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  • Writer's pictureLeanne Stuckey

Black & Blemished in America: The Impact of Colorism and Flawlessness on our Standard of Beauty

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

“Being a woman...being a black woman...and being a black woman who’s blemished, you can almost say I have 3 strikes against me when it comes to beauty and worth in America.”

Growing up as a young black girl with a facial birthmark, I have a unique perspective on beauty and acceptance in America. The topics of colorism and flawlessness are an interesting pair and one you don’t hear discussed in tandem. My personal experiences, being both black and blemished, brings me to this compelling realization. The two topics have significantly impacted our standard of beauty in America. And the reality is, if we don’t urgently shift our perspective & alter the narrative, continuing down this current road could further have devastating effects.

Although present in many countries around the world, when we look at colorism in America (more specifically Black America) we can trace it all the way back to slavery. It’s known and well documented that back in the days of slavery, fairer complected (aka light-skinned) slaves were treated better than dark-skinned slaves. The former were often allowed to work in more comfortable conditions, like in the slave master’s house, and given more opportunities. Overall, they were deemed more trustworthy and acceptable than their darker counterparts.

This clear differentiation had a major impact on how the world viewed our skin. It had an even greater impact on how we viewed ourselves. “Lighter is better” is the message that has echoed across the airwaves for generation after generation. Insinuating that its accompanied characteristics (long straight hair, narrow nose, thin body, etc.) were also superior. When that messaging has been woven into the fabric of Black America’s inception and mixed with the deep traumas of that timeframe, it’s no wonder why many Black Americans are still filled with the negative self identity they were force-fed for generations. Young black boys and girls are still growing up today placing significant value on the levels of concentrated pigment that coats their skin. Looking to their left and right, even amongst their own, deciding how they measure up. How, oh how did we get here?

There’s been so many times in my life that my complexion has left me in an "acceptance limbo" of sorts, too dark for those outside my ethnic group yet not quite dark enough for those within it. Often in environments where I was the minority, I often focused on my skin tone and worried about what others assumed of me without me having to say a word. Just as evident as colorism has been in my coming of age, there’s another prominent thread within the tapestry of America’s beauty standards that’s had significant impact as well—flawlessness. A thread just as tightly woven into the quilt of American beauty as that of colorism. From movie screens to magazines, from television shows to children’s books, from the point we could recognize images, we’ve been inundated with the message that flawlessness and perfection = beauty and desirability.

For decades, the idea that being blemish-free is something to be celebrated has been the subtle undertone throughout. Airbrushing out imperfections such as cellulite, acne, scarring, birthmarks & other blemishes is the expectation in the beauty industry. Who wouldn't dare let that natural body or multi-toned face graze the cover of a magazine…with those flaws—no way! What is this messaging saying to our youth? What false beauty expectations are we continuing to force feed this and future generations? Although we’ve recently made some amazing steps in the right direction concerning this, we still have a long way to go.

I’ve spent majority of my life hiding my birthmark behind concealers and powders, never wanting to leave the house without them on. It was more acceptable and drew less unwanted attention when my face appeared un-blemished. Being a part of the black community, I’ve experienced colorism in a real way, and being a part of the visibly skin different community has had me desire flawlessness in a very real way as well. This visibly skin different community: a group whose outermost layer displays a multitude of speckles, spots, textures and hues. This set of individuals has also been heavily impacted by these societal norms.

From birthmarks, eczema, vitiligo, moles, scars or other markings, those who possess these differences have little to no control of their existence or placement. Yet they navigate this world with stares from unapproving eyes and the comments of those who often look at them in disgust, as if they should apologize for the way they look. Made to feel unattractive and unworthy, those in the visibly different community know first hand the sting and prejudices that come with living in a society whose norms label them as abnormal. How absurd this sounds, right?…yet it takes place daily.

We live in a male-dominant world that values fair skin and flawlessness. So, being a woman... being a black woman...and being a black woman who’s blemished, you can almost say I have 3 strikes against me when it comes to beauty and worth in America. This is why I’m so passionate about this topic. I believe we need to combat the centuries of discriminatory conditioning by shifting the narrative and altering how we perceive and recognize beauty. And what better place to focus these efforts than in the hearts and minds of our most precious and impressionable.

My debut children’s book, Beautifully Blemished, was created as a means to support these efforts. It’s an ode to both of these communities (black & skin-different) which I proudly belong. Written to help empower little boys and girls in the skin different community while educating the world on our unique differences. As a mother and black female author, I’m proud to be making Black History with these efforts and showing my children, and future generations, that we’re beautiful the way God made us and should never be ashamed to walk in our purpose.

*Majority of the clips in the segment were recorded by ABC 7 Chicago

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