Out of 51 people on our staff, 23 members have been told they are too dark. Eleven members have been told they are too light. All of them have felt that other people observed their skin tones, as if it was something more than just a pigment.
Discrimination against someone of a certain race or religion is easy to point out, but a more subtle type of prejudice is apparent in our own homes — colorism. Whether our skin is considered too dark or too light, many of us have been subject to lectures from well-intentioned friends and family members that we can be better, or look better, if we change the color of our skin
Even if this is true, we shouldn’t decide our worth by how light or dark our skin is. In March of 2016, a campaign called Unfair and Lovely started a hashtag, #unfairandlovely, which started trending on Twitter. It encouraged any person of color with dark skin to embrace how they look instead of giving in to the comments made about them.
But this is not a one-sided problem. Students within our own publication with skin they consider “too light” have cited feeling uncomfortable with their skin tone and being told repeatedly to take action to change it. In fact, according to JAMA Dermatology, 35 percent of American adults in 2014 had used tanning beds at least once, perhaps revealing the national infatuation with skin tone.
Members of our publication have noted their personal experiences with colorism. One editor has expressed her experiences being offered Fair and Lovely, a skin lightening product, as a seven year old by her grandmother because her skin was “too dark.” Another noted a more positive experience that revealed our obsession with colorism nonetheless as her family seized every opportunity to comment on the “ideal” color of her skin, putting her on a pedestal for something out of her control.
The positive attitudes that campaigns like Unfair and Lovely breed should resonate with all of us who have received comments at one point or another about the color of our skin. A person is worth far more than the shade of their skin, despite society’s repeated focus on it, whether it’s stereotyping, how our families feel about the color of our skin or the brands manipulating consumers to buy their skin-altering products.
Instead of focusing on what we can’t change, we should minimize the stigma of this in the first place. Like the group of activists who created the campaign, we should bring awareness to the colorism in our own communities and how wrong it is by avoiding pointing out skin color in the first place. We end up comparing ourselves to the general beauty standards of people with whatever we consider the “ideal,” which can be unhealthy in more ways than one. The negative stigma causes us to constantly be self-conscious, perhaps even prevents us from accepting ourselves for who we are, and the harsh methods of changing our complexions like tanning booths can prove to be dangerous.
Instead of fulfilling the unrealistic standards we are told of at a young age, we should focus on positive aspects of our lives, like our intelligence or personality. Doing this will allow us to realize that in actuality, the shade of our skin really doesn’t matter, and that there should not be an “ideal shade.”
We treat our skin color like a puzzle, searching and matching until we can find the right shade. But in reality, it doesn’t exist.