Two years ago, I was interning with a notable morning show style editor who was trying to figure out how she could get a last minute model for a fashion segment. Everyone on her team refused to model on national, live TV. It was really too late to even attempt to call an agency. It was the end of the day, and out of the frustration of wanting to go home, I offered myself. While I had never modeled professionally before, I knew that I was comfortable in front of a camera. To be honest, I didn’t think anything of it (although, looking back I'm like, duh, that was huge). Standing in her office desperate for help, my boss took a very long look at me, squinted her eyes and said, “Melanie, would you really do it?”
“Sure! You rarely see brown women modeling in morning show segments, so it will be cool," I responded. She looked at me dazed and confused. “What do you mean? We’ve had a lot of Black women and women of color modeling on the show," she said.
“No, I mean brown women. Like, dark-skinned Black women,” I explained.
She got quiet, but not the kind of quiet that made me feel like she was uncomfortable, but the kind of quiet that made me feel like she knew she had just (awkwardly) learned something new about Black women. All about uplifting women of every shape, size and background, she called the producer, added my name to the list, and scheduled a car to take me to and from the studio. A few days later, I made my random debut on a national morning TV show, modeling a belt.
My boss's confusion about my meaning of brown always stuck with me, but I never knew what to do with the emotion and I couldn’t be mad at her for not understanding. Brown is a term that has only recently become a term of endearment for dark-skinned Black women. In my first post, I introduced you to "Beautifully Brown" and welcomed you to my world. Here, I want to clarify just what I mean by brown.
This is no slight to the super-light, tan, caramel, mocha, mixed or even Latina girls (who’ve been considered brown for decades). I don’t ever throw shade to my lighter-colored sisters (and we ARE sisters). But when I say "brown," I mean brown because it means something to me, having had this dark chocolate skin all of my life. "Brown" is used here as a reference to us young darker-skinned women who have felt the void in our confidence caused by many things, but especially the fifteen-or-so years of lazy hip-hop videos and the anti-brown women messaging they often trumpeted. Even today hip hop happily assaults the self-worth of the dark-skinned sister, the most recent culprit being rapper A$AP Rocky claiming that dark women shouldn’t wear bold, bright lips and "you have to be fair-skinned to get away with that." Okay.
Well, this brown girl is defining for herself what she can get away with. This brown girl is embracing brownness and finding community with those who are no longer waiting to be considered simply a “pretty girl," and not "pretty-for-a-dark-skinned-girl"–we're claiming that for ourselves. Until those of us of a richer, deeper hue can find regular affirmations of our beauty in the media, society and amongst our own, we are going to have to continue to speak the brown girl language straight through to a new generation. Because we have something to say.
In light of A$AP’s ridiculous statement and others who agree with him, I'm giving a special shout out to those of you #beautifullybrown women who sent in your fabulous pictures of you rocking your brown skin with bright, bold lips. This was a test, and we passed. Being brown is beautiful, and celebrating it any chance we get, for every reason and no reason at all, is the thing that will keep us all feeling secure and confident. Thank you so much to the hundreds of you who sent in your gorgeous pictures! Take that A$AP.
Melanie Yvette Martin is the Editorial Assistant and Beauty and Style contact for EBONY.com. She's also a proud Temple U. Alum and lover of all things beauty. Follow her on Instagram: @melanieyvette and on Twitter: @theffgal.
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Associate Beauty and Style Editor, Digital