For their April 2017, Allure magazine interviewed 41 actresses, models, entrepreneurs and more women of color on what it was like growing up with their skin tone in America.
We’ve parsed the issue for the best bits and provided our favorite accounts below.
“Before high school, I lived in a white suburb of Los Angeles where there were so few Indians that they didn’t even know the ‘correct’ slurs. They called me the N-word or ‘Blackie.’ For a long time I hated my skin color. Even in India, there’s a complicated history. My grandmother discouraged us from going in the sun; she didn’t want us to be dark. We were only allowed to play outside after 4:30. There was a cosmetics line called Fair & Lovely — that says it all. [And] when I started to work as a model, people would on occasion say things to me like, ‘You’re so pretty for being an Indian.’ I’ve gotten to a place where I have a much broader feeling that I’m beautiful because I’m accepted in the culture. I scar very badly. You can see every scrape, cut, and burn — mine don’t go away… but I’m very thankful for my skin. I’m very tactile. “
“I took an African-American studies class at Northwestern where we explored colorism; it was the first time I could put a name to feeling too light in the black community, too mixed in the white community. For castings, I was labeled ‘ethnically ambiguous.’ Was I Latina? Sephardic? ‘Exotic Caucasian’? Add the freckles to the mix and it created quite the conundrum. To this day, my pet peeve is when my skin tone is changed and my freckles are airbrushed out of a photo shoot. For all my freckle-faced friends out there, I will share with you something my dad told me when I was younger: ‘A face without freckles is a night without stars.’ ”
More from Meghan Markle here.
“My father is German; my mother is African-American. Growing up, I visited my grandparents in Berlin a lot. I would not see any other person of color for three weeks. People would stare. They would say things like ‘Oh, you look like chocolate — I want to eat you up!’ I’ve been to gatherings where people would say, ‘She has so much race in her’ or would use the word ‘n*****’ — or the German term ‘neger.’ And I would be like, Who are you talking to? I feel German, I speak German, [but] I don’t look German. In the United States, if you’re African-American, it can be assumed that your family has been here for generations. In Europe, colonialism is much more alive and it’s assumed you’re from Nigeria or Senegal. I would have these conversations like ‘Where is your mother from?’ ‘Brooklyn.’ ‘No, but where is she from?’ I would respond, ‘We don’t know,’ since we can’t trace our roots beyond North Carolina. Slavery has erased our ability to find our origins. We have been here as long as some of the first immigrants.”
More from Zazie Beets here.
“It’s very difficult to get foundation that matches my skin. And I’m all for the contouring stuff, but I like to look like myself. I don’t have a thin nose. You can see my African features, so I like to embrace these things as opposed to covering them.”
More from Dascha Polanco here.
“My family is Chinese-Taiwanese. I’m from Richmond, Virginia. The community in which I grew up was pretty white. The storybooks you got at school featured white children and an animal, or animals. Fresh Off the Boat is the first television show led by [an] Asian-American [family] in over 20 years. I’d always been in the supporting role, the best friend or the assistant to the white person. And I was grateful. But once I was in the lead role and other people started making a big deal out of it, I realized I was previously blind to it.”
“I remember growing up in Texas not speaking Spanish and yet feeling as Latin as can be — kind of being a fish out of water. It was definitely hard for people to just assume you’re one thing, but you’re not just that one thing. That was something to navigate early on in Hollywood. Because Hollywood has an idea of what they think Latina looks like, and I didn’t fit into that box, so I had to create my own box.”
Aja Naomi King
“I was afraid of the darkness of my skin. I believed I had to be celebrated for my intelligence and my sense of humor. Those could be the beautiful things about me since my skin couldn’t. I remember in junior high having a beach day with my family and going to school the next day. Someone in my class exclaimed shock at my appearance. She didn’t know black people could tan. The look on her face stuck with me.”
“I’ve been having makeup applied to my skin for as long as I can remember. While I love to play around in makeup, I didn’t like it when makeup artists would apply it so heavy. I always felt like it wasn’t letting my skin breathe, so I was extremely diligent about washing my skin. Beauty is more than skin-deep. Skin-care isn’t entirely about vanity. Something as simple as washing your face is a way of treating yourself with respect. I’ll sometimes post pictures on social media of me caring for my own skin because I want to be a good example for my fans and create awareness of skin-care and self-care.”
More from Demi Lovato here.
“In the African-American community, they had something called the brown-bag test. If you are lighter than the bag, you’re OK. There are a lot of parts I read in scripts and think, Why are they sending me this? This is for a beautiful white girl. Not only is that in other people’s minds, but now it’s permeated my mind as well. I encourage anyone who’s reading this to be whoever they are. I want to be an example of someone who is trying to do that every day.”
More from Samira Wiley here.
“[My skin] is as complicated as I am. When I was growing up, I didn’t see anyone on television who looked like me. Initially, companies didn’t have colors that matched Asian or Indian skin. Because I’m darker, I had issues as a teenager — society pressure that a girl is prettier if she’s lighter. Pressures exist, and it’s on us to make those pressures not seem important to girls. I’ve achieved what I’ve achieved, and skin color has nothing to do with it — in fact it might have been an asset. I like the color of my skin very much. It’s so primitive to me that people are judged on the basis of the color of their skin. I mean, it’s skin. We all have it.”
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, and Tiger Beat. Her favorite Housewife is Bethenny Frankel (by far!), but when she’s not watching RHONY, you can probably find her hanging with her kitty Tom or tweeting at Sen. Chuck Schumer.