Dark skin isn't often appreciated in Western culture. Whilst there are some communities around the world that are captivated by ebony skin, there are other societies where the lighter you are, the better. In Western media it seems as though we're all slowly moving towards a medium shade of brown.
I don't doubt that image has been a problem throughout history but, unfortunately for us, the images of the photoshopped and the cropped are everywhere we go; a friendly reminder of what we are supposed to look like. In a society where for so long images and advertisements contained the same type of people, it's easy to feel like we need to look a certain way. This undoubtedly led to a generation of people, unsatisfied with how they looked and lacking the self-worth to really value the fact that they were different.
Then along came the millennial, who were no longer reliant on the media tell us what we should look like. A generation of kids and teenagers who caught the last wave of mainstream media bullying: we changed the game forever. Through the power of social media this new generation, now teens and young adults, took a stand and turned their back on on having media outlets dictate what was to be considered beautiful. Instead we drive culture via our interests. Companies are interested in who we are following and what aesthetics we're into. Now it's the social media giants that brands are trying to keep up with and are these social-meida influencers are sought out for campaigns.
To some extent we decide what we want out media to look like. By showing our support for social media influencers we indicate what we want to see and what attracts our attention. The bigger following you have the more likely brands are to want to collaborate with you, because if you can get the influencer on board you've caught the attention of their entire following. In this way we get to decide who gets to represents what is sold to us.
Of course the benefits of that are that we are seeing a wider range of people who look like us being used in the media. We are undoubtedly making leaps and bounds in the accuracy and breadth of representation in the media. However, in the midst of all this progress it is as important as ever to love the skin you're in.
Growing up, I hated my skin tone. I hated everything about it. I avoided the sun because I resented the thought of getting any darker, because becoming darker meant becoming uglier. I looked nothing like what was commonly described as pretty and I knew there was nothing I could do about it - not about my skin tone at least. The way I saw it was this I'd been dealt the short straw, because unfortunately, I was just so dark.
Love the Skin You're In
My hair is very curly. 4c hair is what its called today. When I was little we just called it tough hair. I remember begging my mum to let me relax it (I even went as far as to get my friends to beg my mum to relax my hair). I even made a presentation on A4 paper that I had stuck together to make a flip chart. My whole proposal was written up in bright pink highlighter pen. I outlined how much time and money we would save if I was allowed to relax my hair. I promised to learn how to take good care of it so mum wouldn't have to worry. All my hard work and planning was met with a resounding.... no. That was until year 7 when I was finally allowed to relax my hair. My hair could be blown in the wind or I could tie it in a bun. Best of all I didn't have endure 3 days of a sore hairline. I honestly felt like I had made it.
Growing up without seeing many people like me in the media had a clear effect on my beauty standards. I watched light-skinned Claire replace dark skinned Claire on My Wife and Kids and light skinned Aunt Vivian replace dark-skinned Aunt Vivian on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The truth is my relaxed hair was my gateway to being beautiful. It was the closest I could get to looking European without bleaching my skin, (though I had considered that a few times too). As a dark skinned girl, teenager and now woman, I had a to wait (and am still waiting) to see dark skin represented, and celebrated, in the media.
With that being said I can't hold the media solely responsible. No, I didn't see many people on TV that looked like me, but the real problem was that my beauty standards were never inwardly defined.
Judging my beauty standards by people's fickle opinions was only ever going to leave me feeling frustrated and inadequate. Similarly, as much as I support and value the efforts being made in the media to become more inclusive, waiting for mainstream media to celebrate you is time wasted. Learn to love the skin you're in and let people catch up with you.
The sway in the tide away from mainstream media bullying has of course been a positive one but it still puts the responsibility on the media to define beauty for us. Social media, though progressive, is still conforming us to looking the same. It seems today beauty looks like a narrow waist, wide hips and full lips. And what if you don't have that? Do you wait until the tide changes and something else is seen as beautiful? Or do you stop letting media (be that mainstream or social) tell you how you should look in the first place.
Hear me correctly, Fashion is fun. There's nothing wrong with having your own style and expressing yourself through how you look or dress. Have fun with it and let it make you happy. However, valuing yourself based on your ability to conform to a particular aesthetic is a dangerous and slippery slope.
You are more than how you look or how others perceive you. You aren't more valuable based on how attractive you are.
You're unlikely to show of the beautiful parts of your character if you believe it isn't worth as much as how you look. In light of recent events it's clear to see that the world is in need of beautiful people. We were created beautiful from the inside out and we have a part to play in displaying and the breadth and diversity of that. So this is a post about appreciating and valuing yourself and the fact that you're different. It's an encouragement to celebrate yourself and others. Hopefully, it's a small drop of positive media in a tide of negativity.