A CALL TO BLACK BEAUTY AND MELANIN MAGIC





Pauline Sow, Washington International '17



Cultural norms and media outlets promote racist beauty standards. (Published: 2017)





Illustration by Eden Taff, Sidwell '19



“Discover Fair&Lovely: Empowering women since 1975, transforming their lives to rescript their destiny for beauty.”


The “beauty” that Fair&Lovely, a skin cream, advertises is lighter skin. Fair&Lovely tells us that dark-skinned women can have better lives by having lighter skin. Senegal, a country where the population is 97% Black, exposed me to such creams.


As my parents are Senegalese, I lived in Senegal from preschool to third grade. I remember the breezy beaches, the generosity of the people, and the delicious aroma of grilled fish and hibiscus. However, these heavenly scents will never extinguish the pungent smells of powdery bleaching creams that are readily available in many Senegalese street corners. These perfumed “Fair&Lovely”


"THE IMAGE OF MY OWN 16-YEAR-OLD SISTER, IN TEARS, URGED BY MY MOTHER TO LIGHTEN HER SKIN, WILL NEVER LEAVE ME. HER VOICE, QUIVERING, AS SHE ADMITTED THAT SHE DOESN’T FEEL BEAUTIFUL DUE TO HER SKIN."


creams, enclosed in white ceramic jars, are considered prized possessions. In Senegal, the social hierarchy is based just as much on complexion as it is on socio-economic status. Hence, the demand for these creams is high. Many turn to these creams to improve their social status instead of facing the alternative: changing their economic situation in a poverty-ridden country.


You cannot escape the billboards and commercials that glamorize lighter-skinned women’s Eurocentric features and caramel complexion. We are told thattheir golden skin is nearly a superpower: it is luminous, seductive, alluring...everything that dark skin is not. Meanwhile, dark-skinned women remain at the bottom of social hierarchy, forever demoted to second-class citizenship.


Colorism can be seen in the US as well. Black women in the media are often light-skinned or of mixed race. While it is important to recognize the beauty of these women, dark-skinned women are under constant pressure to replicate their look. The United States’, as well as the Senega-
lese, definition of beauty discludes dark-skinned women, as the definition is based
on features that they do not posses.


Colorism is additionally prevalent in our social media. In the past 3 years, hashtags, such as #TeamLightSkin and #TeamDarkSkin have surfaced. These hashtags pin Black America against each other, as we divide based on skin color, instead of uniting under our common race. The repercussions of colorism are harsh as many will succumb to drastic measures to achieve a higher social status and beauty, as demonstrated in my home country of Senegal.


The images of mothers furiously rubbing skin-lightening cream into their daughters’ skin will always taint my mind. The image of my own 16-year-old sister, in tears, urged by my mother to lighten her skin will never leave me. Her voice, quivering, as she admitted that she doesn’t feel beautiful, that she will never be worthy due to her skin, is a melancholic CD forever replaying in the confines of my mind. It pains me to say that this has become our norm.


Eradicating the pestilent, Eurocentric mentality will transform beauty into an inclusive spectrum of hues. Our society will be one where dark-skinned girls will no longer be afraid of becoming darker. They will be proud of their melanin instead of viewing it as a handicap. The stigma that skin is a barometer that determines worth will be removed, we will unite under our newfound appreciation of all complexions, and we will never look back.