Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I'm Dark-Skinned... and What?

In our society, we place great importance on wealth, youth and appearance. However, it seems that we’re sliding backward towards a time where lighter skin is favoured over darker skin.

During the 1960s, the term ‘Black is Beautiful’ was banded about, aimed to celebrate black people’s features and make people proud to be black. But nearly fifty years on, we seem to have forgotten all of this as whitening cream sales rise as people become more and more desperate to have the ‘perfect’ caramel skin.

Darker skinned people have nearly always faced disapproval, openly portrayed as savages or buffoons in the media (e.g. gollywogs). But these portrayals have always been by ignorant white people during the days where racial equality wasn’t so high on the list. These days, it’s people who should know better, people who aren’t white who seem to be pushing light skin on all of us.

I’m a dark skinned teenager of Ghanaian heritage. I’ve heard positive comments as well as negative ones. Now, people who make negative comments are stupid and ignorant, and usually posses an ego that has been inflated to a point where it engulfs the person. However, ego and/or stupidity are no excuse. People shouldn’t have to put up with these sorts of negative comments. Everyone should be allowed to be comfortable with whatever shade they are, whether they’re as white as snow or as black as coal.

I have been wondering what’s brought this intra-racial contempt on. I Googled something along the lines of ‘dark skinned contempt’ and two interesting articles came up. Tameka J. Raymond (aka Usher Raymond’s ex-wife) and British journalist/author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown both wrote interesting articles on this topic. Both blame the rise in popularity of lighter skinned people on the media. Raymond says: ‘Reading magazines, social media sites, watching our music videos, and television shows feed our appetites for all things ‘beauty’. Rarely, however do I see depictions of grace and elegance in the form of dark complexioned women.’ While Alibhai-Brown comments: ‘The beauty and fashion industries still maintain a closed shop when it comes to the selection and promotion of models. In women's magazines, on catwalks, even shop dummies, dark skin is rarely seen… Exceptionally, Naomi Campbell and Iman are permitted to strut with their white peers. Let's pray no bus ever runs them over.’

Now, I try not to use the ‘media card’ too often, as I feel that it is the first thing people blame when things go wrong, however, I’m willing to make an exception in this case. In 2008, L’Oreal ran a campaign for its hair lightening kit, featuring Beyonce. The public were outraged when the picture was released. L’Oreal was accused of lightening caramel-coloured Beyonce’s skin until she resembled a white girl who had spent two weeks in Ibiza. Of course, L’Oreal vehemently denied photoshopping the picture to within an inch of its life, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether L’Oreal is lying or not.

Also in 2008, Italian Vogue created its first ‘All Black’ issue, where all the models used in that issue were black. This issue sold out world-wide. However, many darker-skinned models complain that they cannot find work. The fashion industry’s excuse? ‘Black models don’t sell.’ Well Vogue clearly decapitated that excuse. The projection of just one type of beauty in the media excludes the majority of the population. If you aren’t tall, thin, and have light skin, I’m sorry; you just don’t cut it in this society.

Some people are so desperate to attain this narrow view of beauty that they’ll result to drastic measures. As previously mentioned, sales of lightening creams are rocketing; however some of these creams are not safe. Indy Rihal of the British Skin Foundation says: “Unfortunately, many skin-lightening creams contain illegal compounds that can damage your health; the most common compounds are high-dose steroids.” Regrettably, some people don’t heed these warnings and still carry on applying these creams until their face is three shades lighter than the rest of their body, or the veins in their face become visible, or until their skin develops a grey tint to it, ruining their face forever.

What is even sadder is the prospect of having a generation of young dark-skinned people hating their own skin colour. I came across a Yahoo Answers question, with a seemingly young person (I’m assuming a girl) wishing she wasn’t ‘dark skin black’ and asking whether ‘you guys do any bleaching cream that will made [sic] me fair skinned?’ They go on to mention that they are teased at school, and they want to be none other than Beyonce’s skin tone (oh, the irony). This case of self-loathing is increasingly becoming more common.

I think it’s down to all of us to promote beauty in all its forms, but I also think that I can be our generation that breaks the mould and ends this ridiculous, narrow minded view on what it means to be beautiful.

I'm dark-skinned. And what?

(Image thieved from here. Sorry.)


Anonymous said...

love the article and i agree but why did you put an image of beyonce when she is mixed raced. not light skinned black however i get that your trying to show to different colours of beauty

Urban Articulations said...

I'm not even going to lie. I forget that Beyonce is mixed race and not light-skinned. But don't you think it's ironic that Beyonce is mixed race and they still made her lighter?

Anonymous said...

(i'm the person from before)
well in society today i think that's just how it is and people have become ignorant to see beauty within all skin shades.

With Beyonce i think many people forget that shes not fully black anyway.

Anonymous said...

I think, it doesn´t matter if mixed or fully black. I am actually a "mixed race" and there´s no difference in the eyes of whites. One can say we're still better off than really dark people but they count us all the same. At least in Germany, where I come from. And (sorry) I have to admit I'm one of those mixed girls who actually hates her skin tone. But it's not because of the media, selling white as beautiful but the people surrounding me. They might be influenced by the media and this is exactly why I hate my colour. No ever looked at me when I was a teenager (talking about boys), there it was the white blond blue-eyed model everyone was interested in. I was always the "where-do-you-from"-girl (although native german) and this is, I think, the subtle wish of our folks - fitting in. fit in the country, the society we live in, fit in their idea of beauty and fit in their "habit" (of seeing things at all). With 23 years I´m not really old and I don´t base those thoughts on old-fashioned racism or whatever. It´s just that parts of the past are kind of still present not really forthright but in the minds of the blacks, whites, mixed.

It´s just a string of thoughts (don´t blame me) there are feelings about that topic, that can be felt but somehow not properly uttered.

I still think we can´t blame the media for projecting their society it originates from in form of white models. I merely think and hence agree that the entry of people from all over the world into this machinery of beauty production should be backed up and not be constrained.

(I´m not the anonymous from before)

Urban Articulations said...

You can blame the media when they sell their wares all over the world to black, white, green, yellow and blue people but this is not reflected in their advertising campaigns.