I remember the first time I was told I was ‘pretty for a black girl’. I was 19. I legit did not know how to react to such a statement. I really didn’t. I remember looking in the mirror at my sun-kissed caramel face and wished I was lighter. I remembered how I didn’t want to go out in the sun in anymore. I remember crying because I couldn’t process my caramel self not being light enough.
I had never been super conscious of my skin tone before this. I remember the white guy who told me this. I remember looking for the whiteness in all my caramel–and didn’t see it. I didn’t see it. In not seeing it, I felt so sad. I was relegated to all my blackness. All of it, and didn’t know how to process trying to be anything else other than that.
I remember wearing pants all summer to keep my legs light. I hated the darker makeup I wore in the summer months. I remember I didn’t look in the mirror for a couple weeks. What this random dude at a bar told me had totally knocked me off my square. On top of the fact, my best friend at the time was a fair-skinned black girl–like so fair she could ‘pass.’ Being her best friend left me super aware of my blackness.
I remember when I snapped out of my colorism funk. I was watching my mother get ready. I thought my mother was gorgeous, and still do. I watched her put her makeup on as I had when I was a little girl. I thought like that same 4-year-old girl did, “If my mama is pretty, then I am too?” With that simple statement, I began to love me again. From my hair, my lips, my nose and my booty to my caramel skin tone.
In being a mother now, I try and model the same thing for my daughters. I want them to know that their hue is theirs and cannot be defined by someone else. They will never be “pretty for a black girl”–they are “pretty black girls”. The word pretty just reserved for non-women of color. They don’t own the beauty standard.
The most powerful weapon wielded by any woman is self-confidence. If I could tell my 19 year old self anything about that period of self imposed self-hatred, it would be this:
You are beautiful. From head to toe, from nappy roots to calloused feet, you are goddess gorgeous. If a dude in bar can’t tell that, if a dude in a mall can’t tell you that, leave them where they lie, babygirl. You are worth more than a second look in a bar or a bus stop from a dude that doesn’t know the impossible divinity you hold. Your skin tone doesn’t stop or exclude you from the pretty quota or standard–you make the damn standard. Act like it.
The same advice I give to you. Pretty is a disposition and in the eye of the beholder. The world desires to make black girls hate their reflections. In that case, we change the mirror. Change how you see yourself and watch how marvelous the world becomes–that is the roux of black girl magic.
[images from Google]