Has your Gran ever said your skin is too dark ?

Sundays are reserved for family strictly.

If I even had the slightest thought of spending a cherished Sunday with anyone else but family, I’d probably end up decapitated from the family unit and excluded from the inheritance. However, in the Samsodien household, which is my mother’s maiden surname, the eating commenced where aunties and uncles consumed large quantities of food from the gigantic pots they were prepared in. When the masses were stuffed I was commissioned to clear the dirty dishes, rather resentfully and with my auntie’s baby hanging from my hip I cleared the table.

From the head of the table, while piling dirty dishes on my free hand, I hear the most vile, most heinous comment ever to be directed towards me and it came from my Ma.

She said:
Jy raak nogal mooi, want jy raak ligter” -“You are actually getting prettier, as you are getting lighter”

‘Why would someone in 2015 even say this?’ I asked myself. I looked at her with the side-eye and rebutted with:

“So if I had been born in a darker hue, I would have been considered ugly by Ma?”

And of course she did not understand a word I had just said as Afrikaans is her mother tongue, I still however retained my moment and walked away dramatically, plates in one hand and baby in the other who remained completely unphased by what had just took place.

Upon musing in the aftermath of the heinous remark, I came to the conclusion that the statement made by my grandmother wasn’t meant to contain any malice. As her and many people like her are merely a product of their time, where the lightness of the skin of a black individual meant privilege and therefore automatically equated to beauty. Sadly the global beauty industry community tends to believe this notion as well, where they tend to use whiteness as a measure for all people including those who aren’t white. For example, in many advertisements for beauty products particularly anti-aging creams (which I highly doubt prevents you from ageing) a Caucasian woman is usually used as the spokesperson and speaks of the product having : ‘magical wrinkle remover’, ‘exclusive extracts’ and ‘holy oil’.

The scientific discourse employed in these types of advertisements be it print or television, tells the unsuspecting reader that whiteness is the ideal to strive for as it is ‘scientifically proven’ by the jargon used.

I then thought that my beloved nation of South Africa would never let the ‘white measuring stick of beauty’ happen especially considering our turbulent past and the fact that most people living in the country are black… OH HOW WRONG I WAS. Most of the magazines in print in South Africa almost always have white models /celebrities /socialites on the covers, and I find this very problematic in a predominantly black country. The main issue I have with this is that little black girls and boys all over the nation have no one in the media to look up to who looks like them, and as little children they are very susceptible to information and images they see in the media. If white images of beauty are the only ones seen in the media they already are developing notions of self-hate and inferiority as they physically, can and will never measure up to the ‘white measuring stick of beauty’ (which is plastered everywhere – just Google beauty advertisements ! ) due to the darker hue of their skin.

However despite this, we are living in exciting times here in sunny South Africa and the black role model in media is increasing. Beautiful strong empowered black women and men are now seen gracing covers of magazines such as: Cosmopolitan, GQ, Elle, Maxim, Seventeen and many other international publications like this. Due to this I will be compiling top five list South African celebs who are making their mark in the entertainment industry.

5. Nomuzi Mabena
4. Boity Thulo
3. Pearl Thusi
2. Maps Maponyane
1. Bonang Matheba

Sanger, N. 2008. ‘There’s got to be a man in there’: reading intersections between gender, race and sexuality in South African magazines. African Identities. 6(3): 275–291.


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