By Zola Ndlovu
‘What three words would you use to describe yourself?’
The lighting is always perfect in hotel bathrooms. It’s hard to resist the temptation to take a selfie even though you know that the tiled wall in the background will give you away.
She arches a perfectly shaped eyebrow and bites her lip, ‘I’m quirky, individual and-‘
I think, but I don’t say it out loud.
I won’t remember most of her answers because I’m only half listening now. I’m thinking about how perfect she looks standing in front of that mirror, nervously smoothing down her perfect dress, resisting the urge to chew on her perfect fingernails. We’ll go through her interview questions; she’ll give a perfect response.
All she has to do is turn her pretty head a little bit to the right and she will see me staring at her. And on my face will be a mixture of awe, admiration and… something else.
The something else that is triggered by situations like a night at the pub. That guy’s girlfriend wouldn’t stop gushing about how pretty she looked, as if I wasn’t there. The something else that always came up when men risked whiplash just to get a second and third look at her. The something else that I felt in that moment when I marvelled at how it is that a human can have such perfect skin, with a perfect complexion, overlaying perfect cheekbones. What is that something else?
I know, but I dare not say that say that out loud. Instead, I’ll say we should take a selfie.
I don’t know when I started hating light skinned women. Sometime between having to decide whether I wanted to play first team hockey or be pretty (more than five hours a day in the sun every day will take your face to the dark side), and listening to observations about the virtues and vices of ‘yellow bones’.
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My friend Sybil says that being light skinned is a social currency. I think she’s right. In the economy that is black beauty, the light skinned ones are the goddesses – men flock to their temples to worship. Regular women either sit at their feet playing the role of the dark BFF, or stand in the courtyard hurling insults while the choir sings ‘Don’t hate me cause I’m beautiful.’
So there I was standing in this well-lit bathroom, staring at this goddess in front of me and realising that this envy thing was big and ugly and very much alive on the inside of me.
Because she was beautiful. And in her space I didn’t feel like I could be beautiful. The mirror, the bathroom, the world didn’t have room for my kind of beauty when she was around.
If you’re honest, you’ve felt the same way. You’ve hated going out with your friend to watch her hog everyone’s attention. You’ve struggled with loving her to bits but hating her at the same time. You’ve tried to make up for what you lack in looks by having a larger than life personality.
I’m not about to start another conversation about skin lightening cream, light skin privilege vs mnyamane discrimination. Countless blogs, newspapers and magazines have already done so.
I think it’s time we moved away from discussing this in ridiculous terms like ‘yellow bone’ and ‘red bone’ and got down to the real issue: Most women worship the idol of beauty that demands adherence to a false standard of beauty (and worth).
On the surface this results in women bleaching their skin and getting silicone implants. The deeper consequence is an inability to love yourself and to love others.
I hate light skinned women because I perceive them as having attained a status, reached a level, met a standard of beauty that I could never meet. They don’t have to try, they woke up like this. That makes me sad and resentful and yes, envious.
Pretty Girls and The Rest of Us.
There are two kinds of women reading this post: pretty girls and regular girls. The pretty girls are like my light skinned friend in the bathroom. You’re pretty all day every day, even without makeup, even after an all-nighter where you didn’t get a wink of sleep.
The regular girls on the other hand, are just that – regular. You have nothing that makes you exceptionally beautiful, and after an all-nighter you look like you’ve been run over by the Gautrain three times, followed by a convoy of gusheshes, after getting caught up in taxi war crossfire. As you should, because that’s what normal people look like after an all nighter!
Here’s what every pretty girl and every regular girl needs to realise: We’re all in the same boat. And guess what? It’s sinking.
Because this idol of beauty that we’re all worshipping is an illusion. It doesn’t matter whether you or other people think you’re closer to it (pretty) or far away from it (regular) because it’s a mirage.
The standard of beauty that you’re trying to reach is false.
One day when we’re old and we can barely make out each other’s faces beneath the creases on our skin we’ll know what truly matters. We’ll laugh at the foolishness of our youth and regret the time and money that we wasted on feeling insecure and envious and taking selfies…
‘What three words would you use to describe yourself?’
She’ll arch a still perfectly shaped eyebrow and bite her lip,
‘I’m quirky, individual and-‘
This time it’ll be different. Because although my vision has faded, the eyes of my heart have been opened and I finally see her clearly.
‘Beautiful. You are so beautiful.’
I’ll say it out loud.
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