Girls of Color Living Life Beautiful!
(Originally published in All This Goodness)
Living in a society that does not always embrace the beautiful hues of brown and dark skin tones, girls of color experience issues that affect them psychologically, which can leave scars that can last a lifetime. I am the founder of the Intraracial Colorism Project, Inc., a project designed to study colorism and develop strategies to eventually eradicate colorism in society. Colorism involves distinctions based on skin color (light, medium and dark) and results in the favorable or unfavorable treatment of individuals based on the lightness or darkness of their skin color. With its foundation deeply rooted in white superiority, white supremacy, white privilege, racism, prejudice and stereotypes, colorism is complex in nature, occurs interracially and intraracially and is detrimental to the psychological well-being of victims. When those victims are girls, pre-teens and teens of color, especially those possessing brown and dark skin, the psychological effects can result in low self-love, self-esteem, self-respect, self-identity, and self-pride.
Through research, conversations and interviews, I discovered that girls of color were really suffering from various issues that continued to lead back to the color of their skin. A colleague shared an experience involving a dark skinned little girl who continued to scratch her leg until it began to look ashy white. When asked if her leg itched or if she wanted to apply lotion, the child responded no. When she was asked why she continued to scratch her leg, she responded that when she scratched her leg, it did not “look black”. Another heartbreaking story involved a little girl who believed that by possessing light skin, the boys would “like” her.
Both stories demonstrate how skin color issues affect children of color. The little girls in the above scenarios did not like the color of their skin and believed that their skin would look better ashy white and light as opposed to being dark. Not only did the stories blow me away, they made me think about how society really does not embrace little girls of color who possess dark skin, especially Black girls. If I had been the teacher of the girl scratching her leg, of course I would have told the child that her skin was beautiful, given her lotion, and of course discussed the issue with her parents. I wondered if her parents were even aware of the fact that she did not like the color of her skin and whether someone had made a negative comment about her skin color.
Colorism occurs consciously and unconsciously. It is possible that a family member, another child, or adult made a negative comment about the child’s skin color without realizing the detrimental psychological effect on the well-being of the child, leading her to believe that something was wrong with the color of her skin. I also wondered if the child had an issue with her skin color because of the fact that she could not identify with characters on television commercials and shows because no one looked like her. Therefore, she could not identify with any degree of comfort. I began watching television commercials and noted that I did not see any dark skinned girls, pre-teens or teens and I became concerned.
We live in a society that embraces Eurocentric phenotypes as the standard by which beauty is measured, where Afrocentric features are not celebrated or embraced equally. Considering the racial composition in this country, we need to begin embracing not only the diverse brown skin colors but dark skin colors of children of color. General Mills recently launched commercials that included mixed race families (Cheerios and Pillsbury) and they should be applauded. However, we have yet to see commercials that embrace darker skinned children of color. Dark skinned children need to and must be celebrated and represented equally. I do believe that by embracing and celebrating darker skinned children of color, we will see more children being proud to possess dark skin. We may even see a decrease in issues involving children believing that their dark skin is not pretty because they will see people who look like them and with whom they can identify.
The skin color discussion should begin at home with parents instilling positive self-love, self-esteem, self-identity, self-pride and self-respect. In the classroom, teachers should be trained to deal with skin color issues, and in the community, programs and activities.
As I continued talking to parents and girls, pre-teens and teens of color, I realized that there was a need to address the skin color issues affecting girls possessing brown and dark skin. We needed to celebrate beautiful girls of color. A few months later, I created I Am Beautiful-ICP.
The mission of I Am Beautiful-ICP is to encourage girls of color to embrace and love the color of their skin; to embrace and practice the foundation of BEAUTIFUL elements, self-Love, self-respect, self-esteem, self-identity, and self-pride; and to live BEAUTIFUL everyday all day by being balanced, empowered, achievers, unique, tenacious, inspired, fascinating, uplifting and loving.
BEAUTIFUL girls of color are:
Balanced in their daily routines, eating healthy meals, exercising, studying hard and being empowered
Empowered to be the best and reach for the stars in all that they set out to achieve
Achievers in school, at home, and in their daily routines. Through hard work, good choices and determination, they achieve their goals one step at a time in a unique way.
Unique in their style of dress, hair style, personality, dream big dreams and, set out to turn them into reality.
Tenacious in their style and are not easily pressured to agree with the crowd.
Inspired to reach higher ground in life. They are motivated to be the best that they can be in all that they do
Fascinating to everyone by exhibiting determination, high self-love, self-respect, self-esteem, self-identity, and self-pride. They make a difference and lead by example
Uplifting to everyone around them. By radiating positive energy, they inspire others around them.
Loving by sharing, giving, and embracing all people regardless of the color of their skin, race, ethnicity or differences because they are Beautiful!
I believe in empowering girls, pre-teens and teens of color to reach higher ground in life by encouraging them to embrace being beautiful on the inside and outside; the importance of positive thought processes; to live life beautiful by focusing on self-love, self-respect, self-esteem, self-identity, self-pride; to dream in color; and to believe in themselves.
The most important focus for girls of color is to believe with every fiber of their being that the color of their skin is not a determining factor of what they can or will achieve in life. It is the choices made now, the right choices, that determine the difference later. Accordingly, choosing to live life beautiful is a choice that can begin building the foundation for life-long learning about being BEAUTIFUL (Balanced, Empowered, Achievers, Unique, Tenacious, Inspired, Fascinating, Uplifting and Loving).
As educators, friends, guardians, mentors, parents, siblings, and other family members, we are accountable and responsible to make sure that we talk to girls, pre-teens and teens of color and encourage them to love the color of their skin, instill positive self-esteem, self-love, self-identity, self-respect and self-pride, and encourage them to live life beautiful everyday all day.
I believe that I Am Beautiful-ICP is the change that is needed to help children, pre-teens and teens of color embrace BEAUTIFUL on the inside and outside.
Dr. Donnamaria Culbreth
I Am Beautiful-ICP & The Intraracial Colorism Project, Inc