Practical Ways to Change Your Language About Dark Skin

MP_Nina Shoot_032819-25.jpg
This picture that showcases some of my lovely melanin was taken by my friends over at Mallari Productions.

tldr: If we can be mindful of our passing comments regarding light and dark skin, we can then choose to be a part of the narrative to change what it means to have dark skin.

I was just a kid at the time and I was binge watching The Twilight Zone amid summer break. Back then summer vacation meant lounging in my ice cold basement and clicking through television stations with my brother. To stumble upon a marathon of The Twilight Zone was always a treat. Though I’ve watched countless shows over the years, The Twilight Zone remains a favorite of mine because the deeper messages it has taught me about life. But of all of the episodes I’ve watched over the years, one stood out to me the most- ‘The Eye of the Beholder’.

*SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD* You’ve been warned… 

The episode details the horrid tale of a woman who was plagued by her “ugliness”. Little children would cry when they saw her. It felt as though it was impossible for her to exist in society because of how ugly she was. Despite countless surgeries, she remained hideous. However, though she was plagued with ugliness from birth, this episode began with a sliver of  hope- she was getting another surgery.

The entire episode is intentionally filmed to avoid the faces of actors, including the woman receiving surgery. It is only at the end of the episode that the viewer sees the faces of people in her world; the people considered beautiful. The creators of the episode intentionally showed people who’s facial features distinctly differed from our society. I remember being horrified at what looked like pig snouts in place of noses and facial deformities that defined the “norm” of beauty. And the woman classified as ugly, who made children cry, would instead be considered gorgeous by our culture’s standards. The episode ends with screams of people crying over another failed surgery for this woman and my realization that this stunningly beautiful woman believed the lie that she was ugly because of how society defined beauty. Sound familiar?

Most people get it- the ways in which our society speak about having dark skin is not okay. The lack of representation of people of darker skin tones within Bollywood and media in general is frankly disturbing. Instead of seeing women of medium to darker skin tones being portrayed negatively, as touched on in “Why black people discriminate among ourselves: the toxic legacy of colorism“, we are absent in Bollywood. The void of women who look like me in the media communicates that people like me are not even worthy to be portrayed negatively. Darker Indian women are not to be seen as representative of what it means to be Indian, even a negative portrayal.

It sinks into our subconscious mind and teaches us what is beautiful. I think most rational people can all agree that this presentation of women of dark skin is insane. In fact, countless people expressed outrage over the appearance of the finalists for Miss India, confused as to how a country as diverse as India could somehow only have light skin women as finalists for a pageant queen.

In the same way that there are microaggressions across race, there are small ways in which we speak that perpetuate certain stereotypes and ideas surrounding what it means to have medium to dark skin tones. Ladies and gentlemen, we are counteracting years of Euro-centric culture and media. I don’t think that we’ll always be politically correct. But I’m writing this post because our language is important. It matters because the way we speak to each other has power; especially the comments we make in passing.

I’m creating this blog post for the people who want to “do better” but might not know how to do so. Because as much as I’d like to say that it’s only immoral people who say hurtful things, I’ve heard the statements below from an array of people. Some people who I respect and trust, others who I look up too. Colorism runs deep but I know we can do better. Below are some practical ways to change your language about dark skin and why it’s important. 

“I thought she was beautiful, not just because of her color.” 

“I thought she was beautiful” 

The problem with the above statement is in its construction. The use of the word “just” implies that by virtue of this person being a lighter skin tone, she might be pretty. And the issue with saying this is what it insinuates of people of a different skin tone. I get it, our brains have been fed images over and over again of women with ivory skin being described as beautiful. Maybe you feel deep down that this person may be pretty just because they have light skin but please be mindful of how saying this can be perceived by someone who doesn’t fit that ideal.

This brings into question- is it wrong to innately find light or dark skin attractive? I don’t think so. But when we speak we must be cognizant of the privilege of having light skin and accept that the norm is not that people love and appreciate both light and dark skin. The norm is instead glorifying light skin while shaming those who don’t fit that ideal. For that reason a passing comment of admiration of someone just because they are light skinned can come across as hurtful.

I can recall countless instances in which I would be confused and ask my mom why a certain person was also described as beautiful when they weren’t to me. The response was always something along the lines of how they actually really weren’t but they had light skin so naturally some people would find them beautiful just for that reason. This taught me that you might be pretty just for having light skin and maybe ugly just because you don’t. That’s an issue. Why can’t we find the beauty in both? Why can’t we praise both? Why can’t we see beyond the color of a person’s skin?

