I am surprised whenever I see a picture or video of myself with other people; in contrast to everyone else I look so dark.
The darkness of my complexion is not an issue that constantly occupied my consciousness for the past 5 or so years. The first time I remember being aware of my skin was when I was 12 looking into a mirror and realising how beautiful my blemish/pimple free skin was. During my high school years my skin went haywire, the regular breakouts and allergies to every substance under the sun, at my lowest point I was reduced to bathing with aqueous cream instead of soap.
Throughout high school I obsessed over my complexion and weight, I was skinny and dark and I really couldn’t imagine anything worse.
When I was 16 I read an article in True Love about a woman who had been ‘Blacky’ when she was younger and had hated her colour but as an adult had embraced her it and hoped her children would also be dark like her.
At the time the article seemed more like science fiction literature to me, I had endured several nicknames because of my skin and I would have loved nothing more than to wake up in a light skinned curvaceous body.
After my high school my skin cleared and my body filled out a bit more and I felt that finally I had arrived. This was at the peak of Joelle Kayembe’s career, the beautiful Congolese model that also happened to have dark skin among other things.
At that point in my life I realised the importance of confidence, my colour was certainly not going anywhere (safely anyway) so I quickly accepted it and feel in love with it, as my inner confidence grew I became more attractive.
“You’re beautiful but dark.”
This statement really annoys me and I always point out to people who say it to me that I’m beautiful because I’m dark. To perfect my look I learnt that predominately black magazines tended to feature real women and gave great fashion and makeup advice to women with dark skin (hint ladies: purple eye shadow gets you everywhere).
In my first 2 years in varsity my makeup was always on point and I even walked around with the essential elements in my handbag. This used to make me feel so confident but to stop makeup from becoming an emotional crutch I introduced No Makeup Fridays, to my surprise I got more compliments on the days I had no makeup.
Recently I have realised that my skin is a badge of my ‘foreignness’ and that most people are convinced that I am from some exotic African country and tend to be a bit disappointed when I say I am from Zimbabwe. I have had several Zimbabwean ask me where I was from. A Malawian thought I was his home girl and most people cheerfully shout bonjour. I usually just laugh it off I mean do people really expect a whole nation to look the same.
I would say that for me the evolution of my body image has led me to realise the political issues that surround the ownership of women’s bodies.
My dark complexion somehow convinces people, strangely, that I represent the epitome of ‘Africaness’. I can’t tell you how sick I am of people telling me that I am the true African beauty or an African queen and then stand there expecting me to fall at their feet with undying gratitude.
My Africaness to me has everything to with my heritage and culture and very little if anything to do with my complexion, my mother is a light skinned individual so how on earth my darker shade makes me somehow more African certainly escapes me.
So what are my political opinions about my body, well firstly I reserve the right to modify it in any way, this includes hair chemicals, skin lighteners, piercings and tattoos for the simple reason that it’s my body. I will not allow it to become a glorified, exoticised and idealised symbol of a whole continent.
While I do love most of my body most of the time I’ll admit I’m on stretch mark alert and I have been known to vigilantly rub myself with bio-oil on suspect sites.
By the way I am keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be blessed enough to give birth a mini-me dark skin and everything.