I just left a screening of Bill Duke’s Dark Girls, a documentary about the struggles darker-skinned women face while living in America – their issues with loving themselves and being embraced by other black women and men. Now, when I say “darker-skinned” women, I don’t just mean African-American women as a whole, I mean women who are darker than a brown paper bag, whose skin shades range from cocoa-brown to blue-black.
Historically, their beauty has not been seen as ideal among the black race and for years the media perpetuated that stereotype, as well.
Hearing the stories brought back memories of my own struggles. I remember hating my dark skin and wanting desperately to be lighter because I thought I would be prettier that way. I so wanted to be light-skinned like my mother and sister. I felt I got shafted in the beauty area and even thought about bleaching my skin.
It’s deep. I know.
When I was young and would be engaged in verbal battles with my siblings, they knew what insult to yell out when they wanted to hit below the belt: “BLACK.” They knew that calling me “black” was the ultimate jab.
Learning to accept, and even love, my dark skin was a struggle. I remember, though, telling myself that when I become a mother I would make sure that my daughter didn’t have the same issues.
Before I got married and had kids, I spotted a beautiful dark-skinned doll on display in a bookstore. She had big, doe eyes, hazelnut skin and charcoal black hair. I bought it and kept it in tact because someday I wanted to give it to my daughter.
I grew up with mostly white dolls and thought their beauty was ideal and wanted to look just like them. I figured that if my daughter grew up with dolls that look like her, she would deem herself beautiful.
When I became a mom and it came time for me to give my daughter the doll, I was excited. It was a Christmas gift and I waited to see her squeal with delight at the sight. To my surprise, though, she rejected it. She didn’t think it was pretty and thought its skin was too dark. She never played with it.
I felt as if she had rejected me. Where had she learned that? Had I taught her without even knowing?
From then on, my husband and I work hard to make sure she appreciates diversity. Not just among African Americans, but all races.
It’s been a journey that, honestly, is helping me, too. The stacks of books about black beauty and the coffer of dolls of all shades is a delight and she is learning to value them.
Today, she gets it. She loves her brown skin and embraces the chocolate rainbow of her race and the variety of other races, too. It is a beautiful thing, and reaffirms the beauty and value of my own blackness, something that took me years to understand.
I get it, too, and can proudly say that I love the buttery, caramel skin that I am in. (Two snaps!)