Like it was yesterday, I remember walking out of my childhood home one Saturday morning (after a cartoons fest, no doubt), strolling through the car port, and seeing my teenage sister sprawled out relaxing in a tri-fold plastic lounger in our back yard. Donned in her black bathing suit (“to attract more rays”), she was covered forehead to big toe in baby oil in hopes to secure that just right shade of 1985 tan. (Let’s get something straight; I am much younger than my sister.)
That was my first introduction to skin color, and the first time I noticed she was tan and I was not.
You see, I inherited my paternal aunts’ fair skin tone; my sister inherited our mother’s darker, easy-to-tan epidermis. And to make matters more interesting (or entertaining), my maiden name is White. Yes, you read that correctly; until my 27th year of life (when I married), my last name was White. I was a white girl in every sense of the word.
The color—or lack of color—of my skin is the source of comment after comment, joke after joke, question after question, and suggestion after suggestion. Throughout my life, my light skin has been my identifying characteristic. Peers always pointed it out. Sometimes even strangers mentioned it. It’s been described as pale, ghostly, albino, deathly. I personally prefer fair, light, alabaster, porcelain, ethereal, angelic.
Because of my light skin or maybe I should say because of people’s reactions to my light skin, I believed fair skin meant I was less beautiful, less than, and even pitied (you know, “thank God I’m not as pale as she is”). I could never be really pretty or desirable because my skin didn’t fit the definition of beautiful or cool or glamorous.
So when it came short and swimsuit season, I made the jokes first . . . before I had to endure another “white” jab. Get your sunglasses on; my legs are out. Let me blind you with my radiance.
The Skin You’re In
Nicole Kidman changed my perspective – totally not kidding, nor exaggerating. During some mindless pop news gorge, I caught an interview with Nicole, in which she related how she cared for her skin. I was totally stunned that she considered her skin beautiful—even coveted—and was determined to treat it well. Love the skin you’re in. She listed, to the delight of the interviewer and me, her skin regimen, including her dos and don’ts when spending time in the outdoors.
Here I was: A young women in her mid-20s, realizing for the first time that the entire world did not consider light skin color a negative. Awakened? Yes. Confused? Slightly. Ready to evolve my perspective? Yes . . . slowly.
As my age and experiences increased, I noticed skin color was an issue for a lot of women.
My Caucasian friends spent many weeks (and dollars) sun-bathing, visiting tanning salons, or spraying chemicals and rubbing lotions to alter their skin tone darker, darker, darker (hello, orange). My darker skinned friends pursued the coveted color –“not too dark”—going to great lengths to avoid sun exposure. I nearly fell in the floor when I learned my Chinese friend spent $2,000 per year on skin-lightening creams. Apparently, the best skin color to be is the shade you are not.
Dear, Dear Daughters
Now, no longer in my twenties and whole-heartedly embracing middle age, I have two daughters. I have two daughters with dark skin. I have two daughters with dark skin who live in a culture that doesn’t accept, let alone celebrate, dark skin well. (That is, unless you are actually light skin trying to be dark skin, and then that’s okay. It’s all really confusing and contradictory, right?) Bottom line? I want my daughters to be comfortable in the skin they are in.
So like any “good” transracial mother, I dive into books, blogs, and forums, discussing with others how best to navigate my transracial family through identity, race, and self-esteem seas.
I will wear shorts and bathing suits without a hint of embarrassment. I will not make jokes about my fair shade. I will use sunscreen and limit my direct sun exposure. I will wash, moisturize, and exfoliate. I will respond to others that comment about my skin with grace and tact, while communicating my acceptance of my color. I will thank God for His creativity. I will teach my daughters to do the same.
Celebrating these dark skinned babes of mine, who I love so through and through, taught me to embrace the skin I live in, to see my fair shade as beautiful. So hear it from the rooftops, er the gadget screen, (and I really mean it): I LOVE MY WHITE SKIN.