Miriam @ 'School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play' - ashamed of my skin tone

What’s it about?

A group of “best friends” living in Ghana enter a beauty pageant. Secrets and betrayal expose society’s pressure to be “beautiful.”

My experience.

It has been a long time since I’ve been to a show and, in all honesty, I feel like I’ve forgotten how to write about my experience. Going to see this beautiful show with an all-people-of-color cast, I was affected by the characters’ experience of shame. Girls on the verge of becoming women were being taught by the media to hate themselves because they weren’t “white enough,” because their hair wasn’t slick as water, because they weren’t tall enough, because they weren’t skinny enough. Why do these illogical burdens of beauty have to exist?

My friends tell me that I’m lucky to be light-skinned. Even though that may be true in terms of my own safety among white people, my skin tone often excludes me from my own Mexican community. At the vulnerable age of five, people asked my mother, “Is she really your daughter? But she’s so white!” I began to feel ashamed of my skin tone.

I used to wish that I looked more indigenous so that when I told people I was Mexican, they would believe me without a doubt. Instead, I would hear, “Really? Are you mixed?” “No. I’m just Mexican. My parents literally immigrated from Mexico.” And still their faces would look as if they weren’t convinced. Not until they actually heard me speak in Spanish or met my beautiful Mexican mother.

I remember doing compras with my family in Mexico and a tall woman with light skin and light eyes walked past us.

“Oh, she’s beautiful! She must be from ____ place in Mexico, that’s where all the beautiful woman come from.”

“What makes them beautiful?” I asked.

“Well, women from there all have light eyes and long hair, are tall and their skin is fair.”

I paused for a moment, almost accepting this answer. But, as the picture formed in my head, I realized that it was an impossible image of beauty for Mexicans to follow, especially when most of my family members are short, have dark eyes and dark hair. Mainstream beauty allows no leeway for any real human and I can’t allow this “reality” to continue to exist. There are numerous girls and women harming themselves attempting to fit these standards.

In the show, Paulina uses whitening cream so often that her face blisters and she ends up hospitalized. I have friends that come from all over the world. We all have different backgrounds and grew up to have different passions. When I’m with them I soak in their beauty. I stare at them in silence and tell them, “You’re beautiful.”

They stare back at me and their eyes brighten, their lips edging up the borders of their face, their cheeks beginning to blush.

“Thank you.”

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