As I sit here and write this, I am watching the Tyra Show and today’s topic is “Bleaching for Beauty”. She’s talking to six Black women who bleach their skin because they are a darker complexion/dark skin and wish to be a lighter complexion/light skin. They feel “ugly” and inferior because of the color of their skin.
Beauty and what it means to be beautiful has been an ongoing issue with people in general, but more specifically with women – from young girls, to teens, to young and older women. Well, for some women in the Black community this issue runs deep – skin deep. To them, beauty is defined by the complexion of their skin. And according to the women on Tyra’s show and many other women in our community, Black is most beautiful when it is a lighter complexion, complimented by a “good” grade of long hair and a set of light-colored eyes.
The women on Tyra’s show have been bleaching their skin for as long as 10 years. One lady said her mother started bleaching her skin when she was five years old. And now that she’s a parent herself to three boys (ages 6, 8, and 10), she too bleaches their skin. Another lady told how three of her former boyfriends cheated with a light-skin girl and got her pregnant. She felt as if the men wanted to have children, but with someone of a lighter complexion. This other lady, whose addiction seemed to be more extreme (besides the lady bleaching her children’s skin), admitted to getting so frustrated because her complexion would not lighten with the bleaching creams that she took [read carefully] a hot towel, poured liquid bleach on it [yes, the bleach you use to wash your clothes and mop your floors], and applied it to her face! “It burned so bad,” she said. “It felt like someone was holding a torch to my face.” The next day she was left with scabs all over her face, and as for her complexion – it got darker. “I feel like God is punishing me because he’s trying to make me love myself as I am,” she said referring to the fact that she doesn’t love herself as she is and nothing seems to be working. She recalled a time when she was out with friends who were all a lighter complexion and how someone stated that they would be a group of “pretty” girls if she wasn’t with them. “No one knows what I’m going through,” she said.
Later in the show, Tyra had a doctor explain the risks of using bleaching creams. The doctor said she prescribes bleaching creams to remove blemishes and even uses them herself at times. However, bleaching creams contain mercury and hydroquinone and too much of these chemicals can lead to illnesses such as kidney failure and possibly death. Tyra also revealed that she created a fake skin lightening line that offered three procedures to choose from: 40 injections using a really long needle, a laser treatment, and a skin removal surgery. The procedures had similar side effects: abnormal bleeding, abnormal hair growth, hair loss, boils on the skin, temporary blindness, and even death. All of the ladies were ready and willing to sign up. I must admit it was disturbing. But Tyra said something that helped to put things in perspective. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” “Society puts lighter skin women on a pedestal,” she added naming women like Halle Berry, Beyonce, Rhiana, and herself. “These women are all victims of our society.” In no way was she excusing the women for their actions; she admitted to thinking their actions were “crazy”, but she was bringing light to a bigger issue.
For many women (in general), it’s hard to see yourself as beautiful when the majority of what you see in the media (movies, videos, magazines, etc.) is women who are skinny with long hair and light eyes. Sure, there are voluptuous women, women with curves, women with short hair, and women with a darker complexion who are represented here and there, but what do you see mostly in movies and videos? It makes me think of movies like Diary of a Mad Black Woman – how Charles left Helen for a light-skinned woman with a “good” grade of long hair. Or, songs like “Every Girl” by Young Money that starts off with “I like a long-haired, thick red bone” and later says “I like ‘em caramel skin, long hair, thick a**”. Don’t misunderstand, these examples are not to bash anyone or their work. They’re just examples of why some women in our community may feel their Black is not beautiful.
Before wrapping up the show, Tyra brought out a young lady who started bleaching her skin at 14, and she was darker than all of the ladies on stage. At one time, she too felt her Black was not beautiful. But something changed – within. She learned to love herself for who she is. “People started telling me I was beautiful once I started to believe I was beautiful,” she said. “So, I feel it’s how you carry yourself as well.” Tyra encouraged all of the women to do some soul searching, to look within because that’s where the insecurities are coming from. It made me wonder when the issue of color in the Black community started. Where did this racism within our own race come from? What comes to mind are the stories I’ve heard about slavery and how the dark-skin women worked in the fields and the light-skin women worked in the house and got better treatment – whatever that means. Or, how I’ve heard people say that African women dislike women of a lighter complexion. Did it start during slavery? Was this way of thinking passed down by our ancestors as a result of how they were treated? Is this why the lady’s mother [mentioned above] started bleaching her at the age of five? What was she teaching her daughter by telling her that she was pretty, but she would be prettier if she were lighter?
All of the women on stage believe light-skin women receive better treatment – from men and society in general. Actually, they feel this way about light-skin people in general. This post focuses on Black women, but this issue affects some Black men as well [light-skin men are in and dark-skin men are out (of style) and vice versa]. One of the ladies admitted to having a baby with an Asian man because she didn’t want him/her to be dark skin. She said that she refused to carry a dark-skin baby on her hip because she would be stereotyped as a hoochie [yes, that’s what she said, and how the two correlate – I have NO idea]. But this is how serious and disturbing this issue has become. And I wanted to join Tyra and the many others who are bringing light to this issue in our community.
I am a Black woman – a light-skin Black woman. For this reason, some may say that I don’t understand; that I can’t understand. But I disagree. I may not have stories about how I’ve been called “blacky” or “tar baby” or how I’ve been told that my skin looks burnt. But I’ve been called “four eyes” and “buck teeth” and told that I look like a frog because of my large eyes and full lips. I remember going back to school after having chicken pox and hearing a girl say that I looked ugly because of the blemishes on my face and body. Is it not the same? Does it not hurt the same? And as for treatment from men and society in general, all women face challenges – Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, etc. And in the Black community, it’s no different – no matter how light or dark you are. Halle Berry has been cheated on, there have been rumors about Beyonce being cheated on, Rhiana just got out of an abusive relationship, and Tyra has been ridiculed for her weight among other things. And lets not forget the stereotypes. Light-skin women are stereotyped too. I read the lyrics to a song online bashing light-skin women. In it, we are called stuck up, gold diggers, vain, selfish, rude, and some more stuff. This was a song, but there are people who really feel like this about us – in our own community! And what’s crazy is that any woman can have those characteristics – Black, White, etc. Those characteristics don’t apply to just light-skin girls. The most beautiful woman in the world can have the biggest insecurities – no matter what her race and complexion.
We need to realize that Black is beautiful, no matter the shade. We are a beautiful race of people. Not only are we different shapes and sizes, but we’re different shades of color. It’s like we have our own rainbow of people! And it’s all natural!
People, this is my call for us to take action – men, women, boys, girls (especially us in the Black community). Let’s start lifting one another up. Let’s start encouraging one another to do better and be better. Let’s start wishing success and happiness for one another. Let’s start planting seeds of beauty in the hearts and minds of our younger generation – no matter their race or complexion. If we don’t do it for ourselves, no one else will! Let’s love ourselves from within, which will allow us to truly love others. It’s a cycle that has to be broken, and it starts with us!
*This post made me think about the episode of A Different World where the young women had an issue with the Mammy figure [or Aunt Jemima]. It touches on this very issue. See below.