Tall, Dark, and Nappy | Teen Ink

Tall, Dark, and Nappy MAG

June 11, 2009
By Kayla Williams BRONZE, New Haven, Connecticut
Kayla Williams BRONZE, New Haven, Connecticut
3 articles 0 photos 1 comment

“Ugh, she's so ugly. She's as black as the street,” my mother commented with disdain. The woman she was talking about was Alek Wek, a Sudanese model on “The Tyra Banks Show.” My mother was right: Alek was very dark. But where my mother saw ugliness, I saw beauty.

Seated side by side, Alek and Tyra epitomized the contrast between mainstream American beauty and black African beauty. Alek's hair reached the nape of her neck, and it was jelled down flat. Tyra had a long blonde weave with bangs and tracks down to her belly button. Alek had on dark chocolate makeup that accentuated her strong, high cheekbones, and the muscles in her arms were chiseled and firm. Tyra was wearing green contacts, pink blush, and peach lipgloss that made her look like a Barbie doll.

At that moment, I saw Tyra Banks, one of the world's greatest supermodels, as artificial and ugly. Instead I stared at the woman next to her. Alek Wek, who could have walked off my television onto the New Haven streets without changing a thing, was the essence of beauty.

The African-American community has always been divided. This division is based on the same hierarchy that once separated house slaves from field slaves: skin tone. Two hundred years ago, blacks with fair skin, light eyes, and straight hair were seen as more beautiful than those with chocolate skin, black eyes, and nappy hair. Though our culture has changed, the mind set remains. What's worse is that now it's self-inflicted.

All my life I was taught that light is right. I can remember my mother putting harsh chemicals in my hair to straighten it. I remember my grandmother pouring bleach in her bath water, even though her caramel skin never got any lighter. I remember my mom telling my sister not to date ­anyone darker than herself so that her grandchildren wouldn't be dark. Everything that happened to me, everything I saw, everything I heard, led me to believe that dark was ugly.

The image of Alek sitting next to Tyra contradicted all the messages I had received during my childhood. I became enraged, offended that my own race would raise its daughters to believe that beauty is conditional upon skin color and hair texture, even at the expense of their pride and self-worth. I tried to explain this to my mother, saying that I find beauty to be not just a skin-deep feature but a personality trait as well. That quality, the ability to overcome what others perceive as ugliness and make them see the beauty in it, was what made Alek a model to me. She sat on stage – as dark as she was – and embodied beauty with her self-confidence and poise.

I thought of my three-year-old niece and how I never wanted her to doubt her beauty or potential because of the texture of her hair. What Alek had been for me, I wanted to be for her.

So I cut my hair and stopped treating it with chemicals. I grew an afro, and I flaunted my new look as an example of what a beautiful, nappy-headed young black woman looks like.

I've realized that dark is not synonymous with ugly, despite those who tell me I was prettier with straight hair. I no longer need Tyra's light skin and long weave on my television screen for self-validation. I know I am beautiful. And even though I'm not completely over my early misconceptions, I am in a period of evolution. I'm learning the value of looking and feeling beautiful to myself, rather than to society.

Similar Articles


This article has 17 comments.

claire S. said...
on Mar. 10 2014 at 4:32 am
So well written and enlightening. As a white person, I think about how growing up we'd spend the entire summer trying to become tanner than all of our friends, and it is just all so silly. I get that the roots of the desire to change skin color are different, but I find it to be kind of ironic that everyone wants what they don't have. 

on Feb. 24 2013 at 7:43 pm
FreeToBeWierd BRONZE, Charlotte, North Carolina
4 articles 0 photos 17 comments

Favorite Quote:
If Music Be The Food Of Love, Play On

I really enjoyed reading your poem XD great job writing it 

cemm said...
on Feb. 9 2013 at 8:09 pm
You are so inspiring!  What an empowered, aware and confident persective you provide in this piece.  It is truly revolutionary. :)

on Dec. 28 2011 at 8:54 pm
beautifulspirit PLATINUM, Alpharetta, Georgia
35 articles 0 photos 1398 comments

