The physical attractiveness of a woman is important. I learned that simply, and rather quickly through shared opinions of peers. I had learned that beauty matters before I truly learned to define it by my own standards.
Ever since puberty crept in, I understood and delved into the world of sexual attraction between men and women. This understanding of romantic and sexual relationships expanded with age. With each year, friends, family, and nameless faces provided an example of what beauty cannot be — beautiful women did not typically look like me. I know this because beautiful women made it to front covers of magazines and fronts of lines when some faint-hearted man notices her. When I finally noticed boys, I noticed how they hardly noticed me. Like many other preteen girls, I wanted to know why the boys did not like me. I wanted to know why they sat starry-eyed with my friends but sat stank-faced when speaking with me. I needed to know.
I was eleven. I began my sixth-grade year in a primarily Latino/Hispanic school where the majority of the students learned English as their second language. Along with learning a new language, I began learning a new world. This new world was one dictated by physical attributes and the ability to use them as an advantage in order to succeed. In middle school, physical attributes helped with achieving certain friendships and “first crushes.” I remember my first crush being a short Latin boy (called “M” for the sake of the story) who attended middle school with me. And although I spent what felt like decades chasing after him, I came to realize early on that first crushes and physical attributes had little to do with my ability to land my first kiss.
As I looked at my surroundings and the pale faces that stared back, I realized the reason for (much of) my social anxiety was simple: I was black — and I definitely knew it.
Being Black “Kicked In”
When I was a young girl, around age 7 and 8, I remember growing cautious of the amount of time I spent baking in the sun. The phrase “too dark” was already eerily familiar, although I had often forgot the exchanges that mentioned it. Remember the joke, “god left you in the oven for too long”? Let us not forget being compared to primates! Beyond the name-calling, I had this desperate voice directing me to retreat towards a shaded area. The older I grew, the more my aware I became of the comments others made about the color of my skin. I actually because hypersensitive towards it; I began to believe much reason for my failure to integrate into the social bodies is due to my fear that others are negatively stereotyping me.
Vivid memories of rejection fill my head when I think of middle school. Before sex was even a topic of discussion or fleeting thought, my value was lowered based on my lack of sex appeal to the vast majority. Certain phrases emerged in my head on a daily basis as I walk passed large groups of men, especially when I am a racially homogenous area. I am not sure how a young preteen could pick up on such implicit racial biases, but somehow I found myself crying on bathroom floors because some boys compared my lady parts to purple curtains. They would ask me why my vagina is purple, and not pink. It is a shame that I would ask myself the same thing. At twelve years old, I did not find much fault in their thinking; instead, I found myself flawed and faulted. I wanted to be pink. I wanted to be light. I wanted so badly to be beautiful. Instead, I was an ugly cocoa puff in a bowl of milk. Trapped in suburbia, born in some “hood” of Las Vegas where the men try to sell you something at every corner store.
More time elapses, and I am not smack dab in the middle of my ‘maturing process’ as a young woman. High school threw me into a whirlpool of insecurities as I found myself amongst people who knew nothing of me. For the first time in my life, I realized what it meant to be a black woman in a primarily white surround. As I am coming into myself, learning of my own weakness and growing awareness of my own desires and fears, I begin to understand the impacts of racial prejudice and racial preferences on little brown girls (just like me), and within communities.
Is It All in My Head?
My friends were always very racially and culturally diverse. From elementary to high school. My closest friends were Asian, white, and Latina. Regardless of what school I attended, I found myself mingling amongst different racial groups with ease. Everything would be laughs and fun until the boys got involved and decided what was fun, who was fun, and why. If my friends and I were going to hang out with another group of young boys, I was generally the girl left out (without realization). There were times I had my friends ask why a certain boy did not like me, and his response more often than not would sound something like this:
“I don’t like black girls”
“She is too dark”
“She is pretty, but not my type”
“I only see her as a friend”
and the best yet,
“She is so pretty for a black girl.”
At the time, I would have never known the terminology for the feelings I experienced. Some may just see the rejection. It was never that simple for me. My girlfriends would tell me, “well, maybe he has a preference.” The rejection was normal, they explained.
How could I explain to them, that preference purely on the basis of skin tone sounds a bit odd to me? And how is it that majority of people find the need to announce their dissatisfaction with those they do not prefer? And, why is it that that people are typically least satisfied with those of darker skin tone? Questions such as those swarmed my head repeatedly. I couldn’t swallow rejection well, especially based on something as simple as skin color.
Do I Make Them Feel Secure?
Fast forward to today. I am now 22 years-old and am still struggling with the same rejection while trying to distinguish a man’s ‘preference’ between society. The line between an individual’s preference and societal preference seems to blur often. My understanding of racial prejudice and sexual attraction grows as I do, and as I grow more knowledge of its origins.
I still struggle with men approaching me with negative racial stereotypes or automated rejections due to my skin color. What I have come to realize, also, with having multiracial friendships, is that they may feel safe being your friend. You are not going to take away attention from them, well, because you are only a black woman after all. Often times, nonblack girlfriends will place themselves in separate categories and create different scales of attraction between me and them.
Last week, I had a close friend tell me that she doesn’t feel threatened going out with me, but she feels threatened going out with another white woman. She exclaims, “men will have different preferences and it makes it easier for them when they can easily choose which one is their type.”
I cannot help but think that is just code for “you are not their type because you are black.” At the end of the day, I have never been automatically rejected on the basis of my figure, opinions, or specific physical characteristics (other than skin color). I find that ironic because my opinions would fairly be something to reject me based on!
Now, I am not sure if white women truly believe they are more beautiful, or simply take note of the negative attitudes majority of men have towards black women. Either way, they know that darker skinned women (particularly AA) may very well be the least desirable “kind” of a woman. Perhaps it is just an inference I drew based on experiences.
I am constantly working on understanding how social images of women like me are painted, constantly trying to undo the implicit hurt I experienced younger. We are all bullied, you might say. Absolutely correct. What I cannot understand, is why blackness is synonymous with bullying? Why should it ever be? As I continue to curb my social anxiety and step out into the world again, I know am not their type.