Let’s face it, we’ve all wished we could change something about ourselves at one point or another. Some tall people would like to be shorter, short people taller. Some people with curly hair want straight hair, and people with straight hair want it curly. And let’s not forget about the people who’d like things like smaller noses or bigger breasts.
Nowadays, things like noses and boobs can be easily purchased at your friendly neighborhood plastic surgeon’s office.
With the internet covering almost every corner of the globe, unrealistic beauty standards aren’t shoved in our face only in magazines and TV anymore, we are more exposed to them than ever. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported that “almost 9.2 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States in 2011.” That’s a heck of a lot of people wanting to change the way they look.
But, what happens when one of those people is your 7-year-old son and what he would like to change is the color of his skin?
School started a few weeks ago. My son got a new backpack, new school supplies, a new teacher, and there’s something else that’s new: a problem with his self-image. My husband is a dark Dominican and my youngest inherited his milk-chocolate color. He came home one afternoon declaring that he’s ugly because his skin is dark. I immediately asked him who told him that, but he refused to acknowledge that a bully is involved in this.
As a typical Latina mamá gallina, I was furious and would love to know who had done it so I could give the little brat a piece of my mind. But I kept my cool and told him his skin color is beautiful and that he’s a smart, funny and kind boy.
I also explained that people try really hard to be dark. I told him all about suntan lotion, tanning beds and spray tans and how being dark is seen as a sign of health and vitality. I guess he wasn’t too convinced, because a few days later he said he’d like to be white and blonde.
So I turned to the same source that helps propagate and perpetuate racism and image issues: the internet.
I Googled the expression “tall, dark and handsome” so he could see how it’s used to describe a good-looking man. I know, the “dark” usually refers to a man’s hair color, but it made him feel good, so whatever.
I showed him the tanorexic lady from New Jersey, Patricia Krentcil, who is willing to look like a chicharrón de cerdo as long as she’s dark. We laughed together and then I gave him the most convincing argument I had, telling him that who we are is way more important than what we look like and that people who are ugly on the inside like to say mean things to make beautiful people feel bad.
With racism still going strong and plastic surgery for teens on the rise because of bullying, I exhort all parents to focus on teaching our children about acceptance, compassion, equality and what really makes a person beautiful.
At the end of the day, what they learn at home has the biggest impact on their attitudes and beliefs. As for my baby, I wouldn’t change a single thing about him. He is perfect just the way he is, inside and out.
By Taína Haiman, guest contributor