The beauty of melanin has been needlessly debated within and outside of Black communities for centuries. While the mentality that “light skin is the right skin” has heavily pervaded our culture, there’s been a growing movement to empower Blackness in all of its political, social and physical implications—and it’s silencing all that noise.
Two young women, in particular, have epitomized this shift and recently shared their stories on Instagram.
Teniola Aisha Kashaam is a Nigerian makeup artist. In October, she revealed that she had been routinely bleaching her skin since she was 19 years old:
“By the time I was 20, I had become a heavy skin bleacher… at the time it felt almost normal, I felt like I looked more attractive….. it became an addiction, I just couldn’t stop. I craved so much to be lighter.. I felt being black wasn’t beautiful enough. What a stupid way to have thought… I guess the society we live in played a little role in my decision to bleach my skin… coupled with being very naive at that age. It’s widely perceived that the lighter you are, the more beautiful you look.”
When her 25th birthday approached, she said she had an epiphany.
“I finally started to see the light… to see how crazy I had been all these years… how crazy it was for me to have believed that my black skin wasn’t beautiful, to have allowed myself to feel inadequate or to try and tell God ‘ how you created me isn’t good enough’ what a silly, crazy way to have lived. Today I’m more than grateful that I finally saw the light. Black is beautiful! So beautiful! Never have I ever felt as beautiful and as at peace with my skin tone as I do now.”
Nyamal, 19, who is of Sudanese descent, began bleaching her skin at age 14. She said she “desperately wanted to be beautiful,” but later shared a catharsis similar to that of Kashaam.
“When I was 15 and a half I decided to stop and started trying to find beauty in myself I decided that as long as I live the only person that really needs to find me beautiful inside and out is me,” she wrote in an IG post in November.
Kashaam and Nyamal were fortunate to escape the sunken place. But many others continue to allow the misconception that lighter skin is more attractive to rob them of self-esteem. Former MLB player Sammy Sosa was the most recent public figure to attract media attention for bleaching his skin.
These women were able to find self-love independent of external forces. Yet, they are the physical embodiment of what may be a cultural shift.
Social media concepts such as #carefreeblackgirl, #blackgirlmagic, Beyonce’s Lemonade, Solange’s A Seat at the Table, and shows including “Insecure” and other work from Black playwrights who indirectly lift us up by infiltrating mainstream media have served as powerful forces drowning out the misogyny and racial prejudice that have repressed Black women.
Although innumerable Black women have already been tuned into their divine nature, others have struggled to do so. And the aforementioned have reminded those who needed reminding to embrace their Blackness and dynamism.
Black girls aren’t being forced to suffer from the same lack of representation and ubiquitous colorism as the generations that preceded them. We’ve all probably tried to forget the days when light-skinned and dark-skinned folks decided to align themselves in teams on social media. What can’t be forgotten are the traumatizing effects of the colorism that inspired them.
Mainstream media and Black communities chose to ignore the beauty of dark-skinned beauty for a minute (minute meaning centuries). But today, the widespread fascination of models Duckie Thot, Khoudia Diop and the bald and beautiful actress Lupita N’yongo is gradually making colorism a thing of the past. Poppin’ apparel from Black-owned clothing lines boasting the divinity of Black womanhood has also hinted at an empowering time for Black women.
The era has also been ushered in by the unapologetic artistry of musicians such as Cardi B, Leikeli47 and Princess Nokia, who unabashedly assert their womanhood and sexuality.
As we become louder about our pride, we coat the meaning of self-love with all shades of melanin.
The visibility of our unique beauty, poppin’ afros and the witty charm of Black Twitter have led mainstream culture to recognize Black women as … well … the new black and sparked the interest of culture vultures. But at some point, Black won’t be “in” and we’ll no longer be a trending topic. White women will stop trying to pass for Black (and this particular day can’t come soon enough).
But ain’t no stoppin’ us. Those who want to dim our shine and deepen our plights will be blocked and/or muted on Twitter and catch hands if necessary IRL. The magic will remain. Respectability politics will stay in the past as we continue to strut around carefree with the kinks out. And we’ll continue encouraging each other to slay in the skin we’ve been gifted with.
Regressive White House aside, there’s no better time than the present to be a Black woman. We all winnin’.