By Wazi Kunene
Definitions of statements and words change as time passes – just like the term beauty. How it was defined centuries ago is certainly not the same today. In the early years before South Africa became colonised by Europeans, black skinned women with light and dark complexions were seen as gorgeous and compared to all beauties of nature. Beauty was, as today, the body and the face and not much has changed today, but the wheel has taken a turn and now beauty has a ‘skin colour’.
Nolizwe Nzuzo, a 16-year-old black high school girl, says she is more conscious about the shade of her skin then her mother was at her age. “Being light skinned is hectic, I have a constant fear that I will one day lose it and I do not want be ugly”, she said. Umbrellas are no longer just to protect her from rain but help her maintain her shade of skin and protect it from the sun whilst she walks a long distance to and from school. She said, “before people tell you are ugly you and compare you to a burnt bottom of an African pot, you know it because mirrors exist and there are always two sides to a coin, if there is pretty there is ugly”. She explains that thin dark girls do not even have it better, boys do not recognise them and to be invisible and not taken seriously because of your shade of skin is not so glamorous. This is where the business of face creams begins, to be noticed and to have a ‘fair and beautiful’ skin. Most girls use face creams to look like the girls portrayed by our media as beautiful, but truth be told the girls in the magazines are faultless and are dominantly light skinned.
That is what represents beauty today. Face creams are made so that if you happen to have the ‘misfortune’ of being dark skinned you can rub it away. Even dark skinned boys prefer light skinned girls. Nolizwe says skin colour has been a problem since she was a young girl, she is lighter than her older sister and they do not get the same treatment when they walk around their neighbourhood or around town. Boys always whistle at her even though her sister is curvier. She found it easy to make friends not because she had a bubbly personality but because other children at school thought she was lucky because she had such light skin. They thought she was gorgeous and she always blushed until she knew what they had meant all this time, she was not too black and that made her lucky.
Dark skin is seen as negative just like what the colour black symbolises and ugliness has been made the core aspect of dark skin. Londiwe Ngxeko, a second year BA student says her self esteem is bruised every day she lays her eyes on the mirror. “It does not resemble what I know of myself, but what society believes of my reflection. I was born beautiful but deluded to feel ugly.”
While some people feel negative about their dark skin some learn to embrace their unique beauty and accept it. Just like Ntendeni Lurhengo a first year Journalism student agrees that she has once wished she was lighter when she was younger because that was what beauty meant to her and she felt inferior to other lighter kids her age, but it came to an end when she came to realise that she is a strong beautiful woman and who happened to have dark skin.
Some black complexions are said to be inadequate and lack the true essence of blackness and some opposite namely too black because of their dark skin. But how did we get here in the first place?
Rod Amner a Journalism and Media Studies lecturer explains that it comes from the history of this country. He says “people have embedded racism and inflicted it on themselves”. He further explains that colonisation was in the basis of dominating, showing superiority and power. White people oppressed black people to a point that they too have learnt to oppress those different to them. Similar to the issue of the xenophobic attacks, people said foreigners were ‘too black to be South African’.
White women were seen as more beautiful than black women which justifies the way black women see light skin as a privilege. The impact of the media weighs in heavily in this topic, and “no one is brave enough to stop it”, says Amner. There are technical problems in perfectly reflecting pictures of dark skinned people but it is not an excuse because we have advanced technology today, and we cannot compare to other African countries because we experienced apartheid, what we are going through now is because of South Africa’s unique context.
The male gaze also contributes to this matter. As women want attention from men and men fall victims to the programming that beauty resides in light skin. Amner says that the issue of complexion is not divorced from racism, and that, “racism is deep centred.”
We may not believe it but on the science side, there are six genes that control skin colour and we all have the same ones. The fact that we look different does not mean we are. Skin colour is a ridiculous battle and the history that brought us to this point might have bruised our mentality, but we need to change it.
The face of beauty comes in various forms, they don’t glow in the same way but they do have one thing in common, they are all beautiful. If you wonder or wish to know what beauty looks like ladies, you should turn to the mirror and you will see it.