Every person of color has probably heard someone telling them their skin is too dark to be appealing. Most of the time it’s from people we’re related to and that makes it even more hurtful. I heard comments from family members about the color of my skin from a very young age. It’s one of the first things you hear about yourself that has a negative connotation etched to it. It should not have been a shock that my siblings and I were dark, because growing up in the Philippines meant that you were exposed to the sun for almost the entire day. Family members kept telling us to stay inside more to refrain from getting darker. As I moved to America, the comments continued from relatives here, and I even heard some of my family friends talking about our appearance. It happened so much that I didn’t even notice the comments about our skin until now when I started thinking about this topic.
It’s upsetting to know that the people telling us to become lighter are those in our own communities. The concept of whitewashing has existed in communities of people of color for so long that the adults in our lives don’t see the problem with it. Whitewashing is the practice of making someone look pale in comparison to their original skin tone because it’s seen as “more appealing.” But in reality, it’s harmful as it strips down a person’s cultural standards and is forced into the category of Eurocentric beauty ideals which include having lighter skin. One of my friends overheard a comment about how she and her siblings should bleach their skin because they were starting to get too dark; it devastated her. Hearing that type of comment angered me because we have spent our teenage years trying to accept every part of who we are, yet we constantly have to deal with people who are disgusted by the fact that we don’t fit with their standard of beauty. The adults around us were made to believe that the fairer your skin is, the more beautiful you are, but that’s not the case because dark is always beautiful.
Our skin color is determined by a pigment called melanin which has two factors that dictate it: exposure to UV radiation, and genetic makeup. Melanin is produced to protect us from harmful UV radiation, so if you come from a place that is more exposed to the sun, you will be darker since you will need more protection. Different ethnicities are also genetically predisposed to having a certain type of skin color due to inheritance. Science proves that it is not something we can choose. It shouldn’t be something we are ashamed of either.
It is not easy to tell everyone in our community to be mindful about these comments because some people are stubborn, but we can do our best to educate them of their harmful effects. No one should be told that they will never be beautiful because they don’t follow the Eurocentric beauty ideals that society places on us. Our dark skin is something we should embrace and love as it is something that makes us who we are.