Learning to Love My Skin
I was ten years old when I referred to the colour of my skin as abnormal. It wasn’t direct, but the implication was blatant. It happened in school, as we learned of the Gods and Goddesses of Greek mythology, flushed with power and a courage so strong it could be saved only for tales of heroes. And when the assignment that accompanied the unit came along, I was more than ecstatic to create my own heroine who with grace, beauty and an unstoppable vigour would conquer all that stood in the path of her happiness. I drew my character with great care and effort, generously taking my time to perfect each line of the sketch I would later fill in with clay. When the time came to fill in my heroine’s skin, I went to ask my teacher for clay, knowing I had to have the perfect shade. I asked her a “skin-coloured” clay. She asked me which skin colour; was it like hers? Like mine? I pointed to her skin. I said, “The normal colour.”
My childhood was riddled with insecurity; years of yearning to be lighter. When I looked in the mirror I wanted to see in myself what I saw when I turned on the TV everyday, or flipped through a magazine: light skin. Girls with milky white skin who were praised for their beauty, who starred in all the shows and movies, who when you thought of beautiful, their pale complexion was the vision. I was merely the quirky supporting character. I began to see my beauty as equivalent to the shade of my complexion. As summer would approach in all its sunshiny glory, I stayed away from the rays of heat bound to darken skin that was already a few shades too dark to be socially accepted. Instead I opted to keep my face hidden by the light of a computer screen, my eyes eagerly scanning the articles instructing me on peeling away the skin I had to paint on a new more beautiful, lighter one.
Femininity and Dirt
A complexion too dark is not associated with feminine beauty. It is masculine, ugly, it belongs to the background characters, not on beautiful women. As if it were dirt etched into my skin, I was made to feel as if I should scrub it off. It was always one or the other: to be beautiful, or to be dark-skinned. Why not both?
It’s never an easy journey, learning to love yourself. And matters only become more complicated when you are at the vulnerable age of a preteen and it seems everything is standing against your growth as a human. The South Asian culture puts a lot of emphasis on girls having lighter skin, as eurocentric beauty standards dictate the definition of feminine beauty. A history of European colonisation has enforced into the mind of mainstream South Asia that dark is ugly, light is pretty. We have been coerced into denying the beauty within our heritage in favour of assimilation with Westernized ideals. The Western media, despite its more recent attempts at diversity, has had a notorious history of whitewashing its contents as well. Most of the characters in the media you consume are white, or white-passing. Diversity is an afterthought that often comes in the form of tokenism. The implementation of darker skinned girls is ignored in the media, just as our beauty has always been.
Internalized Racism and Self- Hate
For too long women of colour have been taught to hate their skin. We have been taught to internalize racism and self-hatred, allowing it a home inside our minds that dictates our feelings towards ourselves and others. We have let the hate dwell in each innocent crevice of our skin; the dimples on your elbows, the folds on your knees, the creases in your neck as your head falls back in a frenzy of laughter, all suffused with hyperpigmentation but lacking in love.
It’s Not An Easy Journey
Despite the difficulties, it’s important to remember that self-love is a continuous journey, and that the standards of your society do not define your value as a human. As dark-skinned girls we must remember to acknowledge the issue of colourism and continue to educate ourselves and others on it. While easy to get caught up in societal ideals of beauty, the most efficient way to love yourself is to ignore stringent, whitewashed beauty standards and open your mind to the possibility that beauty can lie in anyone. Remember the way your skin glows in the light, that bronzed complexion not lost even in the harsh winters, the way you were made to be beloved by nature as the sun kisses your skin every chance it gets. The colour of your skin is not a mistake. The colour of your skin is a part of you that should not be denied, should not be ignored, or sought to change. Thousands of years of history, telling us to hate our skin, cannot take away the truth in the beauty. We must remain resilient in our journeys, because the beauty is there, waiting to be acknowledged as an integral part of you, waiting to be loved.