“I want to be bright!”

During a study group session one day with two classmates (both black women who had children), our discussion turned to white aesthetics. Not unusual as we were all essentially Sociology majors within our interdisciplinary department.

My one friend tells me how her daughter, after the first day of kindergarten, came home and said to her, “Mommy, I want to be bright!”

Naturally she said, “Baby, of course you are going to be bright. You’re already so bright. I’m sure you’ll be the smartest girl in class.” Then her daughter corrected her, “Nooooo mommyyyyy… I want to be BRIGHT. Like the pretty girls at school with the light skin and the smooth hair!”

How would you feel hearing your five or six-year old daughter say something like this?

This is the world we live in. History and law books were established and written by privileged white men, and therefore standards of female beauty set by the pure and virtuous white woman- the object of the privileged white man’s affection. Think Lillian Gish (ahem, The Birth of a Nation!), Barbie (does it get any more normalizing/indoctrinating than Barbie?!), Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson, Gisele Bundchen, etc.

[Hence, why Bill Maher says something to the effect of, “That’s why you didn’t get that lead role in Titanic!,” to Kerry Washington at the end of this clip, though it’s cut off]

I may not be a black woman, but I am “other,” and I’ve fought my own battles against the overwhelmingly “white” standard of beauty. Growing up I was often called “exotic.” Not pretty, not ugly, but “exotic;” In other words, different, unusual, “other.”

Do you know about the growing popularity of the eye surgery to make Asian women look more “Western“? Do you know about Renee Rogers, an American Airlines employee who wasn’t permitted to wear her hair in braids while at work? (they asked her to pull it back in a bun and wear a “hairpiece” over it….) This also brings to mind the Chris Rock movie, Good Hair, a documentary set into motion by his daughter asking him, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair…?”

I will now refer you to this awesome critique and compilation of images via “beautyredefined.net.”

*Editor’s note: This article now contains [an addendum]


  1. wow, sounds like the story of my life till recently. i’m a young black female whom is transracially adopted, my folks along the rest of my family are white. all my life i always wanted to have white or even just lighter skin. my image growing up of “gorgeous” “hot” or “sexy” was a white girl with a black or red aline bob. so, naturally when i looked in the mirror i was not so pleased with what i saw. the fact that i got teased relentlessly in grammar school because of the color of my skin didn’t help one bit. and surprisingly enough, the black kids were just as mean, if not meaner then the white ones. i got asked on a regular basis if my mother forgot me in the oven when i was a baby or if i got lost in the dark. i now, am secure with myself and can make jokes about these things. but, as a little girl i most certainly did shed many tears over it. you would think that in the year 2012- well it’s nearly 2013 now that we wouldn’t have these absurd ideas of what “good hair” or “good skin” really are. and what’s even more absurd is that in my experience, my generation the, 20somethings are even more racist within our own race then white vs black. even when you’re black, the lighter your skin, the prettier you are, well, in some people’s eyes anyway. my fiance on the other hand likes his chocolate dark. i do hope that one day young girls of color will grow up knowing black, no matter what shade, is beautiful. i know that when i have kids, my girls will.

  2. Donye, I sure do feel for you having grown up with those kinds of ATROCIOUSLY NASTY things being said to you. It never ceases to amaze me just how cruel people can be. And why, right? Lack of education? Is it because of images and ideas expressed throughout/within the dominant media? Racist, classist, bigot parents or friends? I can’t fathom the rationale behind this kind of behavior…
    And isn’t interesting- how we can be a nation of such different ethnicities, all of us with such varied body shapes, skin colors, hair types, etc., yet we are all somehow striving for some “perfect” image out of a Victoria’s Secret magazine or something? Aside from learning to accept myself and realize that I have value as a human being (thank you, James Baldwin- I highly recommend his stuff if you haven’t read any) one of the phrases that have been my mantra is : “You have a body, but you are not your body.”
    And lastly, I watched the video that goes with this piece years ago and it was pretty shocking- here’s the article (sans the video which I cannot find):

  3. I think this is funny because I grew up around “minorities”. There were more Black, Mexican and Asians at my school and I am half Mexican but look completely White. I wanted to look more “exotic” and so did my White friends. All of the White girls I knew wanted to have a tan and dyed their hair. I wont go so far as to say they wanted to look Black or Asian or whatever, but they didn’t want to look pasty and white, so thats life. Know one wants to be what they are but must accept who they are at some point and embrace it. That is the healthy thing to do. All women want to change something about themselves. If we had a choice I’m sure we would change our bodies like the fashion trends in the stores from season to season. The skinny girl was attractive now the big butt curvy girl is attractive, Whatever! It’s all about having the confidence to say “take it or leave it because if you leave it someone ele will want it guaranteed” I have more to offer then they way I look. I think there is a bigger picture here. It’s not about what color skin we have it is a self image issue. People/kids are always going to have things to say that are not nice. That is life. That never stops.

    I took pictures with my black girlfriend back in high school and she showed it off to one of her friends (a black guy) and he said “why you taking pictures with a white girl” (like that was repulsive) and she said “oh its cool she’s Mexican” like that really mattered. I had a lot of black friends and I was the “token White girl” and that never bothered me. I knew we were friends because we had things in common. We like the same music, we sang in a choir, we danced, we went to the same school etc. but I also knew that being White was not the cool thing. You had to be Mixed to be accepted otherwise you were on the “other side” “against them” “not able to understand their lives” and it was an unfair assumption.

    I think once you grow up and you still have those insecurities… you really have to self asses. You have to get over the childhood thing and realize you can’t blame childhood or the media for your insecurities anymore. I am not disputing that comes in to play heavily as an impressionable kid but adults who change themselves (like getting eye surgery) (or lightening of the skin) (or even darkening the skin at risk of getting skin cancer) there is no excuse for that. At that point I lay the fault on that person.

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