The unbearable darkness of being beautiful

2012-03-24 00:00

IT WAS ridiculous. I told this woman she was beautiful and she argued with me about whether or not I meant it. She said, because of her complexion, that only a whiteman from Europe would tell her she’s pretty and mean it. It made me realise how hard dark beauties have it on this planet.

Abdullah Ibrahim’s daughter is a prolific rapper called Jean Grae who grew up in Brooklyn, NewYork. My first experience of her work was 10 years ago, via an article she’d written about South Africa on a hip-hop website www.allhiphop.com.

She spoke of South Africa’s vibrancy, how we have an interesting media industry, a music style called kwaito and other great things. The most striking thing she said, however, was that the television advertisements actually have beautiful dark women in them. It made me wonder about what goes on in the United States but now I get it.

Since there isn’t a specific race group for people of mixed heritage such as South African coloureds, Beyonce and Rihanna qualify as black and are the preferred black faces of campaigns. Dark-skinned girls develop an inferiority complex becauset hey’re not visible. Kelly Rowland admitted that she grew up wishing that she looked like Mariah Carey and has only recently started to feel pretty.

The eyebrows of more socially or politically conscious people would have gone north when they saw the descriptive phrase “dark beauties” but they know the phrase very well. It means “you are dark but you’re beautiful” or “people like you are not usually beautiful”.

Millions of women walk around feeling like this and eventually different things become their source of feeling beautiful, like straightened hair, weaves, polished accents, material wealth, a trophy man, and so the list goes on. I just wonder what little black girls go through when they watch TV. Of course, Indian and coloured people go through this as well, and so being an acceptable young woman, as in not ugly, becomes rather expensive.

Inmy eyes when growing up, Naomi Campbell’s beauty could only be matched and not topped. She was the epitome of beauty, but my friends liked the green-eyed Tyra Banks. All the girls I liked who looked like Naomi—black and coloured—weren’t even mentioned as pretty.

Mind-boggling stuff it was.

Women with darker complexions do sometimes lack confidence, and it has made relationships with my favourite type difficult. There’s a suspicion about the real reason you’re with them and fears that you will leave them for someone prettier, so you leave for peace of mind.

Maybe Europeans find dark women a novelty, as Africans do lighter women, but it is certain not evenly spread. I’m not convinced that many white women tan because they believe they’re inherently ugly.

But I like all races so, like Kanye West, you might see me “with some light-skinned chicks and some Kelly Rowlands”. Just don’t argue

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