complexion - Lombe Khosa

Through trying to grasp an understanding of this word and understanding the action behind it, I’ve learnt that complexion is the natural colour, texture and appearance of one’s skin. Although complexion shows off diversity and uniqueness in people, there are some negative aspects that our society has chosen to normalise. This aspect is colourism. The term colourism refers to prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

This occurs in many races, but what is common is colourism on black women of a darker complexion. Colourism has roots in slavery, because slave owners typically gave preferential treatment to slaves with fairer complexions while dark-skinned slaves toiled outdoors in the fields and their light-skinned counterparts usually worked indoors at far less gruelling domestic tasks. Colourism also plays out in the romantic realm since fair skin is associated with beauty and status, light-skinned black women are more likely to be married than darker-skinned black women.

Light skin is extremely envied to the point where whitening creams continue to be best-sellers in the U.S., Asia, and Africa due to society creating some theorem that being darker has a correlation with having less knowledge and generally being a ‘bad’ person. This is proven when in 1945 Dr Clark used four dolls that were identical except for colour to test children’s racial perceptions. They experimented with children between the ages of three to seven who were asked to identify both the race of the dolls and which colour doll they prefer. Majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem.

A huge problem about being dark skin is that the selection of makeup is little to none, in your local drugstore you’d find three shades of brown as opposed to ten shades of beige. See now the irony is that their selling point in most foundation packages is it “matches 99% of skin tones”. I myself have experienced colorism at a young age, to be honest back then I didn’t find any problem with comments such as “you’re so pretty for a black girl” or “you would be so gorgeous if you were lighter” and I’ve always wondered why black women were always frowned upon or seen as less attractive.

My journey through colorism has been shocking if I’m being honest but my worst experiences were within my youth and the modeling industry. There had been a time where most black girls, including myself, had to think twice about how a black boy that we were interested in would like us or not; how absurd right? It just did not make sense that black boys never batted an eye on us and how some would bring black women down to uplift another race. How we normalized being insulted by people with the same skin tone was a true glitch in the simulation.

The second thing that irks me every time is the colorism within the modeling industry; you could go onto any agency and see a trend of white models and little to none black models within their range. Another thing it features which I think correlates well with this topic: why are we only aware of black models like Naomi Campbell, Adut Akech and Anok Yai? Maybe because they may be appealing to a white man’s eye? This trend is that if a black model is going to be successful she needs to be deep mahogany with eurocentric features. But what about Ebonee Davis, Imari Karanja, the list goes on. I don’t think people understand how frustrating it is getting feedback from friends that I should work hard on achieving my dreams but the one thing that has been stopping me is my skin tone and what I believe in my features. I’m not racially ambiguous, light or even “mahogany enough” for an agency to even consider me. It’s sad and it’s demotivating having to think that if I was lighter or had eurocentric features I could have a chance.

Through trial and tribulations of my skin tone and my features I’ve finally learnt to love them. I’ve accepted that I may not have a slim nose nor am I light in complexion but that won’t bring me down like it used to no matter how unfair the industry is to someone who may share the same features and skin tone as me. The only way agencies will truly see me is when I I try to break the silence and play my part to make black women be seen as appealing through my nappy hair and rich skin that glows as soon as it comes in contact with the sun. Looking back at everything I would never trade anything for being white.

But beautiful black girl,

I hope one day you can speak loudly about how much you love your dark skin and never neglect it.

I hope one day you realise that you are valued and you are loved

and I hope one day society can undoubtedly agree with you.