(impossible) standards and (not entirely helpful) practices

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I’ve always loved watching TV.

When I was younger,

I used to sit in front of my bathroom mirror

And try to look like the women I saw on my favorite shows.

Setting the standard of what it meant

To be beautiful

With their clear white skin,

And their long slender frames,

And their blonde hair so flawlessly

Dancing over their shoulders.

But when I looked at myself,

I didn’t see

Any of the things that tv told us were beautiful

looking back at me.

I saw dangly brown hair falling over broad shoulders.

I saw wide hips,

And when I relaxed my posture,

I hated seeing the folds in my stomach.

I remember holding scissors up to my belly button.

So young that I didn’t understand

Why I couldn’t just cut my fat off,

But already aware enough of beauty standards

To understand that I wanted to.

And when I looked at my face,

All I could see was my skin.

All I could see was that left quarter of skin on my cheek

That couldn’t quite blend with the rest.

A place where native and european

Refused to mix.

When did I start feeling so inadequate?

I remember the first time someone asked me,

“Whats wrong with your skin?”

Years of “Aren’t you going to have that fixed?”

And “Isn’t there anything they can do?”

Slowly suffocating under a pile of questions turned to insecurities,

Each breath of self-assurance more difficult to find than the last.

Blindly, frantically reaching for a hand to pull me out from underneath it all

Before it was too late.

When I took my final breath,

The last drops of security leaving with my exhale,

I finally felt bony fingers lacing through mine.

Pulling me out into the arms of my rescuer,

Mister Mass Media himself.

Gasping for air,

I breathed his promises of confidence deeply into my deprived lungs.

Looking to him with bright, young eyes

As he brushed my untamed hair off my baby face,

And leaned in to whisper in my ear.

I was waiting to hear him say they were all wrong.

But his lips curved into a sinister smile,

And his pupils turned to dollar signs,

And what had looked like the beautiful, warm embrace of his arms

Became a cage I had unknowingly walked right into.

He laughed as he hissed,

“They were right.”

He taunted me with the possibility of happiness.

He told me every day that

If I could only make myself look like the porcelain women he presented to me on TV,

That all would be right and

Nobody would ask me about my skin anymore.

Before I met Mass Media,

I didn’t know there was something wrong

With skin that was different.

I didn’t know

That I needed to be fixed.

To be bleached,

And painted white,

Until you only saw

The part of me that

Looks the way it’s ‘supposed’ to.

With Him constantly murmuring in my ear,

It only took so many times of hearing,

“Maybe you should wear your hair down

To cover it.”

To shame me.

As if “it” didn’t mean me.

As if “it” was some blemish that needed to be taken care of,

Instead of a part of my ancestors showing in my face.

As if “it” made me less than you.

Does it make you uncomfortable to look at me

And see an ugly part of history staring back at you?

Is that why you feel the need for me to cover “it” up?

To silence

The part of me that screams,

“I am the result of the slaughter of millions of people.

I am the result of women being raped.

Of villages being pillaged.

Of an entire culture being swept away,

Diluted down through

centuries of living in a new world.

A white man's world,

That tells you

His way is the only way.

A world where the only

Remnant of the native tribes of this land live

In 10 by 10 squares of sectioned off property

And on the left side of my face.”

But you only have to look at one of those things.

And my great rescuer, Mister Mass Media,

With his television heart,

Backed by my peers, my relatives, my mentors,

All said to me

Over and over,

“This is not beautiful skin.

It needs to be corrected.”

And so eleven year old me

Begged for a dermatologist to make “it” go away.

To make that piece of me go away.

And the worst part is,

The saddest part to me now,

Is that out of all those times of

People telling me

I was damaged,

No one ever said

I was beautiful the way I was.

No one ever told me,

It’s okay to be mixed

And it’s okay for it to show.

Years of avoiding my hair up

Because it would show my cheek.

Of avoiding turning my face to the side

So “it” wouldn’t be seen.

Years of pleading with doctors

To fix me,

And not one of them ever said,

“You don’t need to be fixed.”

Maybe that’s because Mass Media

Was whispering in their ears, too.

Convincing us to believe in Him

More than we believed in ourselves,

And we all fell for it.

And now,

Over ten years

And countless applications of bleach-heavy facial creams later,

It’s almost all gone.

I’m all “Fixed.”

You don’t see it when you look at me.

Erased.

Like the millions before me.

Just another casualty

In the endless war of

The white man versus the world.

All controlled by the great puppeteer,

Mister Mass Media himself.

Who, all this time, had been

pulling on our strings,

Clapping with delight as he watched us dance for him.

Playing into his every desire.

Until one day,

I became strong enough

To cut through the stitches of my sewn shut eyes.

Razor truth liberating me

From His false promises of adequacy

That would simply never be fulfilled.

 

And now, even after all of that,

When I look into the mirror,

I still don’t see someone who would

Ever be considered TV beautiful

Looking back at me.

But I know now

What I didn’t know then.

There is nothing wrong with me.

There is something wrong with TV.

 

written by // taylor byers

read more from the roots issue

Taylor Byers