Tag Archives: beauty standards

Throwback Thursday: “You’re Pretty for a Dark-Skinned girl!”

19 Jul

Today, I am revisiting the first blog I wrote for the collective in 2010.  I can’t remember why I wrote about colorism, but it feels as fitting and relevant today as it did two years ago when I first found the words.  I wrote about how “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl” is a backwards pseudo-compliment that leaves dark-skinned girls caught up in a conundrum and half-smile, wondering if the two things she is being called (the two things she is) are oxymoronic, canceling each other out—does being pretty make up for being dark-skinned, does being dark-skinned cancel out being pretty?  What the hell?

As I attempted to put a new take on it, my recent reflections remind me of how infrequent I hear a personal compliment or affirmation at all.  Sometimes, not hearing who we are, particularly from the people around us, makes us question it.  Pouring from my own needs I tend to shower people with compliments.  I call my students beauties, just in case no one has (ever) told them they are beautiful.  I want them to know that they are beautiful people—not out of manipulation, but sincerity; and not because of what they look like, but because of who they have the capacity to be.  When I notice something beautiful about a person I tell them, specifically and intentionally, that they have a sweet or calming spirit, a beautiful smile, remarkable eyes.  Beauty, for me, is more than skin deep…it’s not about what people see, it’s about what they can’t see.  This is how I survived my formative years, when people called me what they saw/thought (“ugly”) based on standards I could never meet (“light, bright, damn near white”), and I still had to figure out how to love myself.

When I was younger I thirsted for the words, even if they were empty.  Perhaps that is why I found myself in empty situations with hurt feelings, a battered heart, and a beauty so scarred I couldn’t see it for years!  When someone finally told me I was beautiful they were able to use it against me like a weapon because down deep I never thought I would hear it again.  Once I picked up the pieces and got perspective on the ways that colorism mimics so many other built-in discriminations and privileges (i.e., heterosexism, ageism, sexism, racism, ableism, etc.) I vowed to never be that thirsty for a compliment again… and to actively remind myself, and others, (especially beautifulbrownandblackgirls/women) that beauty ain’t never been stingy and there is enough to go around! This post reminds me that I need to call my damn self pretty…more.  I need to rely less on other people’s opinions, release myself from being bound by other people’s stubbornness (to give a compliment), or opinions, or lack of home training, or insecurity, or down right meanness and love myself… fiercely and unapologetically.  I will look long and deep til I see my own damn pretty, and say it out loud (because sometimes I need to hear it), and if needbe take a picture and keep it on my nightstand.

So this morning, after re-reading the post, I stood in the front of the mirror and stared at a early morning, wild-haired, glassy eyed, bloated bodied me… before I washed my face, brushed my teeth, got in the shower or could even see myself good I decided to love on myself for a moment.  I noticed the moles on my chin, the line that forms on my nose and forehead when I squint, how my teeth and lips hide my gums when I smile, and how dark and brown my eyes are.  I saw my mama’s nose, my daddy’s mouth, and my grandmother’s sass hidden behind too few hours of sleep and puffy eyes.  I saw the imperfections, birth marks, stretch marks, and chocolate dipped exterior and thought to myself, I am pretty…period!

Self-care includes self-love!  Be about it.

Original Post: April 1, 2010, see amended version below

“You’re Pretty for a Dark-Skinned Girl…”

I have heard this statement many times in my life from well-meaning black women, seemingly surprised peers, family members, and perfect strangers who usually make the statement in response or reply to not having seen me in a while or in genuine wonder and fascination. The words come as somewhat of a shock in the moment, somewhat of a criticism, somewhat of an offense. I don’t know if I should be flattered or insulted… I mean we never say “you’re pretty for a white/light-skinned/skinny/athletic/young/able-bodied/heterosexual girl….” It is always the opposite that deserves comment.  In other words, “you’re pretty to not be normal/what I have come to expect.” (Yeah, folk can pretty much keep those pseudo-compliments to themselves).

The words, “you’re pretty for…” is no different than saying “you’re pretty, but…”  The old-school women in my church would often talk ish while smiling, sandwiching a compliment between critique like meat and bread.  “You putting on some weight?  You look good, but what you doing with your hair?”  Uh…yeah? Or, “She got strong features.  Favor her mama.  Look just like her daddy.”  Uh-huh.

The words would come at me softly, sometimes hard, but mostly behind smiling eyes and perfectly thick lips, insinuating that if it wasn’t for _____ I would be acceptable.  The other implication was that one is either pretty or dark-skinned (not both)…and the tendency to be both simultaneously, is possible, but not likely. So, at best, I am an anomaly.

I believed the either/or myth long enough to be

surprised at lyrics that praised “boricua morenas”

and confused at Lauryn Hill’s sweet lyrics of

the sweetest thing she had ever known

being wrapped in “a precious dark skin tone”

and India Arie’s fascination with “brown skin.”

My skin

left me feeling like if it weren’t for the fact that I was dark-skinned (or simply just a calm shade of brown), perhaps I could be beautiful/loveable/wanted. The internal conflict came at a problematic time because I already often feel like the merge of two impossibilities (undeniably black and possibly beautiful). Those insecurities sometimes continue with me being a black woman academic… something right (smart and successful) coupled with something wrong (black). What does that make me?

