I’ve faded now, but still hear it on occasion, “You’re so tan!”
Today, someone said it in the doctor’s office while looking at my ankles.
Yes, I said ankles.
Girls and women everywhere, “I wish I was dark like you!”, to which I jokingly reply that it’s easy, all you’ve gotta do is become a missionary.
(Take a second to listen to my laugh track, inserted here)
But you know what I’ve been hearing the past year? Before I flew back to the Midwest in winter (where of course I look tan)?
“I wish I was white like you”
“How can I get lighter skin like you?”
There are creams to lighten skin and little girls who haven’t even hit their teens yet have responded with laughter to me saying “You’re prettier!”, explaining (because I clearly just don’t understand) that I will always be prettier, because I am white and they are black.
Word for word, that is what little girls and young women tell me.
“Stephanie, you will always be the prettier one, because we are Haitian and you are American.”
It punches me in the gut every time.
I want to pick them up and hold them and never stop repeating how loved and beautiful and valued they are into their beautiful ears, covering them in kisses and hearing them giggle. For the women, I want to pour TRUTH into them, every stitch their Creator lovingly made and the beauty that shines in them, the respect I have and gorgeous-ness I see as their strong muscles wring out the laundry and their beautiful face smiles back at me in conversation.
But they’ll never believe me. They don’t believe me, when I try.
And while we’re on the topic (or, we were at least) of creams to lighten skin that we may not understand; spend five minutes in my shoes as I attempt to explain why white people choose the hot sun over the shade that is offered by hospitable guests. I don’t bother getting into paying for a bed that is proven to increase cancer risks. (We have tanning lotion too, I could have just said that to make my point).
Just think on that a second.
And then I get the occasional “You’re turning Haitian!” or “You’re not a blanc anymore, you’re Haitian like us!”….but that’s less about skin color and more about being family, our relationship that has deepened WITH my skin tone.
The deeper I get into my second home’s culture, the more depth I see to this universal problem:
No matter where a girl stands, she is not good enough.
Whatever a women sees as ideal; it isn’t in the mirror.
It’s ingrained in every culture in it’s own disguise: these lies that whatever you are, isn’t IT. Isn’t enough. There’s something better, and you should never stop trying to reach it – but you won’t.
(Side sermon: You won’t reach it for various reasons, but the key is that even if you reached some un-reachable goal…it wouldn’t be enough. Your heart is being attacked, it’s enslaved, there are lies swimming all around you and you’re clinging on for life as they try to take you under.)
You know how you laugh at a preschooler who says a statement with confidence…but you just know he doesn’t get it? I get that All. The. Time. – a polite and amused laugh in reaction to me telling girls and women that they are pretty. (When I respond with “you’re prettier!” as people compliment me – then, girls laugh as they just think I’m lying as one of my jokes).
I’m here to say enough with the laughter.
Thank you for the compliment on my tan.
And you are beautiful too.
You do not need a skin tone or hair texture, you do not need the cutest crop top and jeans. You do not need that crafty personality that somehow masters every cute pinterest creation, you do not need a gift with words. You do not need a certain height, you do not need to reach those perfect three numbers on the scale before you can accept what I am saying. Your nationality is not where your beauty comes from and neither is your social status. You do not need to curl your hair first, you do not need to have the best outfit when you are walking through a crowd. You do not need the perfect Spotify playlist, you do not have to be a bookworm. Your makeup does not have to ask people for advice and your shoes do not need to be the center of attention. Your eyes don’t have to shine the brightest and your nose doesn’t have to match the Disney Princess qualifications. If you have these, you can thank someone for the compliment. If you don’t, you can thank them for the compliment on what defines YOU as a daughter.
You have a Father who lovingly, delicately, intentionally, and beautifully crafted each stitch of you into existence. Every DAY He breathes life into you, in love with your very heart and soul along with the rest of you. He does not make mistakes and He does not make ugly, and He has never been a part of “not enough”.
You are beautiful.
She is beautiful.
When we can grasp this for ourselves, and then grasp it for every other woman we see?
Watch out world.