A recent episode of Oprah Winfrey's Life Class had a profound impact on me. In it, Oprah was joined by Iyanla Vanzant to discuss colorism — the prejudice people face based on skin color — and the impact it has on self-esteem. I had, previously, heard about the perception in the African American community that lighter skin tone is sometimes perceived as being more desirable on the basis that it makes like "easier" in some ways.
When "Dark Girls", a documentary that explores the prejudices dark-skinned women face throughout the world, aired on OWN last June, it generated one of the biggest online discussions the network has ever seen. I choked back tears watching beautiful woman after woman describe the way she was treated because of the shade of her skin and the effect that it had on the rest of her life; crushing self esteem, worthiness and confidence. I wondered how people could be so cruel to each other ... and while I have not experienced that sort of racial prejudice, in my own way I could also relate.
As a child I was taunted in school for having bright red hair. In the fourth grade I constantly came home from school in tears, recounting the names that I had been called, to my gorgeous redheaded mother. Mom was always great with the comebacks.
"Mom, Shanna was mean to me and made fun of my hair. She called me a carrot top!"
"Pay no mind honey, she's just jealous because she has mousey brown hair!"
Yes! I thought, poor Shanna and her mousey brown hair. I am really something special with my long red locks. She is so average. Unfortunately, my positive attitude didn't help much when in the six grade, a group of four female b*tches ... oops, I mean bullies, took turns pulling handfuls of my fiery locks right out of my head. When I got older, the taunts about my hair subsided, but then came the comments about my ivory skin. Perfect strangers would make rude remarks as they passed me in the street. Even acquaintances felt compelled to give me advice; "You need a tan." That really burned me up! How dare someone comment on the color of my skin? How was it any of their business or choice how I should look? I was born this way, and I most certainly wasn't about to damage or burn my delicate skin, or cause early aging and possible cancer to make someone else more comfortable looking at me.
The biggest blow came when I was married to my ex husband. He decided that he wanted me to dye my hair blonde, get breast implants and a suntan. One day he surprised me with a gift certificate for tanning sessions at the local salon. "If you don't get a suntan and breast implants, I'll divorce you," he announced.
You'll be happy to know that I am still as white as a ghost with natural breasts. Oh, and did I mention, he is my ex?
Redheads comprise about four percent of the world population and only about two percent of the population in the United States. We are unique, to say the least, and have a long, challenging history. Ancient Egyptians were said to have buried redheaded men alive. In the middle ages, red hair was associated with moral degradation and intense sexual desire. We were even thought to be witches, and burned at the stake.
Interestingly enough, redheads also seem to always have a parade of male admirers. Doing some research, I came across some fascinating information. According to La Rosa Knows, "the pheromones redheads throw down tend to draw in a lot more folks (which would support the 'Sexual Selection Theory' that redheads, much like how peacocks attract their mates, have survived this long because we are the most sexually desirable of the bunch). Our pheromone effect and our delicious scent has been scientifically proven!
In 1886, Frenchman Augustin Galopin stated in his book, 'Le Parfum de la Femme' that, among women, redheads have the strongest scent: amber and violets. To add to that, Rowan Pelling, the founding editor of The Erotic Review, agrees that redheads have a strong natural scent, but contends that, 'Redheads famously have a distinctive civet scent, which drives many an admirer wild.' (A civet is a wild cat whose scent has been prized for centuries because of its aphrodisiacal qualities.)"
I have embraced my unique coloring and wouldn't change it for anything. This is how I am, take it or leave it. We humans are rarely happy with what we have ("grass is greener" syndrome) and not only torture ourselves about it, but hurt others because of our insecurities. Many black people wish they were lighter, and many white people wish they were darker. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, on an average day in the United States, more than 1 million people tan in tanning salons. Nearly 28 million people tan indoors in the United States annually. Of these, 2.3 million are teens.
According to an article in the guardian, "fears surrounding the risks of tanning were confirmed in 2009, when it was found that rates of malignant melanoma in the UK have more than quadrupled in the past 30 years and that it is the most common form of cancer among those aged 15-34. The World Health Organisation has found that people who have been using tanning devices before age 30 are 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma."
It goes on to say, "Women with toffee-coloured skin (Jessica Alba, Beyonce, Halle Berry, Kim Kardashian) are at the forefront of definitions of 21st century beauty. An argument runs that white women try to achieve similar complexions, ignoring that these celebrities' skin tones are the result of being mixed race or non-caucasian. However, those obsessed with tanning also have Katie Price, Victoria Beckham (and dare I say ... yikes, Snooki) as tanning role models. The desire to tan runs deeper than race."
Also related: How many times have you heard a woman with curly hair lament that she doesn't have straight, silky hair? Meanwhile, the gals with straight hair use curling irons, perms and whatever else they can get their hands on the make their tresses curl. To make ourselves feel worthy, we regularly have false nails applied with chemicals that cause fungus, infections and damage to our nail beds, we tan our skin until we look like an old leather hand bags, go under the knife to have plastic bags filled with saline stuffed into our chest cavities in the false belief a bigger cup size will bring true love ... and the list goes on and on.
I met with a potential female client the other day, an attractive, educated and financially secure Asian American woman that I'll call Mae. She wanted to hire me as a matchmaker to find her a husband. Mae recently moved to Los Angeles from the Midwest and quickly came to the conclusion that successful men are only in the market for women that look like runway models. I thought that I had gotten through to her and convinced her that she was exactly what many men were seeking: brains, class and beauty. She agreed and was excited to move forward. Later that night, I got a text from her stating that she had found a good plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills to give her a "model" look so that she could attract men. It hurt my heart to read that.
Whether your skin is the blackest black or the whitest white, or anything in between, celebrate yourself and what nature blessed you with. Curly hair? Gorgeous. Red hair? Awesome. Mousey brown hair? Love that too. Flat-chested, well-endowed, freckled, short and tall ... Life is not a competition. No one is better than anyone else. No shade of skin is prettier, no soul is more worthy. I want to scream from the mountaintops to every woman on the earth, "You are amazingly special and unique, sparkling perfection created from stardust. You came into this physical reality to experience joy, adventure, passion and creativity. We are spirit in human form. Give your love, share your gifts and speak your truth." When someone feels the need to tell you that you should be different, respond by saying, "Thanks for sharing and God bless you!" Then continue on your way, leaving them in your beautiful, magical, glittering, sweet-smelling dust!
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