It usually starts from birth!
The minute she popped out and had her first cry; relatives ran to her cot to see whether she was as fair as their great grandfather (who ruined the light hue in the family by marrying a very dark woman with a broad nose) or as dark as her own father.
They see the signs of coffee hue entrenched in her ears, lips and knuckles – and she’s only a minute old! What would she look like in 24hours???
They hide their disappointment with smiles and try to mask their shock with empty words – “so is it true Fahti is getting married next week…”
She got her first doll at three – it had blonde hair and light plastic skin so bright. When she grew older, she would place the doll’s hand on hers and marvel at such contrast in skin colour.
Her first crush was in primary school. She fantasized about him all through primary four; until the gist went round school that the boy liked Cassandra – the very light skinned air-head a class lower! She cried at home, and wouldn’t watch TV for days because all the girls looked so fair like that girl who “stole” her man!
High school came with all the aplomb! She excelled in her class work, but not with the boys – no one looked at her for very long. That was when she took a good look in the mirror –dark skin, square head, flat nose and full lips.
“I am ugly,” she cried.
Most other black women had some kind of “white” feature, but she had the typical look of a black woman, and that meant she was thoroughly unattractive.
In University she gave her virginity to a lad who, she later discovered, had other women. It was in that state of brokenness and depression that she walked into a store and picked a pack of hydroquinone product.
“May be if I could be a tone lighter I’d be happy”.
She believed strongly that “black” exaggerated many flaws and would be a stumbling block to realising her dreams and aspirations. The first week, she looked sunnier – it was the cream doing wonders to her physical beauty and her emotions! In a different colour, she could appreciate herself. Men smiled her way and her self-esteem was restored.
Her first job was at a bank. The customers liked her. In a fair complexion she could conquer her world; walk into any office and get their attention. She was fair, she was alive, and she was “complete”! With her money, she indulged in expensive weaves. Inspired by magazines all over the world, she could achieve the Kim Kardashian look in a second; and in another second become a photocopy of Jennifer Lopez! With straight silky hair and bright cheery skin, she had finally achieved the standard beauty acceptable all over the world!
Under all that posturing, were moments when she struggled with her identity, self-esteem issues, self-hate and bitterness.
Being black seems like a liability in a world that is tilted towards certain types of women. Society’s perception of beauty alienates blacks and black features– hair is one. Black women find it difficult to grow a relationship with their own hair. “I cannot come to terms with my own hair; I have no relationship with it. It is rebellious to say the least, how can I work with something I don’t understand?” cried one black woman.
From magazines, to billboards, TV series to Hollywood magic, some of the best brands of the world are laced with white sentiments. Since many black women cannot beat the society – learn to love their nappy hair, their skin colour; they are forced to “join them” and find whatever they can to bring themselves closer to what the stereotype beauty represents.
The average black girl wants a magic wand that can alter her physical attributes drastically. To a large extent, she feels cheated by a society that constantly parades the Caucasian woman as the ideal benchmark for beauty.
The question is: why isn’t black skin enough? Why do black women aspire to other kinds of beauty? How can we begin to appreciate who we are- our skin and our features?
There are snide remarks about men preferring light-skinned women. How authentic is this accusation when we know thousands of men who are in good relationships with women of colour? Is it fair to drop this guilt on men? And if truly men want their women lighter, what has that got to do with you and the life you choose to live? Why would you pattern your lifestyle and preferences around the need of another human being?
I have had conversations with women where beauty is classified, for the black woman, with phrases like:
“She’s cute. She has a pointed nose.”
“Her lips are thin and sexy…”
These are largely European features, no?
So what if she comes with a square head, full lips, small eyes and thick thighs? Shouldn’t that be beautiful enough?