Colorism: Beauty is not what they sold you (haiku)

The propaganda

says beauty is white, light skin’s

fake barometer.

When I was growing up on the East Coast in the USA, the summers were blazingly hot. As a teenager, I looked at fashion magazines and tried to follow their beauty tips; I sat in the sun with lemon juice in it to get natural highlights, (tip, it doesn’t really work on black hair), I even tried beer in my hair, avocado, tea, mayonnaise (please don’t try that!) and all sorts of things to improve my appearance. I thought straight black hair was boring. There were no Asian models featured in the US, no silky straight, black hair; if there had been I bet they’d be dressed in kimonos, Vietnamese hats, or have chopsticks in their hair. Yes, really! The racism in media relied on stereotypes.

I also would suntan in our back yard, next to the dog kennel of all places :), because it was out of sight of the kitchen window where my mother usually was. I would hide to suntan because my mother like most Asian mothers, disliked tan skin on themselves or their beloved daughters. Boys and men could have tan skin but the girls and women couldn’t because light, white skin was considered beautiful. Males didn’t have the pressure to be physically attractive; they just had to be intelligent, they were the future breadwinners and patriarchs of the clan. Females were seen as less valuable, once they were married off, they’d leave to Serve another family. I wanted a suntan mostly because that’s what the US magazines promoted but in Asia the opposite was celebrated. Why? Colorism.

Colorism is a by product of colonialism. Whether in North America, South Africa, India, Hawaii or Australia, (to name just a few places), white culture invaded, dominated and usurped power. Colorism resulted from that imperialism. People of color divided themselves into shades of privilege, less melanin raised your status. Also the social hierarchy was reflected in skin shade; peasants who worked the fields were darkened more than if they lived in indoor, shaded opulence, with embellished parasols and huge pretentious hats. Light skin was the gateway to inclusion into the metaphorical aristocracy of class.

When my well-intentioned mother put me in ugly sun hats and long sleeves it wasn’t for sun protection, (that wasn’t a trend yet), she wanted me to be beautiful in the eyes of society. She liked that I was innovative with my hair highlighting attempt and even laughed a bit when she finally caught me tanning next to the kennel. She always referred to me as her youngest, the American girl. I was her anomaly. My older sister followed her every instruction, she was the good daughter and I was the westernized rebel. My sister still wears hats, long sleeves and even high collars (to protect the neck) in the height of summer. Her skin is snow white compared to my coffee (with tons of half and half), color. I now wear hats to avoid skin cancer, but I still refuse to wear turtlenecks in the clinging heat.

We are so status driven in this world, we harm ourselves and the planet for the sake of superficial concepts of beauty. True beauty never fades from a person with a strong, loving heart. This is what matters to me, not the exterior costume. But in regards to physical beauty it’s everywhere, in all shades; if you have eyes to see it.