Black & Beautiful

“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God: I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted; I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter”. –Excerpt from Lupita Nyong’o Speech from Essence Magazine

Like Lupita, I am a dark skin girl who grew up in the same environment where beauty standards were measured by how fair your skin was. Everywhere I looked it was the light skinned girl who featured on fashion magazines, television and commercial adverts. I too started to see beauty through the societal lens. Notwithstanding comments such as ‘you’re beautiful for a dark skin girl’ that I had become accustomed to hearing. I was never sure whether to take such comments as compliments or insults. Then I had my first aha moment one early Saturday morning on my way to Campus. There I was, on the cover of Saturday Magazine, a weekly publication of the Daily Nation. It took seeing my smiley face plastered on the front page of a leading newspaper magazine in Kenya to realize that I was beautiful.

This got me thinking how many of us live in a box defined by society. Its time to stop existing and start living the life you were meant to lead and not what society expects of you.

So why is it that dark skin is not considered beautiful? I decided to look in the origins of the color black. Over time the world has metamorphosed from the Stone Age to civilization. We have come a long way from the times when human beings only wore hide to today’s fashionable designer clothing. I have read stories from way back to the 14th century when royalty, clergies and judges wore the color black.

The one thing that still lingers is the negativity related to the term black.  From being the color of mourning, to being associated with evil, death, and witchcraft, the negative connotations are endless. From blackmail to black sheep, blacklist, blackout the list goes on and on.

As for me, black denotes power, strength, might, boldness and beauty.

Unfortunately the unattainable beauty standards that the media impose on us have left many coveting timeless beauty, which does not include being black or dark skinned. Just turn on your television, flip a fashion magazine or surf the internet and you will be amazed at how many beauty products advertisement promise age defying results for younger looking, flawless, fair skin.

Thanks to Photoshop, smaller waist, slimmer thighs and lighter skin are the goals that every young girl aspires to achieve.

In many parts of Africa Asia, and Middle East the lighter skinned you are the more beautiful you are, more and more girls are bleaching their skin. Having a fairer skin is seen as the ticket to a better life. Young girls are growing with low self-esteem because they are not considered beautiful. Many put their lives at risk in the hopes of attaining the society’s beauty standards despite the dangers. A publication by forecast the value of global skin lighteners market to reach US$19.8 billion by 2018. This is driven by the growing desire for lighter skin at any cost. Many lives have been lost to dangerous cosmetic surgeries, eating disorders, and use of dangerous skin lightening creams yet the industry keeps growing.

Real beauty is not just skin deep.