Is My Black Beautiful?

“Hello beautiful.” This is how my dad greets me, for as long as I can remember. Whether it’s on the phone, in person, or in one of his silly birthday cards in the mail every year. I do not particularly take compliments well; I usually get uncomfortable when someone compliments me on my natural appearance. Dope dress, great lipstick, fab shoes- I graciously say thank you without any problem, but comment on beauty and it’s usually a mumble of thanks and immediate awkwardness.

I was listening to an interview with Michael K. Williams the other day in which he said, “dark skin just became popular” while discussing his rise to fame, most noticeably within the HBO realm of television. Something about that statement struck such a nerve with me as I stopped on the F train platform en route to work to quickly jot the quote down in my notes. It was a similar thought that I have been having when scrolling through my Instagram feeds or flipping through the international fashion magazines at McNally Jackson Bookstore. Over the course of the past few years, I have noticed that dark skin black women have started to become noticed in mainstream media as some sort of newly discovered beauty secret. I am not sure if it is due to Lupita Nyong’o constantly killing it on the red carpet, or the access that Instagram has provided in connecting us to gorgeous black women from around the globe, but there has definitely been a shift in perception. Now it’s not just our community saying black is beautiful. While I am thrilled in the validation, I cannot help but think this feels almost like a peculiar fascination.

Growing up, the only “acceptable” darker skin model was Naomi Campbell, yes there was Grace Jones who was doing amazing and interesting things in the fashion industry, but when you saw a magazine cover that celebrated the supermodel, often times Naomi Campbell was the only one. I was obsessed with fashion and models for quite some time, from Naomi to Tyra, to Liya Kebede- I cut out pictures of these beautiful black women and made what I guess you would now call a mood board in my childhood bedroom. These models were as close to representation I would find for many years to come in fashion magazines. The world I created with these mood boards became much more fun and exciting than the actual day-to-day experiences of being a black woman in America.

As I get older, I have started to take stock of things. Experiences that have shaped, harmed, or pushed me to be better. I also have started to recognize that I am as much like my parents as I am my individual self.  For instance, I am very much like my mother. We have a similar disposition in many ways, but a great deal of my physical traits comes from my dad. (Somehow I didn’t get his height). I have my dad to thank for my extremely curly/tightly coiled hair, full eyebrows that require frequent threading visits, and my darker skin. The first time I went to a pool party with a mixed group of kids I was 10 years old. I remember jumping in the pool with my freshly pressed hair (I know, I know, bad decision) and it curling up so tightly that kids started making fun of it. Along with questions about why am I putting on sunscreen as I’m already “tan” the sun won’t make me any darker. Fast-forward some years and the questions become something else, this time from black men on dates.

Guy: You have very nice skin.

Me: Ok…*Waits for it*

Guy: You know for a dark skin girl.

Me: What do you mean? (I know what he means… but let’s hear it)

Guy: Well you know, most dark skin girls have ashy skin because you know their skin is so dark (Me: *in my head- because lotion doesn’t exist in our households?)

Me: K… Well I’m gonna go, thanks for drinks…bye! *Deletes number from phone*

 

I am noticing that as each day passes, I get more comfortable with myself; all the ridicule has helped me develop pretty thick skin and value my own form of unique beauty. The beauty that my dad has been telling me about since I was small (braces and bushy eyebrows included). I know now that as I untwist my hair, letting my curls free each morning, paint my full lips with my version of nude, and adorn this dark skin with gold jewels that I am not a passing trend in the cultural conversation. I am beautiful, and that is reaffirmed every time my dad picks up the line to say hello.