“Don’t stay out too much, you’ll get dark!”

“Put some sunscreen on before you go out into the sun so your skin is protected!” 

In all the years I’ve been told to not stay out in the sun or to avoid the sun, it has never been because my skin needed sunscreen or because of skin health. It was all because of the vanity of how I might look worse with dark skin. Hello, people- are you kidding me? Skin health is super important and totally disregarded. In fact, some people risk the health of their skin in attempts to bleach their skin to become when society deems beautiful. By telling our our daughters and nieces to stay inside to avoid tanning, we are communicating that how we look is more important than actually living our lives! I’ve seen people petrified of their skin tanning. People who would go to lengths to avoid the sun touching their face while sitting in a car or they would steer clear of standing outside for prolonged periods of time. It’s not just medium/dark women, I’ve seen women with light skin chained down by the expectations of having light skin and doing whatever it takes to maintain it. When we engage in this behavior we remained bound to fit this narrow ideal of what beautiful looks like and this is a reality for light and dark skin women alike.

“She would be so pretty, but she’s so dark”

“She is so pretty, all that melanin glows” 

You don’t need to qualify someone’s beauty. They’re not pretty for a dark girl, they’re just pretty. I would often hear my grandmother described as a dark beauty. But growing up I never felt the need to add “dark” to that compliment. Her almond eyes, defined nose and gentle smile were not beautiful despite her darkness. She was just beautiful. Period.

Someone recently commented on one of my videos in excitement about how my melanin was starting to show more because the sun was out. I never heard someone refer to my skin color that way. Why do we think that by being dark this somehow negates someone’s beauty? What if instead we saw it as something that’s actually beautiful about a person?

“We couldn’t understand why that gorgeous girl married such a dark-skinned guy.”

“We couldn’t understand what a gorgeous girl married a guy who didn’t think was so cute!” 

When you choose to use the word dark as synonymous with ugly or “less than”, that’s a problem. Why is that language normalized? What if I were to say- she’d be so pretty if she were not so toned and in shape? He’d look so much better if he wasn’t so confident and comfortable in his body. The way we chose to place the word “dark” in sentences teaches the meaning of that word to our future generations. Dark does not mean ugly and needs to stopped being used as a synonym for unattractive.

Closing Thoughts

The reality is that dark, medium and light skin are all beautiful. People were created by God with different skin tones for a reason. Instead of perpetuating the message that light skin is beautiful while dark skin is not, let’s empower fellow men and women to love themselves more. The alternative is chasing this one beauty ideal that leaves so many women feeling insecure.

I remember hearing as a kid how my father had the lightest skin out of all of his light skin siblings. This was a point of pride. But he was also described as foolish because he didn’t care for it and his ivory skinned darkened over the years to a now tan color. When I asked my dad about skin color, about why he married someone darker than him, like my mom, he explained that he thought brown skin was beautiful.

There are people willing to risk the health of their skin in order to fit into the mold of what society calls beautiful. Being honest, I’m not normally a fighter. I often grow tired of fighting the current of what society desires and part of me wants to just accept things as they are, conform and change my skin. But the reality is that I can’t change my skin to fit this mold. I refuse to bleach my skin to be just a shade lighter, to attempt to conform to the idea that being “fair” is lovely while still not even reaching that goal. I also don’t want to because I’m growing to love my skin- even when it tans in the sun.

My father’s attitude was confusing to me because he in many ways held power by naturally having light skin. He had something that other people desperately tried to get through bleaching and staying out of the sun. He threw away this status because he didn’t care for it. My hope is that all of us can be more mindful of the influence that our culture has on our perception of beauty. The woman from The Twilight Zone episode haunted me. It’s a radical choice to believe you’re beautiful in a society that tells you that you’re not. But you might just be right.

 

 

The Dress That Doesn’t Fit

55826927_2249938491885543_1433757055176409088_o

*See the original post on Instagram*

Fun fact: The dress I’m wearing here was thrifted for less than $30. It seemed like such a steal, it still had the tags on and was from Nordstrom. I bought in on a whim, assuming it would fit me. Another fun (or not so fun) fact, it doesn’t. It zips halfway and then meets the point of no return and lies open. The two halves of the zipper just decided that they refused to meet and the distance between them was too large to travel.

