feature image via shutterstock.com
When I started HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), I was in for a big surprise: over time, my skin seemed to be getting lighter. I did some research online and discovered that estrogen therapy plays a role in changing melanin composition, causing trans women to assume skin tones a bit paler than when they started out. I never knew that this happened. When you look at your friends who are on the same journey, honestly, they look exactly the same as far as skin pigmentation is concerned and that’s probably the same for when people look at me. But the internal conflict one has with glamorizing this pretty inconsequential lightening of the skin implies a lot about one’s own journey with self-hate and navigating western beauty norms and ideals.
Colorism is a shackling concept that has been engrained in our community since the days of white imperialism. During the time of slavery, white slave owners would rape young black women and produce fair-skinned babies – black but of a lighter hue. They would be favored by their masters and be allowed to work in their homes or be taught a bit. As time goes on, color and pigment became political. Lighter skinned blacks would benefit more in a system that favored whiteness. A lighter skin complexion was closer to this “ideal beauty norm” and black people around the world would go out to bleach their skin or envy their lighter counterparts. We currently see this sensationalization of fair skinned and light eyed babies and the hypersexualization of those women that are referred to as “red bones.”
My mom is lighter complexioned and my dad is very dark. When they had children, they produced me – this caramel-skinned baby – and then my younger brother — who was as light as a banana. Growing up, I envied my mom and brother. They looked like “heaven” to me. They didn’t have to worry about looking “dirty” or “burnt.” As I grew older and gained a better understanding of how whiteness and anti-blackness influence our sentiments around complexion, I grew to love my beautiful chocolate skin and realized that I wasn’t “burnt” but was actually baked to perfection. I couldn’t help but praise my melanin and flaunt my blackness everywhere I went. I started investing in makeup and worked to accentuate the chocolatey vibe of my skin. I was really learning to love myself and feel beautiful — that is until I started to question my own gender expression. My ego took a huge hit because I suddenly felt ugly again. I felt abnormal. I no longer dealt with this inner turmoil of being black but now I was fighting with feeling comfortable as a person in general. To make a long story short, I decided to embark on the journey of medically transitioning as a transgender woman. Euphoria hit me again once I plopped that first pill in my mouth and everything seemed to be straightening itself out.
I noticed a few months later that none of my makeup was working for me. All of my foundations were too dark and my under eye concealers didn’t give me that extra pop that I needed, so I decided to splurge on new makeup to better fit my face. I walked into Sephora to get matched and I found out that I was a lighter shade. All of this time, I thought I just sucked at makeup! I kind of got excited about this. I pranced through the aisles asking for samples of foundation in my new light shade (which was only like a hue to be completely honest). I was flaunting this new skin like I had won the lottery. Ain’t nothing better than being a fresh faced woman, right? That’s what the beauty aisles teach you – brighter is fresher. Brighter is more beautiful. Brighter is more feminine. And on my skin, lighter was brighter. I even found myself in the MAC cosmetics store investing over $100 in a face cleansing collection called “Lightful” intended to brighten the face. How lovely.
Day in and day out, I was looking in my mirror slathering this lightening toner on my skin not really knowing how in the world it was truly destroying my beautiful skin. I’d researched makeup techniques to enhance femininity which always came down to highlighting with concealers two shades lighter than your own complexion in large amounts in certain zones on your face. I even took pictures for social media and edited them in a way to “highlight” my face, which I pretty much just increased the brightness by 1000. I had become mentally enslaved once again.
One morning, while I was applying my new lighter makeup, I accidentally put too much banana powder on which created a shroud of ashy yellow veil all around the center of my face. I stopped and stared back at my reflection. I looked absolutely foolish. Here I was relishing in this depigmentation of my beautiful ebony skin that I no longer looked like myself. I realized that this is what we do in our day to day lives. We allow whiteness to shroud our judgment and our identities in a way that stymies who we really are. We have allowed whiteness to infiltrate our minds and our communities and snatch the wealth of our culture and our history. My loss of pigmentation gave me a tiny slither of hope of accessing that ideal and being seen as beautiful – through white eyes. This phenomena of mine was quite ironic because here I was on a journey of self discovery to truly embrace and uplift the trans beauty that I unapologetically was but in turn, that journey uprooted these problematic anti-black sentiments that I buried deep down inside so many years before, forcing me to hate myself more. How could I blossom but die simultaneously? How do you love all of yourself with exceptions?
Identifying as your Black is to critique and confront whiteness and to acknowledge your rich history. Your blackness is your claim to this land. To be your black is to respect your culture and your family that has built all that has made you exist. I am my Black because I am a Chocolate Goddess created here through the toil of slavery. No longer do I celebrate this skin lightening experience but I use it as a reminder to truly embrace all that is my black in my physicality and in my politics. It’s helped me to realize the importance of intersectionality and affirming the multiplicity of my identities – owning my transness and the experience but ALWAYS centering and focusing my blackness. The forces outside are consistently trying to strip me of that. I will grasp onto everything that makes me the bronze Goddess that I am through and through. Every time I take a hormone injection, I remind myself that these hormones make me the queen that I am but my authenticity in owning my rich black history emanates through my skin and I will always be a goddess because of it. My blackness will forever radiate through my writing and be the vehicle of my thoughts and my sword in battle. Black is beautiful. Black is revolutionary. Black is to be glorified.