Five Beauty Tips For The Lightskinned And White Adjacent
Sorry, you don’t have a corner on natural beauty, you’re just closer to what’s conventional. (Read: whiteness, cisness, ablebodyness, etc.)
When I was 12, my mother moved away and told me and my brother that we were “too white to come.” She wanted a new start with her new husband and my half siblings, and we just didn’t fit in. “People ask too many questions,” she explained. “It’s just too confusing.” So instead of splitting our weeks between her home and our father’s — like we’d been doing for years — we stayed with him in New Jersey and she relocated her new black family to Massachusetts.
I ached for them, but I wasn’t mad. As a child of a black mother and a white father, I was already hyper aware of race and its sticky, complicated residue on my daily life. I understood that defending a multi-racial family was an annoying and relentless project, because people interrogated me daily. I desperately wanted to be free from the constant examinations — so I didn’t begrudge my mother or anyone else for wanting the same freedom.
I also knew that my stepfather, a former pro football player and stereotypically “scary-looking black guy,” might find it awkward at best and potentially dangerous at worst to go to the park with a blue-eyed beige girl with a stack of books under her arm.
It was the ‘90s, after all. A young black boy had been shot by police in our town, LA was still smoldering, and OJ was on trial for what felt like the future of Black America. It felt important to see a nuclear black family — even if I wasn’t allowed to be a part of it. I accepted my role as outsider and didn’t put up a fight.
But as time wore on, I began to notice something interesting. The very features that marked me as an outsider and alienated me from my own mother (light skin, long hair) turned out to make me appealing to men and successful in other settings. These were the features I was most deeply ashamed of, yet they afforded me the strongest social currency. Light eyes kept me from sleeping in my mother’s house, but it brought boys to my front yard. This was overwhelmingly confusing, but I was also very lucky to see my own privilege so clearly from such a young age.
Many years and much therapy later, I came to understand that while this particular clusterfuck of race and family dysfunction was unique, the larger dynamic was actually very common. Light-skinned womyn, especially mixed girls, have been held up as more beautiful than brown-skinned womyn for as long as white supremacy has existed — but you can’t be exalted without also being separated and divided. And that’s perhaps the most subtle genius of oppression: divide and conquer without ever getting your hands dirty because the oppressed will police themselves.
The features I was most deeply ashamed of afforded me the strongest social currency.
I’m no longer ashamed of how I look, but I am not obsessed with it either. I know that we — the lightskinned, the white passing, the acceptably exotic — have a responsibility to use our twisted slice of lightskinned privilege to put an end to the bullshit once and for all. But we also have a responsibility to ourselves to be more whole, more three dimensional, and more dynamic than just some long hair and light eyes. So here are some tips to help you do just that!
1. Contour Your Attitude
You are fly as fuck. You’re beautiful and smart and capable and you should walk around like you have oil wells pumping in your living room, like these fuckboys would be lucky to lick the bottom of your shoes. But it’s not because you’re redbone or high yellow or bright or “exotic” or whatever other bullshit these people have been filling your head with since you were that little girl with long plaits or perfect pin curls. Learn to feel beautiful in ways that don’t implicitly place you or your physical features atop a hierarchy, and that may not rely on your physical beauty at all.
Do: “I am a mothaf — n goddess come to earth to spread my goddamn magic all up in this bitch.”
Don’t: “Girls have to spend a lot of money to get their hair to look like mine—I’m fly as hell.”
2. Be AHighlighter
No goddamn sidekicks. Your dark-skinned friends are not your entourage or your permanent wing women. They are not here to emphasize your specialness (your caramel complexion, your long hair, your light eyes, etc.). You are not the reason why men approach your table. In fact, the nasty expression you get when your girl with the immaculate Alex Wek skin and low fade gets a free round of drinks is really not a good look for you. If you can’t fix your friend’s bra strap, tell her she’s killing it out here, and send her off onto the dance floor with a smack on the ass, then you’re a shitty friend. Be a highlighter, not a hater.
3. A Natural Glow
Wear makeup. Don’t wear makeup. Do whatever feels best for you. But please please please don’t parade around making a show of how you don’t need makeup. Honey, nobody on goddess’ green earth “needs” makeup to survive. But your unspoken assumption is that women only use makeup as a way to cover up or deceive, instead of enhance and express and explore. Sorry, you don’t have a corner on natural beauty, you are just closer to what’s conventional (read: whiteness, cisness, ablebodyness, etc.).
And maybe this is breaking all of the feminist self esteem/care rules, but can’t we just admit that we’re not really that cute? I mean, we aiight, but most of us are not Sade level fine and it doesn’t seem ridiculous to state the obvious. Right!? If we are not placing the burden of our self-worth and value on physical attractiveness anyway, it doesn’t seem so blasphemous.
In my case, I don’t see my features as particularly impressive on the beauty spectrum, but I also know why people (men) sometimes think so. So when some guy is feeding me lines about my face I can (1) take it with a grain of salt and (2) keep it moving. But you can’t do that if you’ve already constructed a mythology about your boundless beauty and look for evidence of that everywhere. Just saying.
Do: Whatever you want
Don’t: Stop other people from doing whatever they want
4. A Privilege Primer
One of the most important things you can do as a light-skinned or white adjacent womyn is to listen to the experiences of dark-skinned womyn. Being light-skinned is not without its own set of problems, and they are often hard to talk about. But know that the very things that keep us hyper-sexualized, objectified, and belittled are the same forces that keep others feeling ugly, unseen, and in danger. So be sensitive when talking about your own experiences and be aware of your privilege(s). Especially when they might sound like humble brags (“Omg, sooo many guys stopped to talk to me it’s just sooo annoying!”).
Do: Show up for dark-skinned womyn by giving them the opportunity to be heard, seen, and be vulnerable with you.
Don’t: Act like team light-skinned jokes are the worst thing that ever happened to you. Yes, they’re dumb and petty. But c’mon, so is Donald Trump and we don’t believe him either.
5. A Flawless Finish
And please, for the love of churro ice cream sandwiches, let dark-skinned womyn have their shine! When your Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr feed is suddenly taken over by beautiful people flexing their complexions, don’t “All Skintones Matters” the situation. Retweet, like, show love, and then respectfully stay out of it. Not every space is for you and that’s okay.
Feeling excluded sucks and can be painful, but exclusion isn’t always injustice.
In fact, there’s almost always something to learn from the experience when those with less privilege are the ones excluding you. Take a minute and examine what this brings up for you — and the parts of yourself that need more work. If my own mother can exclude me from my own family and I was still able to get valuable lessons from it — I’m sure you’ll be able to do the same from Twitter.