In the past, when I put on clothing, I felt as though it was my responsibility to fit in my clothes. That my body should change to meet the demands of changing fabric.

“When I lose weight, I’ll wear those pants”

“I’ll fit that dress after I start working out”

55842736_2249938475218878_3809530756263313408_o
Newsflash, I now eat (pretty) clean and workout regularly but as I tried my best to zip up this dress I realized that it just wouldn’t fit, that it may never fit. That my torso is the smallest part of my body. That it’s pretty much as small as it can get for me while still being healthy and that even if I lost more weight, my naturally medium frame would need to be smaller to fit that dress.

55869483_2249938478552211_1817309059322216448_o
So I decided to be okay with this dress not fitting. To be content with the fact that my bones and chest are broader than this dress is willing to wrap around. Instead of running after an unattainable and likely unhealthy perfect, I decided it’s okay for me to love my body even if it would never be a size 2 or 0. That maybe it means there’s just more of me to love.

The Truth About Solo Travel (London 2018)

39883148_2124956854383708_2805843679971901440_o

When I told my friend from church that I was traveling alone to London, her first reaction was, “Eat, Pray, Love!” To which I immediately responded, “No, not at all. I just want to explore.” The truth of the matter is that traveling alone is romanticized and although I think everyone should try it once in their life, there are lots of things to consider before, after and during a solo trip abroad. (If you’re interested in a vlog of my solo trip, watch this video from my YouTube channel.)

Here are some of my tips from traveling alone to England this past summer.

  • Plan, Plan, Plan

Then after all that planning, accept that there are some things you just can’t plan for. If you’re traveling alone, preparation is your friend. I took time to just watch endless videos of how to take the tube. Coming from NYC, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be, but I still got confused at times. If you get a little lost, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I planned by making sure I could use my phone abroad, packing a portable charger and travel charger. The little things can help a lot if you get stuck somewhere random at night and need to call an uber. I luckily did not have much trouble navigating around London.

  • Stay in a hostel

Even if you are the most introverted person, I think you’ll eventually want to talk to someone. That was one of the weirdest things to me about traveling alone, as an extrovert with heavy introvert tendencies, I thought I’d be fine. I constantly do things alone and enjoy my own company, but when traveling abroad I eventually became really lonely. There were times in which strangers would randomly start conversations with me and I felt so lucky to just have anyone to talk to. At the hostels I had people to talk to every night. I was able to recap my day and there were even people who offered to explore London with me or get a drink at the bar.

  • Bring a kindle or an art pad.

There are times in which I dined alone and was able to open up a book. Everyone should go to a fancy restaurant with a book to soak in the amazing comfort that good food and a nice read brings. Also, if you’re into art, this might be a good chance for you to practice your doodles and maybe even incorporate them into your journals.

  • Be safe

Here’s the reality of solo travel, it isn’t as safe as having someone with you. Don’t stay out too late on your own. (After 10pm?) I looked crazy to my friends but I had a whistle tied to my keys so that if anyone tried to attack me, I could make noise and hopefully protect myself a little. I didn’t need to use the whistle but it never hurts to be prepared.

  • Go in with the right mindset

I honestly got a little bummed while solo traveling. When recounting the experience to my counselor, she noted that sometimes the mindset we have changes our experience. Go in with the expectation of learning about yourself, try to explore more of who you are. There are so many benefits to solo travel. You can be selfish with you time and what you want to do and see. Enjoy that freedom and when you come back, take time to reflect on how you have grown from the experience of traveling alone.

By traveling alone I learned that I was capable of more than I thought I was. I had never been to Europe and was intimidated by the idea of visiting and going own. When I went back home, I felt accomplished and my sense of confidence in my own ability grew just little bit more.

Have you ever solo traveled before? If so, what tips do you have?

Is Ethical Shopping Just Too Expensive?

When I first started shopping ethically, I felt ashamed of any piece of fast fashion that I owned that wasn’t thrifted. Now that I have tried to dress ethically for a few months now, I realize that there are times when I’m okay with not buying something new ethically or thrifted. With my currently lifestyle, it isn’t always practical for me. But I can, at the very least, try my best to buy ethically whenever it’s possible. It’s actually more wasteful to just get rid of my old clothes than to actually try and reuse them in new and fun ways. The outfit below is mostly ethical and what’s kinda funny is that the ethical pieces were actually the huge bargains compared to the non-ethical pieces.

