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Is it possible to run from your self? Is it possible to change the way you were created, to peel your skin – like a snake – and emerge with a new one? One that much of society says is the ideal? Is it possible to effectively lighten your skin tone without any future ramifications?

Lupita Nyong'0

Lupita Nyong’o

The beautiful Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o once gave a daunting speech about the color of her skin. As a child she prayed to God for lighter skin. She talked about the disappointment of waking up the next day to find that God hadn’t answered her prayer. Her story is real. It’s one many young girls, many women in Africa and the African American community know too well.

When I was in Nigeria, one thing was clear: light skinned women were seen as the true definition of beauty. When I say light skinned I don’t mean a woman of mixed race. No. I’m talking about an African woman with a “fair” complexion. That’s what it was called. I believe that’s what it’s still called. Fair skinned women dominated the entertainment industry so much that when the dark actress Genevieve Nnaji emerged as one of the leading actresses in the business, many took notice. Even in America, the beautiful black women who get all the rave are “fair.” They are the Halle Berrys, the Beyonces, but what about the Tika Sumpters, the Gabrielle Unions, the Kerry Washingtons? Those women are beautiful too. It’s no wonder women all over the world exclaimed in joy when People Magazine touted Lupita Nyong’o as “Most Beautiful” on its cover. Finally, a beautiful woman with a dark complexion gets some recognition. How amazing, right?

Genevieve Nnaji

Genevieve Nnaji

But wait! Why is this a big deal in the first place? Beautiful is beautiful. Or isn’t it? The answer is not really, it’s all up to Society. It’s up to pop culture. Society says being light is the way to go. There’s this idea that it’s the only form of beauty. That’s what the movie industry in Nigeria says, that’s what the entertainment industry in the U.S says, that’s what much of the world says. So people follow it. Young and old. Some now use lotions to bleach their skin, others sadly bow to the idea that they are indeed not beautiful because they are not light, not fair. What a shame because dark skin is lovely. It’s just as beautiful as lighter skin, just as eye-catching, just as worthy.

That’s the message little girls everywhere need to hear. That a person’s self worth isn’t based on society’s biased norms. That as far as they know and accept that they are beautiful, the world will too. That the way they carry themselves, the way they hold their head up speaks volumes. Then someday, those little girls will grow into women. Women who can stare at their reflection in the mirror and proudly say, “I’m beautiful, dark skin and all.”