Colourism in our beauty narratives!

A few years ago, Gilbert Arenas made some disturbing comments about dark skinned black women and he had some not so nice things to say about Lupita Nyong’o. It took him some time to acknowledge that his comments were not healthy especially for young black girls who were finding themselves and dealing with their exclusion from the Europeanised global standard of beauty. I was shocked that in the 21st century, someone, a black man for that matter, would be comfortable to make derogatory remarks about women from his race just because their skin was darker. Sadly, Gilbert’s case is not unique and there have been several instances where people have been discriminated against because of the darker shade of their skin. Because of these discriminations, the use of harmful chemicals to lighten one’s skin has become prevalent with some people risking skin cancer just so they can have the ‘right’ shade of skin.

I am from west Africa and one common trend where I come from is this obsession with lighter skinned people and the notion that a person that is lighter in skin colour is better looking. While I am not here to write that light skinned people do not deserve to be labeled as good looking – my concern is the narratives that refuses to look beyond the skin colour of darker skinned people when it comes to beauty. In Ghana where I am from, it is commonly known that lighter skinned actors get more leading roles and make it big in the movie industry than their darker, sometimes more talented colleagues. A friend of mine recently drew my attention to this trend when a popular Ghanaian actress turned talk show host, Nana Ama McBrown, hosted some actors and actresses on her showbiz talk show. She had 6 actors and actresses on her couch and one thing stood out to my friend – one of the actresses on the sofa was biracial Nadia Buari. It was very clear that out of the three women on the couch that day – who by the way were of different skin shades and beautiful in their own right, the hostess favoured the biracial lady and her comments to her would reveal why. Through out the show, every time she came back to the three ladies to engage them in conversation, she would call Nadia Maame Broni – an endearment in the Akan Twi language meaning white girl/woman and fawn over that one guest on her beauty because she was closer to being white. My friend stated that she could not finish watching the show – because in this day and age, no one should be seen as superior because of their skin colour.

Whiles researching this topic, there were several examples, especially when it came to women, where it seemed the general consensus was that the lighter the woman, the more beautiful she was. I happened upon the doll test on YouTube and my heart broke as I looked at the choices the little children in the test made based on the skin colour of the dolls being presented to them. During my years in college and university, I had several Asian friends and I saw their struggle to be light enough to get an advantageous marriage. One thing that stood out to me was the lighter shade of makeup some of these ladies wore to make them appear light skinned. Initially, I must admit, I never understood why people would wear foundation shades lighter than their skin to appear light – but as I got older, I understood the pressure they were under to be seen as pretty enough and it made me sad. These discriminations have led people to skin lotions and creams that promises to lighten the skin of the user – I have seen many of such creams in African and Asian shops advertising beautiful light skin in a bottle. There have been several warnings over the years of the dangers of using these creams but I have noticed that in their quest to have lighter skin, most people do not care about the side effects. Recently, the creams are not effective enough and people are turning to glutathione supplements or injections to suppress the production of melanin to give them the lighter skin colour they desire.

This issue started centuries ago with house slaves being more favoured than the slaves in the field and this sometimes came down to skin shade. Even the christian bible has its version of colourism in songs of Solomon 1:5-6 where the narrator alludes to the fact that despite their dark skin, they are still lovely – ouch! Before the world became open and cultures were influenced by each other, I am certain there were standards of beauty that did not have anything to do with the standards of another culture. A typical example of this is when a friend told me of her culture shock when she moved to England and noticed that something that set her apart as pretty in her culture was not considered the same in England – she had hairy legs. Where I come from, a curvy lady is considered more beautiful in most instances that a slender one. This gives truth to the statement that ‘beauty does lie in the eyes of the beholder’. In light of this, who has the right to say that a woman like Lupita Nyong’o in all her glorious beauty is ‘not cute’ because she is darker? There are several women changing how they look to fit into the standard of beauty being advertised by instagram models, reality stars and magazines. Of all the procedures to change one’s looks, the most easiest to get access to in my opinion, is skin bleaching. The products are easily available and I am not certain that the dangers of these products are very well documented and highlighted.

Humanity has come a long way and to still base the beauty of a person on the shade of their skin is quite messed up. In light of all the race fuelled attacks and the protests in their wake, I think an additional prejudice based on the shade of the colour of one’s skin within their own race is quite unnecessary. I have a niece I adore and to me, she is the most gorgeous little girl – something I remind her every time I see her. I affirm to her every chance I get that she is enough. I want to reinforce in her that she is not less than because she is darker than someone else – or that she is lucky to be pretty because she is darker skinned. The narrative that says that one is very pretty for a darker skinned person needs to stop and to do that, we need to be very careful how we describe beauty especially to the people we do not think fit our ideals on beauty. I have always been of the notion that the obsession with skin colour when it comes to diversity needs looking at – because when I am dealing with someone, I must under no circumstance think that how they behave has been shaped by their skin colour. I think diversity should be more about the cultural backgrounds of people and factors that have contributed to the formation of their personality – a topic I think needs exploring further in the future.

Regardless of who you are and where you come from – when talking about beauty, perhaps we should state clearly why someone is beautiful to us without generalising. To everyone out there, remember that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and just because someone does not appreciate your unique beauty means they are right and that you must change how you look to fit in. It would be a shame if I looked around and suddenly everyone was the same skin shade, hair textures and body shape – the world would be so boring. We must be responsible in our narratives and ensure that we are not telling others that because they don’t look a certain way, they are unacceptable. I would love to hear from you, please get in touch and lets effect change by sharing our experiences.

3 thoughts on “Colourism in our beauty narratives!

  1. Only we can change our narrative. For far too long we let other people define for us who we are. But we first have to love ourselves enough to realise we are a beautiful race and need to embrace our uniqueness

    Liked by 1 person

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