Story by Raissa Kyembo
As a black girl growing up in South Africa, I was constantly reminded by society that black wasn’t beautiful. People in the community believed that having light skin makes you beautiful. They made no secret of their dislike towards dark skin tones.
I was always outshined by light-skinned girls who were deemed prettier, cooler and more popular. Because of these reasons, I never really liked my skin colour. I thought that that there had been a mistake. That god had made a mistake.
School made things worse. I remember being bullied in primary school just because of my skin tone. People often made jokes about it. I became insecure about my skin colour to that point that I started hating it.
I started believing that I was ugly because society taught me that I was ugly. When I was around 12, I wanted the negative comments in school to stop. I remember thinking that if I ever become rich, I could buy bleaching products or get a plastic surgery so people would stop being so mean.
High School wasn’t much different either. Guys never paid attention to dark skinned girls. When they did pay attention to us, they mocked our skin tone and appearance. This too created a dent in my self-esteem.
Being photographed was a difficult experience. While most people were capturing their favourite moments, I was shying away from the camera. I hated it when people took pictures of me. I wasn’t pretty at all and I couldn’t understand why someone would click pictures of me. Whenever it was time to take photos, I would try to run away. When I learned about lighting, I stood in places where my skin appeared lighter.
One day when I was in college, I attended fashion week. I saw a dark skinned model who seemed so confident with her skin tone. She was beautiful, tall and seemed so self-assured. She was unapologetic about who she was and her skin colour. She owned the runaway. It was amazing to see someone who was darker than me, be so confident.
And that moment changed everything for me. I thought, ‘If she can do it, then why can’t I?’
This moment also made me realize I that I wasn’t alone in this situation. Society had made dark skin tones seem so unappealing. I decided that I would stop caring what it had to say about my appearance.
That’s when I started to fully embrace my skin tone. I am beautiful. And If I started believing it, then others would start seeing it too. I started building my confidence.
A few months later, a modelling scout suggested me to try out modelling. As a model, I was encouraged to try out bright colours by my makeup artist. I started experimenting with different colours. This boosted my confidence too.
Whenever society told me I couldn’t do something because I was black, I did it. It told me that I couldn’t wear bright clothes or makeup. I did it. Breaking society’s stereotypes made me more and more confident. My self-esteem rose every day.
With this confidence came the realization that so many other people have undergone the same experience. I wasn’t the only one who society had tried to convince that they were ugly just because they were dark.
I’ve also realized that god never makes mistakes. Right now, I love my skin complexion more and more every day. I still have a few insecurities towards it but I’ve never been so confident before. And I whole heartedly believe that black is beautiful.