Wednesday, 5 March 2014

DARK and PROUD




Via Instagram, Lupita Nyong'o and her stylist Micaela Erlanger posted this mash-up of the red-carpet dresses she accessorised with her exquisite bone structure, gorgeous complexion, and glamorous presence.

Miss Lupita Nyong'o, Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the 86th Academy Awards, is the current darling of the press and the latest fashion icon. Beneath her unassuming confidence though was once a young girl who felt 'unbeautiful' when taunted and teased about her 'night-shaded skin'.

In her acceptance speech for Best Breakthrough Performance at the 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon hosted by Essence magazine, she spoke of her "...one prayer to God...[was] that I would wake up lighter-skinned." Her prayer wasn't answered; instead, Alek Wek walked into her life.


Alek Wek, the South Sudanese-born British supermodel

"When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny,” says Lupita. In a world--not just in an industry--where lighter skin is the standard by which conventional beauty is measured, to see a black woman celebrated for her beauty, and whom she can physically identify with, was a confidence booster. Lupita realised that beauty was something she just had to be.


Miss Brown
Lupita's prayer resonated with me. 

My natural skin tone is typical of Austronesian peoples' complexion which is light brown that turns deep with sun exposure. I have black hair, dark brown eyes, and a skin colour called kayumangging-kaligatan (think Nicole Scherzinger's natural colour with a layer of self-tanning spray, or Filipino actress and TV presenter Angel Aquino's) by the Tagalogs. At my darkest when I was little, I could turn 'black and blue' as I was once described. Being compared to a bruise was bad enough, but being called names for having dark skin was worse.

Due to our colonial historical background (the Philippines was a Spanish colony for 330 years and the Americans came in the late 19th century), settlements and inter-marriages produced mestizo (mixed race) offspring whose European features (i.e. lighter skin, light brown hair and eyes, and more angular face) became aspirational. Owing to my father's more Indo-Malay genes, I am, simply put, the opposite of a mestiza.

5-year-old me


Growing up in a small town where mestizos and mestizas are preferred, I had my own share of Lupita moments when I was taunted by schoolmates, or generally by other kids. I've been called 'ngetem' which was some sort of a colloquial derivative of the Filipino word 'maitim' which means black. I was called 'nognog' which is a local derivative form of Negro. 


My grandmother--bless her--used to scrub my skin with pumice when giving me a bath. She scrubbed so hard until my skin was sore. It stung. I asked, is this what darker skinned people have to go through in the name of fairer skin? I went in the bath brown. I came out brown. The water that pooled around my feet never turned brown.

I was told not to wear black as I blended with the colour. I was told not to wear white as my dark skin was emphasised. I was told not to wear brown as the clothing was almost like my skin. Should I expose more skin then? No. It's apparently unsightly to see dark elbows, dark knees, darker than a light-skinned person's underarms, and would you believe it: dark feet.

'Ngetem' or 'nognog' are probably not as derogatory and racist as the 'N' word, but for whatever purpose and intention, those words are all meant to deliberately hurt a person.



The Colour Brown
I found some relief in leaving the small town and its mentality when my family moved to the capital Manila. I went to an all-girls school where occasionally, my classmates and I would harmlessly poke fun at each other's features. The previous name calling left me very self-conscious though, so I was sensitive to any reference to my skin colour. But I didn't want to be the onion-skinned former small barrio lass who couldn't take a city girl banter, so I disguised my insecurity by being self-deprecating while secretly wishing to have my mestiza classmates' skin.


When something is deeply ingrained in you, it's difficult to depart from what you've been conditioned to believe in. So I used whitening soap and cream on my face, and lotion on my body, especially on my knees and elbows. Had I managed to access whitening pills, I could have popped them like I would M&Ms. My skin ended up dry, scaly, waxy, and photosensitive, but I'd much rather endure that than visit my hometown in all my brown-ness. It didn't help that I have some mestiza cousins, so I was avoiding the comparison at all cost.



