Colour of beauty

By  Clara Osei-Yeboah, Youth Speak News
  • April 23, 2014

My first year of university is finally over. Academically, I held my head above water, but socially, I found myself unable to fit in. I am enrolled in a Life Sciences program, where there isn’t much racial diversity. As one of the few black people, I found myself struggling with my self-identity.

The first year of university got me thinking about beauty and what it means for a dark-skinned girl surrounded by media perceptions of “beauty” that don't always match her own. Being dark- skinned and female, I began to feel unattractive and self-conscious.

Feeling unattractive was amplified by what I saw on TV, in music videos and social media. In today’s entertainment industry, female beauty is defined by how light your skin is. Is it the enviable caramel? Or is it the more socially condemned ebony?

Some famous dark-skinned celebrities undergo chemical and surgical procedures to lighten their skin tones. When I sift through photos of some black, female musicians over the years, the change in skin colour is striking. Beyonce, for instance, has come under fire for allegations of skin lightening. If she really is lightening her skin, she unfortunately propagates the definition of beauty in terms of skin colour. As an influential woman, whatever Beyonce does publicly influences other girls’ self-image and increases their consciousness of what society includes and excludes as beautiful.

A lot of this has to do with culture, history and tradition. A history of enslavement and relegation has associated dark skin with negativity. In the Philippines, dark skin is associated with poverty. In West Africa, light skin suggests superiority.

What tradition has engraved in history is not bound to change overnight, but there are small things that are being done all over the world. Actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) and model Alek Wek are two examples of dark-skinned beauties who do not conform to the Western ideal of beauty. Nyong’o has been well- received because she addresses her struggles with self-image by being open and honest. She is considered beautiful, not only because of her physical presence, but also because she embodies self-acceptance. Wek, from Sudan, has also gained success in the modelling industry because she doesn’t conform to society’s ideal of beauty.

Wek and Nyong’o have taught me to love myself. It will be difficult to think of myself as beautiful in a world where beauty is at times defined by the lightness of one’s skin. But I can be confident. When I learn to accept myself, I can teach another girl to accept herself.

(Osei-Yeboah, 18, is a first-year student at the University of Toronto.)

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