DSC06893

DSC06975

Top: Everlane (Ethical) $25 with a $10 off code, $15 with free shipping

Belt: Jcrew $20.70 (Similar, not Ethical)

Pants: Target (Thrifted, Ethical) $8.99

Coat: Burberry (Second-hand, Ethical) $208.51, Burberry Coats purchased new retail for around $1700 for fully cotton options. When I looked online, used Burberry coats normally cost around $400, mine was a steal! (Similar, Ethical)

Shoes: Marshalls (Similar, Expensive but Ethical)

 

Thank you for the awesome photos, Mallari Productions!

Why Your Cheap Shirt is not actually that Cheap

unnamed

We’ve all been there, heck I still do this from time to time because how can we resist it? We get a clothing item on a crazy sale and we can’t help but feel like it’s an accomplishment and before you know it you have a closet full of clothes you don’t even really want and somehow never have anything to wear.

I’m reminded of $5 tops from H&M and my beautiful wool blend jacket from the Banana Republic Factory that I got for around $20 with a sale and an educator discount. (Okay that last one was an accomplishment)

The problem with praising cheap clothing is that it can change the way we view our items. As someone who has been trying to take a step away from fast fashion I’m challenged to actually spend more money on my clothing for products that are made with care, higher quality materials and support the people who maker them better.

Now, I still enjoy the occasional crazy steal. Like my BCBG jumpsuit that I wear endlessly but got thrifted for $7! I’ve already worn it maybe 4 times since I got it around a month ago making the cost per wear already around $1-2. If I keep wearing it (as I’m sure I will-as long as it doesn’t rip), I can get the cost per wear down to less than a dollar.

(Below, the infamous jumpsuit)

Screen Shot 2018-08-23 at 6.53.30 PM.png

I think about this all the time I need something like a cold weather jacket. Do I pay more for a higher quality jacket that is warmer or get a cheaper one that will just barely do the job. If I choose the cheap but on sale light winter jacket that maybe cost $20 but will last me a year and maybe 15 wears, it costs me $1.30 per wear for a product that didn’t work as well as I needed it to. But instead if I spend a little more and buy from a company like Patagonia with a lifetime warranty (and is ethical!) I might spend $100 for a jacket on sale but it could last me maybe 5 years before I decide I’m tired of it, or even longer. If I wore it 15 times each year and wore it for 5 years that would be 75 wears and would end up costing $1.33, almost the same as the cost of cheap jacket but now I’m supporting an ethical company and getting a high quality product and not contributing to ecological waste.

The truth of the matter is that cheap clothing isn’t as cheap as we’d like to think it is and I’m learning that sales aren’t that great if the product you end up with is subpar.

What are your thoughts? Would you still buy that cheaper item in the moment? Is my logic flawed in some way? Let me know in the comments down below.

Thoughts on Keeping Up with The Joneses

 

To this day, I am shamed by my brother because of a letter I wrote back in high school. My Sunday School teacher at the time had challenged our class to write letters to God asking for things we really want. Sit back and watch how God provides.

I wrote a letter to God asking for Ugg boots and I got them.  But that isn’t the point. My middle/high-school self really struggled with keeping up the Joneses, a concept to read more about here. As an adult I need to remind myself that there is beauty to living in God’s unique provisions for our lives and living our lives for ourself, not impressing others.

There will never be enough “stuff” 

You would think that after my mom surprised me with Ugg boots that I would be thrilled and stop asking for such expensive items, and I was excited but just for some time. What kinda makes me laugh today is the fact that before seeing those boots on practically every girl at my school, I never thought they were pretty. I have my own adult version of that with Louis Vuitton bags. I used to cringe when I saw them but now look to them was adoration.

The ugg boots were great for a moment but then I wanted so low pants and a Juicy couture suit and an Ed Hardy shirt and the list goes on. I would drag my mom to the mall and try to find the cheapest shirt with Aeropostale written across the chest. I kept wanting and asking for things hoping these items would somehow buy me social acceptance. Luckily my mom never indulged any of my other requests. I couldn’t understand why other people could afford these things that I so badly wanted and didn’t understand that my parents were investing in other things that I couldn’t see. They gave money to our church, family members in need and visiting ministers. They could see that  the things I wanted weren’t necessary but I couldn’t at the time.