 In some parts of Asia, brown, or dark skin for that matter, is associated with the poorer ilk, being common, roughness, unattractiveness, and impurity. I don't believe I'm any of these, nor the other darker-skinned people I know, but how easy is it to brand a person as such based on the colour of their skin?



My Own Alek Wek
No, she's not black. She's not brown either. She's a mestiza from an affluent political family in the Philippines. She was an 'It' girl in her younger years, then a TV presenter, and a Pilates expert. I admired her most though for being my teacher in a subject called Philippine Literature in English. She comes to class wearing Grecian style blouses and midi skirts and stacked heels of the same style in various colours. When she asks us to write short essays on a certain literary topic, she goes around the room and stops behind you or next to you to read what you have written. She stopped by my chair once and I caught a whiff of her perfume that now reminds me of Jour d'Herm├Ęs.

Needless to say, I wanted to be like her. Sophisticated. Beautiful. Intelligent. Eloquent. Light-skinned.


My former literature teacher

At the beginning of the school year, I was sat at the front of the class. She made the usual inroduction. I was gawking, as my teacher was a celebrity. I thought my heart stopped when she came up to me, lightly touched my forearm, and said, "I loooovvee your skin tone." 

I was 13, very awkward, unsure, and insecure. She didn't tell me I was beautiful. But her complimentary words made me feel I was.

Sometimes, it takes just one person or one gesture of appreciation to make or break another's confidence and self-esteem. She didn't change my life. But her kind words made me change the way I looked at myself.

Thank you, Ms R.



In my 30s. The middle photo shows that it's not easy to break free from a cultural conditioning that Caucasian features are always more attractive. I wore hazel contact lenses here. I shall not do that again.

Whether you're black, white, brown, Asian, Oriental (I heard that in some parts of America, to be identified as Oriental is offensive. I am originally from the Orient side of the world, thus I am Oriental. Is there a problem with that?), there will always be someone somewhere who will be prejudiced against somebody's dark skin colour. I still wouldn't have mine in any other shade.

I am dark.

And I am proud.









17 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. For once, I'm speechless because you're speechless. Hahahaha. Thanks :)

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  2. Wowowow... where to start? Well, first of all, you look super beautiful! It's tough to read what you have had to endure due to your skin colour but it's also reassuring that you have grown through this experience and can look back at it from a distance while loving and accepting yourself the way you are. I can totally relate to what it is like growing up being different from other children, as I have lived through this myself. I have always had quite pale skin and my ambition as a teenager was to be tanned! I would go three times a week to the tanning studio! I even used tanning cream at some point. But then also at some point, I just let go of this obsession and just accepted myself. I think that I once ran into Alek Wek in London; I am pretty sure it was her!

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    1. We had opposite ambitions! Haha. It's amazing what cultural and social conditioning do to children's image of themselves. I now use tanning spray/lotion to 'recreate' my natural dusky colour. European weather turns me pale. I'll never ever use a tanning bed though. It's good that you only used lotions and creams. Thanks for your compliment, Anouka :)

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  3. Wow! Incredible piece of writing. I'm so sorry you were made to feel like that about yourself. It's not right.

    I'm continually amazed by human being's ability to focus on things that really don't matter, like skin colour, and then use these unimportant things as a stick with which to beat each other up.

    You're a very beautiful woman. I'm glad you realise it now. x

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    1. Thank you (I wish I know your name) ! Funny thing is, when I get darker in summer, I still worry sometimes that I'm getting too dark. How stupid is that? One consolation is I don't peel. I just turn grey. Haha. Thanks for dropping by x

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  4. Holy mother, this post left me speechless (figuratively speaking of course)
    This was such a heartfelt post, I really don't know what to say except that I'm glad that you've overcome your insecurities. Insecurities that no one should ever have to deal with, especially from such a young age and from people you were so close to. Of course I don't know you personally but I'm extremely happy that you've shared your story on your blog :) Lots of love coming your way xoxo

