16 January 2018

Kenya: Off My Chest - Is It a Crime for Dark Skinned Girls to Feel Beautiful?

Photo: The Nation
Illustration.

*Carol talks about why she lauds every attempt to reverse the perception black is not beautiful.

"I went to a school which had people of different races and nationalities. This meant that a lot of the kids joined cliques they related with; I ended up with the 'black' girls.

One morning, as I was going to sit with my group, one girl approached me. 'You can't sit with us anymore,' she said. I asked why and she said, 'because you're too dark and ugly.'

I was 11 at the time and found it strange because there were several other black girls in my class. I felt ostracised. My mum would always tell you me that I was beautiful but I didn't believe her because that's what mums are supposed to tell their kids. I began to hold my hair up so I wouldn't look too dark, but that was the last time I joined any group. I would hang out with everyone irrespective of their physical appearance.

There was a time I tried putting on makeup to look lighter but felt so awkward; I couldn't get the right foundation and what I put made me look like a ghost. It felt like a mask on my face. I never tried it again.

People would often tell my mum, 'Your daughter is so dark-skinned but she's still beautiful,' but their comments whether positive or negative were neither here nor there. I lived in a bubble and focused on sports activities such as golf. I also had no time for boys even though I was in my prime teenage years.

It's only much later that I became aware of conversations around me about dark-skinned girls. There was one time I was watching an episode on the Patricia Show and realised it was the first I had heard someone other than my immediate family affirm the beauty of dark skin. Two weeks later, someone came up to me and said, 'You're so beautiful, don't let anyone tell you otherwise' and I wondered, 'Why would you think otherwise?'

I recently heard Sauti Sol's "Melanin" song after reading Ezekiel Mutua's controversial comments online. According to him, the song should not have received airplay because it is not suitable for family viewing. I strongly disagree. All the women in the video are dark skinned, an intentional move by Sauti Sol to celebrate women all over the world. I believe it is a commendable initiative for dark-skinned teenage girls struggling with self-esteem issues.

I also watched an interview featuring Miss World Kenya /Africa Magline Jeruto on Citizen TV where where she intimated that people discouraged her from competing for the title because of her dark skin. She ignored the negative comments and see where she is now; she has conquered the world, literally. The fact that she is comfortable in her skin and unapologetic is inspirational.

Interestingly, my 13-year-old cousin is also going through a similar experience because of her dark skin. She tells me she doesn't feel beautiful because she's dark. I constantly have to tell her that dark is beautiful and she does not have to conform to societal standards of beauty.

Sauti Sol, Magline and myself are just some of the few people aware of the challenges of dark skinned girls and are intentionally doing something about it. To all the young girls out there, be comfortable in your own skin. You are beautiful!"

Kenya

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