College Essay: Loving My Reflection

Yasmin Abdurahman
Yasmin Abdurahman

I grew up with the idea that lighter skin equated to beauty. Many people in the Somali community push the narrative that in order for a Somali woman to find a husband or be successful, she must have lighter skin. As a young Somali woman looking to be accepted, I turned to Amazon to purchase products that would lighten skin complexions.

When I was 12, I started to notice my family members’ skin color was much lighter than mine. Almost all of them could wear the brightest of colors, while I felt ugly for wearing a bright dress. I always tried to push the thought of my skin being “ugly” to the back of my head, but my insecurity always found a way to seep through the internal floorboards that I built.

It was in ninth grade when my insecurity influenced many of my decisions. With COVID-19 making quarantine a must, I spent every second at home. Looking at mirrors angered and embarrassed me. I felt alone, angry and vulnerable, so I made the decision to forcibly “fix” my skin.

At first I tried avoiding mirrors in hopes of my skin getting lighter. Then I tried natural “remedies,” such as chickpea masks. But my unhealthy obsession with getting lighter skin increased. Topical treatments popped up, both in my head and as advertisements. I needed to find a place to find products but also discreetly. I turned to the easiest place to discreetly purchase products online — Amazon. Staring at the blank search bar, I slowly typed up “skin lightening.” Within seconds, videos, images and sites answering this request popped up.

As confident as I pretended to be with my skin, here I was, insecure, diving deep into Amazon’s international array of thousands of skin lightening products, ranging from creams to powders to ingestibles. The positive reviews and low prices of those products made the dream of getting lighter skin seem so attainable. I stopped worrying about the safety of skin lightening products and worried more about their efficiency.

After finding the perfect skin lightening cream and ready to order, I paused. Just then I started to question my morals. I refused to talk negatively about dark skin. Yet I was willing to go as far as using harmful skin lightening “treatments,” that contain mercury and hydroquinone, and can cause third-degree burns and even infertility, all for the sake of beauty and acceptance. As I looked up at my dimly lit screen, I felt my soul crush. I spent so long hating and trying to fix the one thing I should’ve loved from the beginning. I bubbled down all of my accomplishments and hopes into my appearance, as if it made me worth something. My mind raced with questions.

So in hopes of changing my mindset and encouraging other dark-skinned women to embrace their natural skin color, I started a radio show called “Blue Card.” In this radio show, I’ve spoken with powerful women of color ranging from 10 years old to 38 years old. We’ve addressed colorism in many different communities and how it mostly affects young girls of color.

I was once a girl filled with pride but turned into someone with hypocrisy lying within her shadow. I let myself harm my skin for the sake of something that my own genes couldn’t do. It took one second of clarity to make me question my behavior. Toxic beauty standards and Amazon hurt me. I wish I had spent time loving and embracing the beautiful melanin I was blessed with, but I’m grateful to have learned more after this experience. I will continue to share my story in hopes that young, dark-skinned Somali women know that they’re not alone. They should know that they’re all beautiful and should not be confined to unattainable standards of beauty.