    Hayfa
    www.londonloafers.com

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    Replies
    1. Aw, thanks Hayfa. And thank you for your lovely comment. Have a lovely weekend x

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  5. I replied to your comment on my blog and then I realised that you might not check back and see my reply lol! So either way, the ring on my index finger is from H&M, and on my ring finger, they're from Sole Society ! :) They're all meant to be "midi" rings but I have teeny tiny fingers so they fit me like normal rings :)

    Hayfa
    www.londonloafers.com

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  6. It's so interesting to hear about other's experiences. I know from my own to put it nicely, it was immensely tough growing up because both of my parents are of mixed race. But, through support of family and love we always have gotten through it, and educated people about it. Because it's really the ignorance of others, how they were taught, and their lack of culture where most of this discrimination stems from. And, think about how outrageous it really is when you break it down: not liking someone because of the colour of their skin? Thanks for sharing this post. You're a beautiful soul!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your beautiful words Madison. It takes timre to educate people, and even with that, there's still that deep-seated prejudice, sadly. I'm very flattered and humbled by your last compliment. Thank you! Have a lovely week x

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  7. Wow! What a beautiful piece of writing babes. I'm quite fortunate in this respect; I've never been abused/bullied because of my colour despite being a significant minority in my school and touchwood I don't think I have experienced any prejudice but I know it goes on. Given that i've never had a negative experience because of my colour I've always been one to embrace it, more so as I got older and more sensible. My cousin on the other hand had a rough time at school and this has had an impact on her.

    When I was younger I used to rub lemon juice on my knees and elbows to try and lighten them, not because people teased me about it but because I felt they looked unsightly. I wanted to use the lightening cream but I was too scared. If I'm honest if there was a cream guaranteed not to cause side effects but that would lighten those areas I would try it; I don' have a hang up as such about my elbows and knees but there is definitely room for improvement, mine are particularly dark.

    It was really interesting to read your experience in the bath tub - that was quite touching in a sad and pitiful way.

    Girl, can I swear on your blog though - that picture of you in the 29 top.......OMG xx

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Colleen!

      I guess the saddest part of bullying is when it comes from your own people. After that, I have never been ridiculed for being dark-skinned. Funny thing is, when I visited years ago, I saw those kids, and they were trying to befriend me, but I couldn't be bothered.

      Hahaha...the lemon juice ritual. I also did that. It really is an all-around ingredient. I wonder why Lakeland doesn't swear by it.

      I told my mum about all these when I was older, and she laughed about it. She just couldn't believe how her own mother could be so backward thinking. Culture has a lot to do with it, of course.

      Oh thank you for your last comment! I wish I can bring back that period just for a day. Hahaha. Have a lovely week x

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  8. Like Hayfa above, I'm speechless. It's a real heartfelt piece of writing, but it makes me kind of mad. I always get really pissed when I hear such stories, yours and Lupita's. Because everything you went through is based on prejudice - other people's prejudice. I can't relate to you since I'm white as a person can be and I live in a completely white community, but I can tell you that it has never crossed my mind that there's anything wrong with not being white so I don't get how some people can think a person's skin color is in any way important. I wasn't brought up like that. I was told to chew with my mouth closed, to respect people older than me, not to point my finger and to be loving and accepting, of myself and of others. And I'm really mad that not everybody gets that same upbringing because it would make for a lot nicer world.

    And one more thing. Lupita's gorgeous, Alek Wek is gorgeous and you are definitely gorgeous. You look so frigging sassy in that first shot and the last three ... Well ... You look like a movie star, babe, a total glamourpuss.

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  9. Well I am speechless by all your lovely comments here. The prejudice has a lot to do with colonial mentality, although I don't know how it is in other countries of dark-skinned people that were conquered by white Europeans during the colonial race. I'm really pissed off too when I still hear of stories similar to mine. I mean, really, nowadays? I did a reversed psychology and went darkest as I can possibly get. Thank you for your compliments. Really appreciate them :)

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Thank you for reading. Your turn; let me know your thoughts :)

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