The backwards compliments (“You are pretty…to be dark-skinned”) have often fed my colorism, color complex issues and low self esteem as a child and my curiosities as an adult about my attraction to men who pass the paper bag test…

My homegirl and I talked about how these color-issues translate to our lives, how we see ourselves (as beautiful or not) and how we are seen (desired or not). In movies, we (dark skinned black girls) are (usually) not the love interest. My friend sighed in surrender as she shared with me that “dark skinned women, unlike dark-skinned men, were never in style.” This, of course, doesn’t mean that people don’t notice that we are “pretty” (I mean chocolate is sweet)…but their temporary short term longings transition to long term sensibilities that tend to send them on quests to find the most exotic, racially ambiguous person to take home to mama or make babies with. Regardless of my qualities, I often(times) hear words merge with others telling me, I am pretty for a dark-skinned girl, but…

And those words remind me of how many nights I fell asleep on tear-soaked pillows praying to wake up a different me, a light-skinned, long-haired me, thinking and believing that that would somehow make me more…loveable. It was easy to believe that when everyone from my elders to my peers were constantly commenting on my lighter than ebony but darker than chestnut colored exterior and demeaning me (whether they meant to or not and whether they knew it or not) because I was not “white” enough…or “light” enough.

Women of color, black women especially, often struggle with seeing ourselves as beautiful when the epitome of beauty is something like white…

I am far from a Barbie doll—but loving the skin I’m in. Learning to love yourself is a lifelong process and endeavor and I am committed to it and fully aware that in a culture that privileges red bones over big bones I am not sure how beautiful I seem…but I am embracing the mocha in my skin and the mahogany behind my eyes. Even though I have often been told that I am beautiful in spite of, not because of, my “dark-skin” I am dreaming dark and deep.

Who the hell you calling fat? … I hope it was me!

22 Jul

What y’all know ‘bout big girls in sassy outfits, swinging hips from left to right and daring anybody to say a damn thing about it? If ya don’t know and you want to, this post is for you. Let me introduce to the world of fatshionistas.

Fatshionistas are reclaiming their right to enjoy their bodies and the clothes they put on them. They make up a growing movement of women who are instituting a new conversation about fat, size, women’s bodies and fashion, all through blogging. From posts on the summer or fall line of a particular designer to posts that call out racism in the fat acceptance movement, these bloggers and their blogs enter the weight debate from a variety of places. Some are dedicated almost exclusively to fashion, or as they call it fatshion, while others are more explicitly concerned with cultural criticism and the politics of bodies, diet culture and fat hating. In the end, regardless of focus, they all push for an expansion of the boundaries around women’s bodies, beauty and fat! For me they strike a chord because, simply put, they reminded me that my body is not my enemy and, as a matter of fact, that my relationship to it can be and is fun and celebratory.

Now, as a card-carrying feminist, I know that I am supposed to already know these things. But feminism doesn’t make us immune to the bullshit it just gives us some extra resources for fighting it. As a Black woman born, raised and living in the south my round body has always been a source of compliment as much as, if not more than, it’s been a source of ridicule or shame. Lately, however the jeans have been a little more snug and the stairs have started to become my enemy so I decided it might be time to get on that dreaded weight loss band wagon once again. But with the diet culture we’re all bombarded with and the fat hating, obesity-fearing messages we get on a daily basis, I sometimes find myself walking a fine line between a little slimming down and all out body hating madness! So, I have to find ways to counteract the latter and encourage the former.

Enter the wonderful world of fatshion!

These women are fierce and absolutely revolutionary, at least in my book! Armed with laptops and digital cameras, they have parlayed flickr and WordPress into platforms for resistance and redefinition and they look damn good while doing it! Or, as one fatshionista put it, she’s “Not a photographer or style icon, but shit, she works it out.” And, work it out they do! They are complicating the relationship between feminism, fat and fashion. For some, fashion is always a part of a hierarchical and oppressive machine that dictates narrow standards of beauty. Fatshionistas are challenging that kind of hegemony by declaring their right to name their own standards. They are reclaiming language, refusing to let words like fat be used as weapons against them. They are providing new versions and new visions of what bodily acceptance and self-care can look like!  Now if that ain’t crunk, I’m not sure what is…

So if you haven’t been introduced to the fatshionista game yet, let me help you out with a mini blog roll:

Young Fat and Fabulous: http://www.youngfatandfabulous.com/

Musings of a Fatshionista: http://www.musingsofafatshionista.com/

Fatshionable: http://fatshionable.com/

Saks in the City: http://saksinthecity.blogspot.com/

Fatshionista: http://www.fatshionista.com/cms/

Corazones Rojos: http://corazonesrojos.tumblr.com/

Big Beauty: http://www.leblogdebigbeauty.com/

Corpulent: http://corpulent.wordpress.com/

Check them out, get inspired and, if you’re like me, reintroduce yourself to your body … but this time on friendly terms!

So, who’s a Fatshionista? I know I’m damn sure trying to be one!

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