstand the size 4 frame: wide hips and a busty chest to boot. And not all hair can be perfectly straight and blonde. Of course, these are just stereotypes. But these are the stereotypes that, even from the age of twelve, women feed into.
Once upon a time, twelve-year olds braided each other’s hair for the mere fun of it. Nowadays, however, twelve-year olds paint each other’s faces with various chemicals in order to look appealing. Fifteen-year olds stare at themselves through the mirror and perceive themselves as ‘fat’. And twenty-year olds go under the knife, risking their lives to achieve the societal perception of perfection.
Now imagine being a sixteen-year-old girl, a size fourteen, with a full head of thick 4c hair and a complexion of dark chocolate.
As Malcolm X stated: ‘The most disrespected person in America is the black woman the most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.’ More inconceivable is the fact that nothing has changed. How have we now succumbed to hating the colour of our skin, the texture of our hair, the shape of our nose and lips…? Simply because, according to one version of society, that’s not beautiful. By nature, we generally have big noses and hair that defies gravity. Our skin varies from the lightest beige to the darkest brown. We are made in different shapes and sizes depending on where in the African and continent we stem from and yet we are not accepted by the Western world and its ideologically racist ‘standards’. Black women have been historically mocked and marginalized for conforming to traits specific to black womanhood, and they’ve been routinely vilified for perceived negative behaviours that are universal. This is not only from the non-black population. ‘I only like white girls and light skins (mixed race people)’, a denouncing phrase in which black girls are graded the lowest of ranks by males within their own race. The status quo within the white community has seeped into the minds of young black males, condemning them to turn their backs against women who have nurtured, protected and loved them.
We also hear the phrases ‘black girls aren’t rated’, ‘I only like white girls’, ‘you’d be prettier if you were lighter’, at least five times a week. This is by males who have been birthed and raised by black women. And yet they justify this ‘like’ by calling it a preference, not knowing that this preference has caused a rise in skin bleaching and self-hatred.
Skin bleaching: a cosmetic procedure that aims to lighten dark areas of skin or achieve a generally paler skin tone. Or skin bleaching: a horrendous itch that aids a thin canvas of uneven colour loss. Red, dark spots leaving a blotchy masterpiece that could lead to skin cancer. The whole concept of beauty is diminished and burnt to ashes. This lack of care for the black woman is rationalised by using black girls in music videos and the film industry. Wait, correction – light-skinned girls. There’s a decline in darker skinned women in the media, for reasons I cannot comprehend. Our screens and voices of reason give darker skinned girls a handful of options to look up to as role models. Other than Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Michelle Obama; our options are limited, thus a new generation becomes accustomed, yet again, to the ideology of colourism.
There is also a prominent deficiency within the makeup industry in relation to black women. Before the almighty ‘Fenty’ brand took over the world, black women would spend millions on makeup brands attempting to find something that works, not only works for the complexion of their skin but also the maintenance of skin care. There’s a cycle of exclusion and deprivation within the makeup industry that is only now beginning to fill its void. Why is it so hard for women of colour to find foundation? Brands are also increasingly marketing to Black women. But it’s not enough to slap Zendaya’s face on your ad and call it a day — you must also deliver with the product.
Nevertheless, one thing remains. The nature of our bodies will always be perceived as objects; either to men who will stay drooling over them like a piece of meat (even though they hate everything else about us).