I was born and raised in Upper Egypt; a society in which old people, adults, kids, shops, movies, TV shows and magazines push the idea that fair skin is the only criterion for beauty, and darker people are permitted to be considered pretty as long as they use skin-lightening products excessively to look paler. They also equate fair skin with innocence and cuteness, and darker skin with misfortune, evilness, hate and, of course, ugliness.
Being dark-skinned, I was thrown in the blind conviction that I am less than the rest because I am “samra,” meaning black, and I have to accept that. Since I was four, I have always received explicit and implicit confirmations of my own ugliness. People have tended to be so rude; they never realized how smart, sensitive and lonely a kid can be. I used to hear provocative phrases like “that actress is good looking despite her dark skin!” Even in school where intelligence and hard-work should be the scale, girls with pink-kissed skin were always the teachers’ pets.
As a result, Upper Egyptian men tend to marry women with lighter skin in order to guarantee having lighter-skinned babies. I know many stories in which engagements ended so quickly because the bride was not light enough, and the groom’s relatives gossiped about how he “can easily have a better girl,” or he himself could not bear the idea that his kids would look so dark.
Moving out to Cairo, things were not as bad. Unexpectedly, I got married to a quite fair-skinned man with brown hair. Of course, I could read people’s minds wondering why on earth he proposed to me! The worst part was when a member of my own family accused me of casting a love spell over him! I cannot deny that I was surprised when he saw me as pretty and that he prefers dark-colored skin to the fair one.
And that was just the beginning of the paradoxical, love-hate relationship I had with my skin color. Should I believe him and realize my beauty or should I believe that love is just blind? After I found out that I was pregnant with a baby girl, a storm of worries broke out. I remember the nights I spent crying and praying that my girl would not inherit my skin color. Finally, my daughter came to life with stunning features; her skin color is a mix of her parents’ two different worlds.
Her skin was lighter that mine and darker than her father’s. Of course, people could not bear the idea of letting that slip past without bitter comments.
“Oh, dear! Unfortunately, you inherited your mother’s looks.” “Next time we want a baby who looks more like his father.”
These are just examples of what I heard. I wept for so many nights, then I realized that it is time to stand up and protect my girl. If she grows up watching my lack of self-esteem and my clear self-hate, she will despise herself and will probably hate me. Looking to her defined, beautiful and Pharaonic features, I knew that my prayers have been answered; I was too ungrateful to notice that.
My baby girl is only two years old but I remind her and myself daily of how pretty she is, how unique her skin color is, and the fact that she does not have to sit in the burning sun to get the color that many celebrities want. She only answers me with her precious smiles and laughter, but I know deep inside that subconsciously her sense of her own beauty is developing and she will not suffer the way I did.
The views expressed in this article are an opinion and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Cairo Post.