Favorite Quote:
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
--Eleanor Roosevelt

Such a powerful observation and so true. In the African American community or in portrayals of African Americans in society, I am constantly seeing blonde weaves, blue or green contacts, and things of that nature. For some people, this look is what they like and their is nothing wrong with that. But the way I feel is that it's like saying that going natural with your hair and having dark skin makes you an eyesore. Now I straighten my hair and I have lighter skin, but I like my look. My sister who is darker than me and has coarser hair is every bit as beautiful as myself. I wish that more African American girls could see that going to such extremes--like the ones listed in your article--- to change your appearance is not the most important thing. Having dark skin does not mean you are ugly. The only beauty that truly matters is what's underneath the skin.

on May. 23 2011 at 9:30 pm
WildeWriter BRONZE, Springfield, Missouri
2 articles 1 photo 11 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If you believe you can make a living as a writer, you already have enough ego already."

Amazing :)

on Mar. 18 2011 at 8:13 pm
Lissabelle116, ASHVILLE, Virginia
0 articles 0 photos 6 comments
I personally have always thought very dark, very clear, complexions were beautiful.  I have been jealous, what with my milky face.

on Feb. 24 2011 at 8:00 pm
a.singlenote SILVER, Little, Colorado
6 articles 0 photos 33 comments

Favorite Quote:
The truest beauty in the world is exsquisite and makes your heart ache with something that you can't name.

This is very lovely!! Very strong and beautiful!

bbrianna101 said...
on Sep. 7 2010 at 4:19 pm
i love this article! its so true!

on Jul. 11 2010 at 4:48 pm
toxic.monkey SILVER, Tashkent, Other
6 articles 0 photos 210 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Homo homini lupus"

i'll admit that blacks or dark africans aren't common where i live (central asia) but i always found black skin very very very beautiful. i'm glad that you're not afraid to be what you percieve is beautiful and not what other people tell you :)

on Dec. 6 2009 at 11:14 am
PurpleFeather BRONZE, Canton, Connecticut
1 article 0 photos 124 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The pen is mightier than the sword." - Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Beautifully written! You sound like a strong, independent young woman. I have decided to go natural, too. Today I undid my twists and and am wearing kinky curls. Keep inspiring your niece!

on Nov. 8 2009 at 1:36 am
adastraabextra GOLD, Moonstone, California
17 articles 120 photos 110 comments
absolutely amazing!!

on Oct. 29 2009 at 12:33 pm
Homostasis GOLD, Statesville, North Carolina
17 articles 1 photo 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.

Kayla this is beautiful. This is just what America's youth needs. We need to break stereotypes and judgments. I commend you for doing so. :]

on Oct. 23 2009 at 5:59 pm
writingrox BRONZE, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
3 articles 0 photos 38 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." (Albus Dumbledore)

I love this piece because it is so like me. I always hear the dark skin is ugly. But it's not! Keep writing the truth!

on Oct. 22 2009 at 11:23 am
rasheedaBoo GOLD, Dallas, Texas
10 articles 14 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
We do what we have to do, so we can do what we want to do!

Wow! Kayla this is a great piece! Alot of black females, women and girls alike are programmed to think that black and having natural hair is bad and ugly.

I hope many girls read about what you wrote because it is really mind-opening.

I went natural as well!

on Jul. 1 2009 at 6:56 am
nolongerinuse SILVER, San Antonio, Texas
8 articles 0 photos 60 comments

Favorite Quote:
“Love has no desire but to fulfill itself. To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” - Kahlil Gibran

You are enlightened in ways...:)

on Jun. 29 2009 at 2:47 pm
Kayla Williams BRONZE, New Haven, Connecticut
3 articles 0 photos 1 comment
thanks, i appreciate it.

on Jun. 23 2009 at 3:14 pm
pinksage33 BRONZE, Woodstock, New York
4 articles 1 photo 211 comments
WOW. this is really good.