I can remember a moment in my childhood when I sat looking at a photo of a fairer family member and wishing my skin had turned out lighter like theirs. I remember asking God to please please please make my skin whiter so I could be more beautiful. Which begs the question, where did I get the idea that my brown skin made me less beautiful?
It certainly didn’t come from my parents, who I knew thought I was beautiful. In fact, nobody ever told me my brown skin wasn’t beautiful. But that message didn’t pop into my head out of nowhere.
I recently watched a video of young children being given the choice of playing with either a white doll or a black doll. Every child, including the black children, picked the white doll. Even after saying they knew which doll looked more like them, the black children still said they’d prefer the white doll because the black doll was “ugly”, “bad” and “mean”. Once again, I wonder how many of these children had actually been told that their skin colour was ugly. They don’t have to be told explicitly because the message is still coming from somewhere.
My two-year-old has only just started becoming interested in movies. She has taken a liking to Frozen and is requesting to watch it most days. I think it’s a fantastic movie. I love that there are themes of sisterhood and self-acceptance and that the princess is the hero in the end. But there is one thing that frustrates me, and that is the complete lack of ethnic diversity. I think I spotted one brown face for a split second in the castle’s ballroom. And thaaaat is it. I mean, come on. What excuse could there possibly be for creating a children’s movie with literally no characters of colour?! The movie is set in a fake kingdom with trolls, a talking snowman and a queen with magical powers of ice. Why can we include all these imaginary things and yet exclude people who look like my daughters from this made-up fantasy world? Even in movies like Lilo and Stitch, The Princess and the Frog and Pocahontas, you will not find the reverse to be true. You will not be pressing the rewind button thinking that maybe for one twentieth of a second you saw a white face hiding in the crowd somewhere.
Another thing my two-year-old really enjoys is playing with baby dolls. So, imagine my frustration when I popped into Farmers before Christmas to buy one for her as a gift, only to discover rows and rows of dolls that looked exactly the same. Blonde and blue eyed. Obviously, I have no issue with selling dolls that look like this, but why ONLY this?! Maybe Farmers would like to explain to my daughters why they choose not to sell dolls that look like them in their stores.
So this I believe, is (to some extent) where the message is coming from. Nobody has to explicitly tell a child their skin colour is ugly and too different, because the message is all around us. Our children are being bombarded with images of pretty girls who, for the most part, look the same.
And yes, they notice. Children are much more observant than we give them credit for. They may not understand concepts like race, they may not be able to voice it, but absolutely they’re taking it on board. They’re noticing what is being upheld as the standard of beauty by society and the people around them. They’re observing what is considered “normal”.
In all likelihood you, as an adult, have not noticed it either. It is only once you become aware of it and actually make the decision to notice it, that you’ll see it everywhere. TV, movies, toy stores, books, magazines, advertisements. As a mother this worries me a great deal and I’m becoming more and more conscious of the standards of beauty my children are exposed to.
We are a wonderful mixture of colours in my family. One of my daughters is a throwback to her grandfathers and has inherited their fairer skin. The other is much darker in her skin colour, hair and eyes. People comment on it all the time and whilst I don’t mind them doing so, I want my daughters to know it’s not weird. I want my eldest to know it’s not weird that her parents are darker than her and I want my youngest to know it’s not weird that her sister is fairer than her. I want them to know that families can be made up of many different colours and every one is fabulous.
If there is one thing I want for my children it is that they’re happy and confident in their own skin. I can’t demand that Disney includes more diversity in their movies, I can’t demand that Farmers includes more diversity in their toy range, but I can educate my daughters and lift them up. There is no one colour that is more beautiful than the others, no matter what anybody says (or doesn’t say).
This story originally appeared on Raising Queens.