We can miss out on what’s better 

There is nothing wrong with material belongings but we can miss out on God’s unique provisions for our lives. If we stretch our budgets so thin to buy that purse that make us look a certain way- are we happy? I’m all for spending money on quality items but that decisions should be motivated by other reasons. Like buying from companies that are ethical or present high quality goods. Or because we like to express our own unique style, not because we want to present a certain image.

So if you’re like me and struggle with the need to keep with the Joneses, I challenge you and myself to look at our unique desires and ask ourselves why we really want an item. Is it self expression or is it self promotion? With that being said, I still have a pretty long Pinterest Wishlist board! But I hope that overtime it becomes more and more of what I personally desire.

She Gets It From Her Mama

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 10.27.09 PM.png

In honor of Mother’s Day I thought I would share six of the best things I have inherited from my mama. Not everything we learn from our parents is good and there is lots of room for growth in reflecting and changing, but I believe we are placed in certain homes for a reason and I feel so grateful for my mother. Whether we realize it or not, our parents have a huge influence on us and these are some of the ways my mom has impacted me for the better.

1.Don’t let others label you 

I was recounting a story to my mother about a friend’s birthday. Three of my friends attended together and didn’t know the rest of the people at the party. We left the dinner as a group and in passing I commented that it so surprising that all of the people at our friend’s party were so darn good looking. To which my friend replied, “yeah- what were we doing there?” It was a passing joke but it unearthed an insecurity I didn’t realize I had. I tried not think much about it and told my mom the story during one of our usual phone calls. In that moment she told me, “No, don’t let her label you.” And that’s something she has always taught me. Others may want to decide I’m “less than” for whatever reason but my mom has always made me feel like I am worth something.

Years ago in high school, my mom provided the same guidance to a friend of mine. This friend was heavier and we were talking about senior photos and she said something along the lines of how she didn’t want to take too many pictures and take up too much time and seemed insecure because of her weight. My mom told her that she should never be afraid to take up time. She should go there, dress up and take as many photos and she wanted to. My mom refused to think that something like weight should be the reason why she didn’t enjoy her senior photos.

2. Your opinion matters

For as long as I was able to speak, my mother has always asked me what I thought. Granted, she doesn’t always want to hear my opinion and has told me to shut it but whether she likes it or not 😉  she has fostered a natural desire in me to share my ideas. I have learned to speak up at church if something didn’t feel right. I have never entered a conversation feeling like I don’t have something of worth to contribute. In fact, I was so surprised to learn that many people don’t feel like they have something to share in groups settings. I have always learned the value of my thoughts. My mom has taught me that my ideas are worthwhile and often asks me for advice. I think because I was raised to believe I knew something, somewhere along the way I began to share ideas of worth. (Or at least I think they’re important!)

3.  Love those who love you 

Growing up, I naturally wanted to always be friends to with the popular people. My mom always stopped me and said- love those who love you. From that advice I have found the most loyal friends and never found myself trying to be friends with someone who didn’t care for me. I’ve never chased after friendships but instead look to the people who watch out for me.

4. Slow down. 

I am so impulsive. If I decide I’m angry at someone, I throw a fit. I want to thrown in the towel on something I’ve worked hard for. Again and again I’ve learned to wait before my big grand decisions and think through my decisions. I’ve learned the 24 hour rule before sending an angry letter. I am reminded again and again to be patient and slow down.

5. Never leave the house without a good lip color and some mascara 

Everyday, my mom wakes up at 5am. She does her makeup, put on her clothes that she has ironed and planned out a week in advance. She takes time slowly in the morning, enjoys breakfast and shows up early to work. I’m more of the type of person to wake up with 30 minutes to get ready when I really need an hour and rush out the door, making it to work with a minute to spare.

But regardless of our differing morning routines, one thing I’ve always learned from her is presenting myself well. I don’t always succeed and there are days I get lazy but I’ve never seen my momma out in public like a mess. She never let me go out without perfectly groomed hair and a cute outfit. Things went awry when I started dressing myself… But I still learned the basics of good style from her.

6. Trust in God 

I am a natural worry wart. I constantly share my concerns, to which my mom has always responded, trust in God. Will I be able to pay for _____? Trust in God. Will I get this job? Trust in God. Will everything work out? Trust in God. It’s hard to understand fully but this advice offers my natural worrying nature a feeling of peace. I can always trust in God.

I am so grateful for my mom! What lessons have you learned over the years? Comment down below. I hope you had an amazing mother’s day.