Last year, we started hosting candid conversations with black women in our community, through which we explored their relationships with their bodies and the experiences that have shaped their perceptions of beauty and self. In this excerpt from our conversation, Basheera Foggie reflects on how colorism and sickle cell have impacted her identity:
What are some of your earliest memories or experiences that shaped your concept of beauty?
Some of my earliest memories would have to be from elementary school. I got teased a lot about my dark skin complexion in elementary school, and it really carried out through high school too. I just remember in about the fourth grade, I had a teacher and her favorites always seemed to be the light-skinned kids, and those who were darker she treated very rudely. She wasn’t the nicest teacher anyway, but the way she treated the darker kids was considerably worse than the lighter kids. Those were some of my earliest memories of feeling like I’m not wanted, or like no one likes me, or like I don’t belong.
My mom constantly told me that my dark skin was beautiful, but it just didn’t really matter to me because what I heard at school and what my peers were saying to me just rang louder than anything she could ever say. And then also having sickle cell disease, I just always felt lower than anyone anyway. I just think being sick all the time in my body always seemed to seep out into anything—everything. And I just—I didn’t feel beautiful because of that and because of the dark skin, and even my hair, which I eventually grew to love.
"I don't think I ever really was shy, I just made myself shrink."
The bullying part was the hardest for me. It took a long time to get over it. I just got called so many names—like all the time. And I never really had many friends in school. I was very, very shy—well ... I don’t know that I’ve ever been shy. I think I was silenced. I felt like I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t be myself because I felt so ugly, I felt so insignificant to other girls, that I just thought it’d be best if I were to be quiet. I didn’t want to bring any attention to myself. At all. So ... yeah, I have always said that I was shy, but now that I think about it, I don’t think I ever really was shy, I just made myself shrink.
I remember a time when I was at a Christmas party that Nationwide Children’s Hospital always had for kids with sickle cell disease. And I don’t remember how old I was, I just know I was little. And Bow Wow was there, and they had us all gather on stage to take pictures with him. And I stayed in the back. I didn’t want to go in the front at all. I didn’t want to be in the picture—I hated pictures because I always thought I looked so ugly. And I was like I’m not being in a picture with Bow-Wow looking ugly. And I was always so much shorter than everyone else. Sickle cell disease makes you grow slower. So I was always really, really short and tiny, and somehow he found me all the way in the back, and he said “Hey, you’re hiding back there ... come up front with me.” And I came up there—didn’t want to—but he basically pulled me by the arm, and we took this picture. And I never got the picture. But ... that was just a really interesting experience that I always have in my mind. That, um, sometimes I choose to hide, when people really do want to see me.
What are some pivotal moments or defining truths that have changed or are changing the way you see yourself?
My mom used to buy skin fade or bleaching creams for my skin when I was in middle school because I begged her to because I was getting teased so much. She never really wanted to and eventually she stopped. I’m realizing now, after her death, that she was doing what she thought could possibly help make me happier. It wasn’t that she thought I was ugly or too dark or unattractive, because she told me I was beautiful all the time. She just wanted to help me not be miserable. Before her death, I hadn’t reflected on that time enough to know that.
How has your image evolved throughout the years, perhaps as a reflection of where you were in regards to self-esteem, your relationships, or your health at the time?
I definitely feel more beautiful than I used to ... but, that is only when I have on my eyebrows and a wig. I have alopecia. I lost all of my hair maybe like three years ago. I used to have really long hair. And that was the only thing I liked about myself, because it was the only thing I got complimented on. It was like, a black woman with long hair was unheard of. So if you had long hair and you were black, you were poppin'. Even if your dark skin wasn’t, your hair was.
I don’t feel that bad about [being dark-skinned] anymore. Some days, I do. Some days, I look at light skinned women and I’m like super jealous. But then other days, I’m like, I’m really beautiful, and my skin looks amazing. And that has turned out to be—it’s turned out to be that I think my dark skin is beautiful more times than I think my dark skin is ugly, which has grown a lot more than from when I was younger. I think my relationship with God and people of God has helped to increase my self-esteem. Because I think being so ... I think dwelling on the things of God and how God thinks of me really begins to tell me the truth about who I am, especially in reading His Word. I had no idea that God even cared about little things like my skin complexion until I opened up Song of Solomon and she says “I’m dark, but I’m lovely.” And that right there said to me, He cares and it matters.
To learn more about this project or read our other interviews, click here. Then, join the conversation! Use the hashtags #aboutfaceproject and #blackgirlmiracle to share your own stories of beauty and becoming with us.