On the topic of body image, self-esteem and how we view ourselves – hmmm, how often is skin color included in body image? maybe “body image” needs to be defined differently for women of color? – I’d like to present this preview from Dark Girls, a documentary by Bradinn French.
The description reads, “Clips from the upcoming documentary exploring the deep-seated biases and attitudes about skin color—particularly dark skinned women, outside of and within the Black American culture.”
Welp. Hope you’ve got a tissue. You just might need it.
Before we do this, I’d like to make a few things clear.
Proclaiming “It’s 2011! Skin color doesn’t matter any more!” doesn’t work around here. The reality is that anyone who spends any amount of time on a social network – the places where people are most able to share what’s on their mind without the threat of immediate repercussion in their daily lives – will be able to tell you that at LEAST once a day collectives of people are discussing “a skin-color issue.”
I do acknowledge that skin color issues go both ways. It just so happens that today, the topic is a movie that focuses on, well, Dark Girls. I’d love to see and hear stories of how skin color issues have affected us all, but one person’s story doesn’t invalidate another’s.
Lastly, I’d love to use this as a case study to help us understand how we identify ourselves, and what we pass on to our daughters.
Like, for instance. The girl whose mother said “…and could you just think of if she had any lightness to her skin? She’d be beautiful!” I actually became teary eyed at that moment. As a mother who is now very aware of what messages I pass on to my daughter, and as the sole arbiter of who she becomes as a person right now… I cannot imagine her being “too dark” as a “negative point” against her when I think of all the things that make her who she is.
One of the pleasures of attending an historically Black university is that you get the opportunity to take very culture-specific courses. One of those, for me, was a psychology course that centered around issues that faced Black America and how we can combat them. It was in this course that I learned about Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, who are both well-known for their “Doll Studies” which are what’s mimicked in the first few moments of this video.
You have to wonder where our little girls get these messages from? That they’re worth less – not necessarily worthless – than their peers because their skin is darker. I’ve written about this before – the more we highlight and focus on perceived flaws in our little girls, the more likely they are to do things that we don’t attribute to girls who have high self-esteem… and that could be weight or skin color. The little girl who answered those questions in that video couldn’t have been older than a second grader (I might have a kid, but I’m terrible at guessing their ages.) and had already decided that a child who looks the most like her is the dumber, uglier child. What happened to thinking you are the hottest potato in the pan?
(“Hottest potato in the pan?” Yes. I’m country. I know already.)
What scares me the most about this, as a Mom, is that I don’t know what it is that passes on these images to children – is it something as inconspicuous as seeing only white children in TV shows, or is it actually hearing someone say “nobody wants your dark ass anyway?” – so I don’t know how to fight it. I don’t know how to combat it. And can we ever? Even if your home is safe for the development of a young Black girl’s psyche, who’s to say that your sister is as enlightened as you? Your Mother? Your cousins? The babysitter? The other kids on the yard? If it’s coming from all angles, how many swords do you need?
I mean, how much pain do you have to endure in your childhood before you start to say things like “I don’t want my child to look like me?” How does that change how you approach and view relationships? How many women do we know who specifically seek out men who “look a certain way” so that the possibility of diluting the skin color of the child is greater? How does that mentality feed into the idea that “lighter skin” is a hotter commodity and more wanted than, well, Dark Skin? I mean, I think of a fella I dated once – fair skin, green eyes – who swore up and down that I was only interested in having his baby, since “that’s how all the others were.” Poking holes in condoms, lying about birth control… needless to say, that was too much for me.
And really, for those of us who were teased (or watched someone be teased) as children for being overweight, what do we do? We go into hyperdrive trying to prevent our little girls from being overweight. What messages do we pass on to them about themselves when we do that? When we overcompensate in our parenting, and our little girls turn into that which we didn’t “want,” how do we treat them then? Do we become resentful and start trying to have another child, preferably without the perceived “defect,” or do we just beat it into our little girls’ heads that they “have a flaw they need to work hard to overcome?” Isn’t that just passing down the same body image issues we have?
Who perpetuates this? I mean, if you listen closely enough, it comes from three different angles: one woman says “I’m used to hearing [“I’m so glad she didn’t come out dark!”] from other races,” a man says “Dark skinned women look funny beside me, so I’d rather not date a dark skinned woman,” and – obviously – our media, which is run by an often nameless, faceless collective that is, ostensibly, not-black. (At this point, considering how ingrained this is in our society, I don’t know whether or not it’d matter whether or not media was all-Black.)
The point about sexuality is also troubling to me, because when we try to decouple issues that compel women to make questionable decisions when it comes to relationships. You can deny it, but the point will always be there. It is a fact that transcends relationships, but is especially visible there: individuals who believe that they have less to offer than their peers will accept a lesser role and be happy with that, simply because they don’t think they’re worthy of any role at all.
Calling a woman “beautiful, exotic” behind closed doors, basically telling her everything she wants to hear, getting what you want from her, and then leaving? It’s using a woman. It’s exploiting her weaknesses. And if everyone around her values her as little as she does, there’s no one around her capable of building up her self-worth, because they don’t think she’s worth much, either. There’s no one around able to support her in her most vulnerable point – the point where she feels like she has nothing to offer and is worthy of merely meaningless sex (unless, of course, she can tell herself that this is exactly what she wants and is honest with herself about it.)
“It doesn’t look clean, I feel like… like, nasty, almost… When you roll out of bed, and your hair is like, nappy, it’s the most disgusting, unclean thing…”
I don’t care to do the natural-vs-relaxed thing on my blog. However… this makes me sad, especially from a girl so… young. And while I’m almost certain that there’s some grown woman out there like “Well, I agree with her. It just looks unclean,” I’m going to go out on a limb and say “That… makes me sad, too.” And we can both be okay with that.
I’m in the interest of shining a light on the things that prevent us from being who we are, who we want to be… and most of us want to be lovers, dreamers and little green frogs–er, I mean, worthy of… the same things as everyone else. We want the space to be vulnerable. To be emotional without being deemed angry. To be loved without subtext. To be adored and admired. To be exoticized without malicious intent – as in, it’s okay to love my dark skin and my deep eyes, but do you also seek to love the other things that make me who I am? These stigmas keep us from getting to that space. How do we fight them?