Ayah Mouhktar is a junior media studies major.
Walking into a CVS to do my makeup shopping, like any normal girl on a budget, I find myself attracted to the lighter shades of foundation. This urge to be lighter is not new. Rather, it was an idea taught to me since I was young. Whiter is nicer, smarter, and better.
I use my makeup as a mask, literally and figuratively. While most women can relate to this notion, only those who can truly grasp how unkind society is to a black face understand how important this mask is, not only for our physical attraction, but for the safety of our lives. And while many people think this mask I wear is only used to get attention from men, they are only half right. I use it to hide from the issues I face from the world everyday. The innocent black lives being killed, and the injustice, oppression, racism, and sexism can all be solved if I hide behind the layer of makeup that covers my own skin.
I wake up at eight in the morning, go to class, then wait tables until the end of the night so I can pay my bills. My tiresome, bare face is not friendly enough to land me any tips at the restaurant, let alone a date for a Friday night. My face is a genetic recreation of Egyptian goddesses who donned eyeliner, lived lavish lives, and were treated with utmost respect. Today it is the polar opposite. My face is tired, and my face is black.
I want a date. I want a guy in my class to notice me, like me, and text me, but I know what that involves. It means getting up an hour early to pile on makeup that makes my skin tone equivalent to what is found most attractive: white. It means blending my face to the point of pain and a deep hatred of knowing that the sole reason of this makeup is to live up to societal beauty standards. It means that within my own culture, I’ll be seen as “not black enough,” while to the mainstream I’ll still be too dark.
I am scared, not only for the future of our country, but for the future of the little black girls who are growing up seeing black women who have to wear light foundation powder, straighten their hair, and hate who they are all because they want to fit in. be pretty, smart, better. I am scared for the future of black girls who want to fit in and be the best that they can be. I am scared that my voice will be muffled by a society shouting into my ear, “Put on more makeup, make your cheeks rosy, make your hair straighter, lose 10 pounds, be better!” I am scared of that future.
I may not have the complexion that society welcomes with open arms, but there is nothing I can do but accept that. I wish I had never believed that white is always nicer, smarter, and better. There was a time in my life when I held that to be true, and after years of holding that sentiment it took a while for me to believe in myself to know I was enough for society’s standards. After years of thinking the opposite, it took a lot of soul searching, ranting to my mother, and long looks into the mirror for me to realize that I am happy with who I am, with or without makeup.
This is not about self esteem, and I am not writing to receive pity, but rather with the goal of taking power into my own hands. This power is what motivates me every day, from the moment I wake up until the end of the night when I am stripping off the heavy layer of makeup. This power is my desire to take control back into my hands, to be the smartest, nicest, best version of myself. Don’t be fooled, this version is not for society’s approval. It is for me to be happy with myself and to be comfortable in my own, makeup-free skin.
PHOTO CREDIT: Racquel Gonzales/Foghorn