Over the past year, I’ve detailed both the struggles and experiences in my life. It’s been therapeutic writing about my postpartum experiences. I’ve had fun writing about Poshmark. I’ve learned so much from all of the guests authors. The blog has been more than I ever expected that it could be.
Out of all that has been featured on the blog, there is one post that I wrote that remains one of my favorites. I wrote it a year ago, when the blog was still new. I didn’t really have an audience, but the post was enough to be featured on another fellow blogger’s site.
To put it plainly, I am not fair-skinned. Most days, parts of me are an olive tone. On sunny days, I’m darker. My family’s culture did not necessarily value the darker skin tone. When my son was born, his skin tone was not fair either. The comments and the experience that followed brought back memories of my own childhood. There were feelings that I feared would be projected onto him. Originally posted on April 11, 2017, The Color of My Skin was written as a way to find comfort in my skin; It was a way to project pride and acceptance, so that one day, my son would do the same.
My sister and I are like ebony and ivory. I have olive toned skin, meaning that I have brownish, but not very dark, toned coloring. My sister takes after my mother and has much fairer skin. This seemingly small difference between us has secretly become one of the foundations of my low self-esteem. My sister was always the cuter baby. She was fairer, had dimples and a big smile. By contrast, I looked like a boy, had tan skin and had a chipped tooth from when I fell on my face months before.
I can remember the first incident – we were both fairly young and my mother took us to visit a friend of hers. The friend was complimenting my mother on her daughters, but I only overheard the following:
Friend: “Little Sister is really cute. She’s got that wonderful smile with the dimples. And look at that skin! So white!”
Mother: “Thank you, I’m lucky to have my daughters”.
Friend: “Well, the elder sister is nice looking too. But her skin is so dark. It’s not like Little Sister. That’s ok, she can be a black beauty when she grows up!”
After we left, I innocently asked my mother what she meant by black beauty. I knew that my little sister didn’t look exactly like me, but I never thought there was any issue with it. However, at that moment, I felt like something was wrong. Little Sister was being praised for being light. There was a negative tone about being “dark”. Which, by the way, I never thought I was dark. Sure, I was a little brown, but I didn’t think I was too far down the spectrum. It also wasn’t any consolation to me that I was going to be called after a horse when I grew up. My mother told me to ignore the conversation, and that some people just didn’t know what they were talking about.
There other seemingly innocent incidents, all which later proved to have some impact. I remember the time my parents joked about how much I easily tanned, especially at the beach. I was so dark, they said, they didn’t even recognize me and thought they brought the wrong child home. Or, the times when my mother would call us in during the daytime, saying that we couldn’t play outside because “we’d get dark”. Of course, this is all cultural. They were brought up in a time where being light-skinned in their country meant something better.
Years later, I still see the effects of this. Whenever I buy makeup, they tell me that I’m further down the spectrum and not the middle of it like I had hoped. Each time, I feel a little sad. Every time one of us in the family gets tan, we talk about how dark we are. I look at my arms and hands, and see the distinct contrast between myself and the lighter toned clothing. I wonder what my mother would have said.
My son has inherited my olive skin tone. When he was born, I remember people commenting on how dark he was. I didn’t see that. I saw a normal baby. He looked pale and innocent. I just smiled, and always replied with, “he’s not dark”. As the months went by, his olive tones were more prominent, but not overbearing. The comments would still come every now and then. It wasn’t until he took a picture next to a fairer skinned baby that I realized what people were talking about. That photo was just ebony and ivory all over again.
I held back and thought about the whole situation. I thought about the impact these same thoughts and comments had on my own body image. How ugly I felt at times for being just me and the skin I was born with. How uncomfortable I felt whenever someone would talk about my skin tone (good or bad). I felt wronged. I felt less than others. So, I came to an important conclusion.
My son is an adorable and happy baby. His skin is beautiful. That olive tone can go with anything. Oranges, marigolds, greens, you name it. The colors are only more vibrant against an olive skin tone. Regardless of what he looks like, the fact is that he has brought some much joy in our lives, and has changed me in so many ways than I can ever imagine. All these things had nothing to do with the color of his skin.
I can’t bear the thought of my son feeling less about himself because of how he was born. I can’t imagine how he might think when he realizes what they really mean. No. I will never let my son feel the way I did about the colors of our skin. There is nothing negative about it, and nothing to be ashamed of.
My decision was clear. The next time someone brings up how “dark” his skin is, I’ll happily smile and say “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
9 thoughts on “Reblog: The Color of My Skin”
I love your decision on how to respond to your son’s skin tone – “it’s beautiful, isn’t it?” My own skin is olive and my girls both have their father’s fair complexion, which is a real pain when they want to play outside and I have to slather them with sunscreen and constantly remind them to wear their hats because skin cancer runs in Daddy’s family!
We have to be so careful what we say to children because they can interpret words differently than they are oftentimes meant. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made by an Awesome Creator. I am fair skinned with freckles and couldn’t tan if I wanted to! Enjoy that pretty tan!
As an African-American mother to a biracial child, my son has been called everything from Chinese to Mexican. I’m protective of him and when someone asks “what is he?” I’m approached with caution because they don’t how I’m going to react. The truth is he looks white as his hair his super straight, (I was disappointed as I wanted him to have my thick, bushy afro 🙂 ) He has his father’s cherry lips and long lashes. We often joke he’s going to take care of us with the money he makes from modeling. Regardless he’s beautiful, but it really ticks me off with the ‘what is he?’ questions. I took him to the park a couple of days ago and a woman asked his age. I told him he was six. She says to her husband, “Honey, that baby is six, can you believe it?” Not her child is six, not your son is tall for his age, but that baby. More and more I get asked if he is my son which he is quick to say, Mama, because he hasn’t mastered the lesson of not talking when adults are talking. The whole light skin/dark skin thing continues to plague people of color going back to the days of slavery and Diaspora. The only thing that keeps me from having a full-scale meltdown is when he says Mama. He came from my body and my son and even if he didn’t he would still be my baby. I’m sorry that people treated you this way and I’m sorry for the ignorance to come. Hold your head up still, you are your baby are masterpieces!
What a beautiful read. I always find it interesting how much people focus on skin tone, even if they don’t realize it. I found this was a huge focus when I visited India years ago. There were literally billboards on skin lightening lotions. Couldn’t believe it. My stepson is Indian and Greek and I am blonde with freckles. People are always curious (as they don’t assume I’m the stepmom) and they refer to my sons skin tone. It always shocks me a little that they mention (in this day and age), as I don’t think about it. I just think about how beautiful he is. I guess people will always be curious. Anyway – such a thought provoking post 🙂
I’m sad that you had to go through all this, but, in the end, it is the reason that now you have accepted darker skin as beautiful, and this will help you make your son’s life easier than yours was.
The color of skin and judging people because of that will never stop . However, Beautiful inside out is only what matters:) loved your post!
Great post! It’s crazy how people can view other people’s skin. You and your son are perfect just the way you are.
Wow this has made me so sad. My experience is so different. Ok one off comments when I was in school from kids that had no imagination. I quickly cut them down with remarks about their terrible personalities! But as a whole in the UK people really envy having olive skin. Spray tans are the norm. My younger half sisters are very pale and have red hair, they always moaned that I went so dark in the sun. You’ve got to embrace what you have. I hope people keep their ignorant comments to themselves in future ❤️ And I can imagine your son is beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell him different.
You always will be beautiful the way you are!!