I was just reading this bit from Xojane on skin bleaching.
So let me tell you a very sad story.
As a teenager I became violently self conscious about how dark my skin was.
Outside of the usual Whiteness, beauty ideals etc that played into it some other stuff was going on. I had some scarring from acne that turned into the deep brown to black marks I battle with to this day, I didn't know to use sunscreen (it was the 90s I believed Black skin was invincible), I couldn't find foundation or colored powder to use on my face and worst for me at the time I got rejected for a date because someone said I was just too dark.
In a perfect confluence of teenage mortification I had decided to go to some stores to look for foundation because obviously that would have fixed everything.
I remember going to three drug stores and nada. When I went to kmart with my parents I bought the one shade of Fashion Fair foundation they had and it was about four shades too light. I bought a stck foundation by Black Opal out of a discontinued bin and it was way the wrong color and dried out.
So I saved up about 20 or so dollars and went to the mall. I figured that if it was a fancy brand, of course I would be able to get make up.
Off I went to the mall. I went alone and y’all- I went to the fancy counters and maybe 10% (I’m being generous) of the time they had something close to my color but generally not my actual color.
At one counter the girl felt so bad she gave me this make over and I remember when I looked in the mirror I looked like an ashy faced Claire Huxtable in the worst kind of way. Frosty fuschia lips, frosty weird brown eye shadow, my face was weird and greasy and ashy. I went into the bathroom and cried my eyes out.
I very vividly remember trying to use the handsoap to wash the shit off of my face while pretending I wasn’t crying my eyes out and having people stare at me. One woman remarked to her friend that I must have gotten caught stealing.
I was fifteen or sixteen and I felt the weight of racism and racist beauty ideals weigh so heavily on me I thought I was wrong. I was made wrong and ugly and there was nothing I could do about it.
I fully believed that I was ugly because I was too Black. I did not have the bone straight silky locks I saw on Black women on TV, my face had dark marks, my knees and elbows were dark, I don’t have a small button nose and I was certain I was the fattest fat girl who ever fat girled in the world.
I knew it.
Cut to a few months later I was at the dirt mall beauty supply store and came upon a skin lightening product. The woman told me if I used it I could be “fairer” and my skin would look pretty.
I went for it.
Of course I did.
I bought and used it twice a day for months.
At first I only used it on my dark spots but when those faded I used it on more of my face.
You know what happened?
First my skin was kind of okay and then it just really wasn’t. I burned my cheeks, my little Ashanti style sideburns were burnt off, I got darker marks on my chin and a scar by my left ear that did not fade for almost a decade.
I was so ashamed of myself. And I wasn't ashamed because I had tried to bleach my face I was ashamed because I failed.
I wound up uglier than I was to begin with. I let my parents think it was just teenaged acne and to cover it I would cake on this “translucent” (read: still way too light for me) powder. When I was able to get that coveted Cover Girl OG Shade Soft Sable anything I would use it as much as I could. Unfortunately it was very hard to find even that where I lived.
I learned to pretend that I didn't care that I was ugly. I held my tongue when the White girls said disgusting things about Black girls. I never expected or was comfortable with anyone thinking I was at all attractive. I stopped caring and decided to do something about my body instead. I was yearning to be a “butterface”.
I tried to wear my hair so that it looked “nicer” which at the time meant to me anything but like Black hair.
I thought that if my body was good enough I could somehow transcend my ugly Blackness.
And then a few years later it all came crashing down on me when I realized that my Blackness was not the problem. This time after another attempt at bleaching my face, and more burns and scars someone finally had the sense to tell me I didn't have to do that.
A grown Black woman in Sally’s Beauty supply almost slapped a jar of skin lightener out of my hands and she read me to filth and then gave me a hug.
The fact is before it dawned on me that I did not have to participate in my own oppression I had no idea.
I wish I had known her name, I have her to thank for my years and years of social justice stuff. I have her to thank for that seed of rebellion that has led to me preaching the gospel of look how the fuck you want to look.
So the lesson today my darlings is that sometimes all it takes to get someone out of a destructive set of behaviors or pattern of beliefs is to tell them that there are other options.
So this is me telling you.
You don’t have to do it.
You don’t have to participate in your own subjugation, in your own oppression or in these destructive systems of belief. It is so hard to break away from them but if I, wee little scared baby Shannon could do it without the internet or any support you can do it right here, with the rest of the homies with you.
We can because we need to survive and we don’t want to be hurt anymore.