“You are pretty for a dark-skinned girl”

1 Apr

I have heard this statement many times in my life from well-meaning black women, surprised black boys and 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…

The words, which come to me softly, sometimes hard, but mostly behind smiling eyes and perfectly thick lips, insinuate 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 has 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… caramel, cake battered skinned men with hazel-dipped eyes have always been much preferred. 

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 were never in style.”  This, of course, doesn’t mean that men 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 female to take home to mama or make babies with.  Regardless of my qualities, I often(times) hear a man’s 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, good-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.

5 Responses to ““You are pretty for a dark-skinned girl””

  1. Tammy! April 1, 2010 at 12:06 PM #

    THANKS for your post. I so needed to read that. Your blog really said everything I ever thought about that “double-sworded” comment: “You are pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” It also made me think about the comments people make to me and my friends: “You are so pretty for a bigger-sized
    girl.” REALLY! People are so crazy. But, I want to be the first to
    say, all of us Black girls are pretty, point, blank, period.

  2. Liz April 6, 2010 at 9:07 PM #

    Thank you for a post. It hits at the heart of a fundamental issue with which many of us struggle … our internalization of racism and its repercussions. Thank you for sharing.

  3. MB April 6, 2010 at 10:31 PM #

    A much delayed but oh so necessary “Preach!!!!” shouted from this pretty dark skinned girl 🙂

    Working on a photo project about this!

  4. Mulkah Adebayo April 9, 2010 at 10:57 PM #

    My Black is Beautiful

  5. Marsha May 6, 2010 at 7:08 AM #

    Omg..I have been hearing that all my life..and at first I took it as a compliment because I did not know any better.Now it is just plain disgusting to me. It makes me feel as though well you were almost as pretty as “light” girls but darn you are dark..better luck next time..I have a friend who til today is still battling with skin issues.She often feels like if she were lighter she would have an easier time dating and meeting men. That is so far from the truth. I can only pray she loves and excepts her beauty like I do.Thank you for this post Rob you are the best 🙂 ♥

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