It is no secret that there is a power in our presence and when used positively, we are capable of making an impact in major social, political, professional, and familial changes. Therefore, our presence and influence in the lives of young dark skinned women and girls has similar potential to spark greater outcomes of high esteem for them. In addition to platforms such a DDS, media moguls, entertainers, socialites, and public figures carry a heavy influence on our demographic; I would argue that within our presence as an everyday dark skinned black woman there lies a greater power and here is why!
Being that I was born in the 80’s and grew up as a child in the 90’s and early 00’s, it was a great time in terms of viewing the visuals of dark skinned women in the media. Fortunately, we had the likes of solo artists and girl groups such as Total, SWV, Toni Braxton, actresses like Nia Long and Gabrielle Union, and in 1993 Kenya Moore wowed the masses as she was crowned Miss USA; these ladies and many more presented us with dark skin beauty and femininity.
It was a great era to witness. Without intent to minimize the impact these ladies had on building my self-esteem as a little dark skinned black girl, I can attest that it was the direct contact and exchange I had with everyday black women whom left the most influential marks in my life. I can recall a day during one of my grandparents’ numerous family gatherings; our long time family friend Patrice was over. Patrice was what some may have considered the “exception” in terms of every day black women. She was “fiiiooonnnneeee” and all the fellas wanted her, light and dark. She was a beautiful chocolate black woman; she had a cute shape, nice smile, and an even more beautiful personality. She always had nice things to say and could light up a room.
This particular day I was in the kitchen away from the rest of the family because I was upset at something my granny told me and it showed all over my face, and I had no desire to hide it. Patrice walked in and sat at the table, I think she was waiting on my granny. Meanwhile, I was so in my feelings, steadily frowning that I didn’t even acknowledge her; the room was silent a bit and then she said, “ Alycia, you are so beautiful”! Her words damned near melted my heart, instantly I began to feel happiness overwhelm my body, and my attitude vanished in a blink of an eye. It wasn’t because I was never told I was beautiful by my family and loved ones; it was like she knew what I needed during that moment and coming from her it felt so sincere and from a place of relatability. I must admit it was so flattering, sort of like the way many of you would melt if Beyonce’ touched your hand. This inflated my ego and confidence also, because hearing that from someone of her caliber and aesthetic convinced me that her words attainable.
Then there was my fourth grade teacher at 59th Street Elementary, Ms. Cori Jackson. Ms. Jackson played no games with us and because she resembled the majority of her classroom’s demographic in terms of race she was much harder on us academically. This one particular time during class she paused the lesson because collectively the class was getting a bit out of control. Ms. Jackson gave us a piece of her mind and stated that everyone with the exception of myself was not performing academically to their full potential and had no time to play around during the lesson.
Initially, I felt put on the spot, because I didn’t want to appear as the “goody-two-shoes” of the class; but I was proud that my hard work and dedication to my scholastic studies was not being overlooked; to hear that from Ms. Jackson was an honor because she was not easily impressed. I’d been told by numerous teachers prior ( majority white women) how smart I was but it was not the same for me because I could always pick-up on their underlying condescending tones and shock that I was academically capable. Ms. Jackson’s “props” was far more rewarding and an honor, because I secretly admired her, she was smart, had a great work ethic, was fit and healthy, and set the bar high. Her words motivated me to continue to give my best performance in school.
My aunts on my father’s side of the family, who are the same chocolate complexion as him, were my first dark skin women role models and probably the most influential in shaping my self-esteem and idealism on dark skin female beauty. They both had smooth chocolate skin, long wooly hair that would make the biggest buns and ponytails, and were always very soft and delicate in mannerism. They weren’t push-overs, in fact they were very capable of being tactful while gracefully giving you a piece of their mind.
My aunts frequently took time out of their busy, child free lives, to spend weekends with my siblings and I, which meant so much because all of my maternal figures are light skinned black women ( mother and both grandmothers); therefore, while I received an abundance of love from them, realistically I could not see myself in my maternal figures the way I could in my aunts. Their presence helped me to create a realistic standard of beauty for myself. My aunts were all around positive role models, great representation image wise, and to this day I still adore them.
My intent is to make those dark skin black women who may not be cognitively aware of how great of an influence we have on the younger dark skin women and girls we encounter in our day-to-day lives. Many times we are the closest to the representation seen in media and lack thereof. Building the collective esteem of dark skin black women begins with our dealings with each other, our lessons and habits that are passed on to the next generation, and the standards and examples we set. Dark skin black women of every age can play a role in curating a new narrative for us; regardless of your age, I’m quite sure we are all capable of reaching back to help build the esteem of a fellow dark skin sister.
If you are in your teens perhaps there are middle and elementary school girls you can positively uplift, those in their thirties could possibly mentor the ladies in their teens and early twenties, and if you are what is considered an elder maybe your wisdom and poise could benefit the ladies who are in the “ I’m no longer categorized with the young folks, but I’m not an elder quite yet,” group. Many of you have recently done this in your support for the little black girl featured in the H& M ad; she may have or have not seen the support on-line by the ladies defending her against colorist/ texturist backlash. Please be assured that there was at least one other dark skin woman and/or girl who saw the online support, contributing to a boost in their self-esteem.You’d be surprised at who is watching you and the ways you are impacting their lives. Remember, each one, teach one!
A’ Cylo ( ˈā/ˈsil/ lō) – “I am a writer with a passion for using my voice to speak on the issues many refuse. My hobbies include writing, dancing, and gardening. I’m a fan of all shades of blue; with a slight addiction to popcorn, chips, and salsa. I teach but more importantly I learn; continuously. Did I mention I’m a writer; and I’m serious about my content”?!