If you were to ever look for pictures of middle school me, you wouldn’t be able to find them because they don’t exist. From the growth spurt I had that left my arms too long for comfort to the stiff side pony I tried rocking…I was a mess. But even though being able to touch my kneecaps while standing up made me feel terribly awkward, the thing I hated most about myself was my skin.
In middle school, I prayed to God every night that he remove the darkness from my face and make me more beautiful. I spent more hours in the mirror from the age eleven to thirteen staring at my face than any person should, it was actually sick. I would stare at my face and will my acne to clear…yes, my acne.
You thought I meant my dark skin and why wouldn’t you? Every dark skinned girl supposedly has a self hatred phase in their youth until they come to terms with their blackness. Though so many dark-skinned children pray for their skin to become lighter in their youth, the only pigment I wanted gone from my face wasn’t my skin color, it was the dark spots I had from popping pimples every day after school. My idea of beautiful skin was always clear skin, but this is so so rare since for so many people, , light skin is held as the standard for attractiveness.
“You thought I meant my dark skin and why wouldn’t you? Every dark skinned girl supposedly has a self hatred phase in their youth until they come to terms with their blackness.”
While I have not always embraced my skin I have always admired my skin tone. I remember standing in front the same mirror that haunted me in middle school with my mother every day before she went to work when I was much younger. She would tell me “You are Bold, Black, and Beautiful,” then insist that the only thing that could make me prettier was darker skin. Her constant assurance allowed me to see the beauty in my shade, even when my acne made loving anything about my skin difficult.
These days my skin has been thriving. My skincare routine has ensured that no pimple formed against me shall prosper, and people notice! When my friends tell me my skin is glowing, the compliment is always welcome because I remember the days when it was anything but. However, when white women at Sephora, or the grocery store, or the movies, or even on the street stop what they are doing and grab my arm to tell me that my skin is beautiful, their kind words fail to relieve my discomfort. Once, a white woman reached over the church pews at my godmother’s funeral to tell me how much she “could not help but be distracted” by my skin. She asked “Do you know how gorgeous your skin tone is?” and though my only response was an awkward nod, all I wanted to say was “Of course I do. Does that surprise you?”
I have struggled to understand why interactions like these make me so uncomfortable, but I have realized that it’s the shock on these white women’s faces when they look at me. It’s the look of bewilderment at dark skin also being beautiful skin. I realize that this bewilderment affects black women in a unique way. Black women are so used to being below the bar, below the standard that in the rare event we are allowed to feel beautiful, we are made to feel that we’ve been given enough.
“I have struggled to understand why interactions like these make me so uncomfortable, but I have realized that it’s the shock on these white women’s faces when they look at me. It’s the look of bewilderment at dark skin also being beautiful skin. I realize that this bewilderment affects black women in a unique way.”
I recently posted a question on my social media asking my friends to name any movies they knew that casted a dark skin woman who wasn’t Lupita Nyong’o as the main love interest. While I received a couple replies listing movies with Gabrielle Union and other actresses with brown complexions, the most common reaction was shock at how difficult this task was. When scrolling through IMDB’s list of “Black romance movies” showcasing a myriad of beaming light faces on the movie posters, I was left dejected with the realization that in the midst of Eurocentric beauty standards, even media targeting Black people upholds the misguided belief that women have to be light to be loved.
Lupita Nyong’o is Hollywood’s exception. She bears the burden of being both dark-skinned and universally beautiful, two ideas this world rarely puts together; however, people see Lupita and pretend that is not an uncommon theme. Her presence allows people to forget the prevalence of skin tone bias because her massive success has created a sense of artificial representation which causes people to forget that dark-skinned women still endure prejudice in media. White America has chosen Lupita Nyong’o to be their sole dark-skinned beauty icon and this glorification of her distracts from the historical vilification of dark skin that is still an extremely persistent problem.
For example, though it was created in 1990, People’s Beautiful issue chose Lupita to be its first and only dark-skinned female cover model in 2014 after she starred in her breakthrough film, 12 Years a Slave. Lupita herself has acknowledged how powerful it is for her, a dark skin woman, to be considered beautiful in a speech that details how she once hated her “night-shaded” skin because of the teasing she endured when she was younger. She tells us that seeing model Alek Wek strive helped her accept her own skin. Essentially, Lupita asserts that diverse representation was imperative for her to dismantle her internalized racism, an idea that must be taken up in all forms of media.
Lupita Nyong’o is a light. Her glowing presence and immense talent bring joy to film, but she also illuminates all the problems that exist with the media’s Eurocentric beauty standards. Loving Lupita shouldn’t be revolutionary and her presence should not have to be groundbreaking, but it is because dark-skinned women are very rarely deemed attractive in the way that she is. Lupita is beautiful, but why is she the only dark-skinned women considered to be so? Why is she the only one allowed to be? She alone is not enough.
“Loving Lupita shouldn’t be revolutionary and her presence should not have to be groundbreaking, but it is because dark-skinned women are very rarely deemed attractive in the way that she is. Lupita is beautiful, but why is she the only dark-skinned women considered to be so?”
I love my skin, I will always love my skin and my only wish is that all dark skin girls can feel the same way. However, how could we possibly expect them to do so when the only women who are considered beautiful in media have light complexions. Women like Lupita Nyong’o make this seem more possible, and that is why we need more representation. Her success is often used as “proof” of diversity by many, but it really should make us question why no other woman of her complexion has been able to achieve this same level of success in media. Lupita is not the only beautiful dark-skinned woman, but her story invites us to look for the beauty within ourselves, even if Eurocentric beauty standards lead the world to deny its existence. She reminds us that even the darkest shadows are caused by the most luminous of lights.
Lupita, my heart, thank you for existing. In all your radiance and vivid, unapologetic blackness, you remind us that women should never be considered too dark to be loved. Please never stop rising, Lupita. Just shine on my queen, shine on. Media, I urge you to do better. I want dark skinned “IG Baddies” that don’t have to be doused in oil to be seen as attractive and 100 Lupitas on my screen.