The Skin I’m In: Stories By Writers of Color

I wanted to share these stories about love and music and beauty and family. These stories are also about hair, about plastic surgery, about skin color, about contending with the harmful standards imposed by white privilege. They’re all written by writers of color, whose stories don’t always get the air time they deserve. My inspirations for this list: summer is coming; Arabelle Sicardi’s unique aesthetic; my haircut; Baltimore; and more. I hope you find a writer you love and a story that resonates with you, today.

1. “Hair Trajectory.” (Sharisse T. Smith, The Los Angeles Review, April 2015)

This essay blew me away. Sharisse writes about the history of her hair: the painful braiding process, and how it affects every aspect of her life. The offensive questions from strangers. The nervousness she feels when she finds out she’s pregnant with a girl, and the irony infused in her daughter’s desire to imitate her mom’s many fashions.

2. “Far Away From Me.” (Jenny Zheng, Rookie, April 2015)

Jenny Zheng is a fantastic writer, and this meditation about fetishization through the lens of a Weezer song is no exception: I still catch myself trying to become the object someone imagines me to be, but then there are other times, when I am free, when I am fluent, when I am unimaginable, that I start to feel like somewhere out there is the decolonized love for me, somewhere out there, there is a love that doesn’t let any of us be so lonely.

3. “On Being Fat, Brown, Femme, Ugly and Unloveable.” (Caleb Brown, Black Girl Dangerous, July 2014)

Is it possible to decolonize love and beauty? Caleb Brown has experienced the harmful effects of kyriarchy, most acutely in the realm of romantic love. His appearance and identity deviate deliberately from societally accepted norms (white, heterosexual, cisgender, masculine, etc.), a norm that impedes the queer community, too: I have become anti-romance because I cannot be invested in romantic love, because this investment is dangerous for my mental health. It is perpetual and intimate exposure to the interlocking systems of white supremacy, fat hatred, cissexism and more. Under these systems, my body can’t be neutral, or erotic, or desired without being fetishized beyond context and recognition.

4. “How I Found Myself When My Skin Changed Its Identity.” (Rushaa Louise Hamid, BuzzFeed, April 2015)

When she was 13, Rushaa developed vitiligo: white patterns appeared all over her skin, as her body attacked her melanin. Despite society’s harsh predilections, her parents’ hand-wringing and a series of “corrective” creams and UV rays, Rushaa is determined to see her body as an ever-changing work of art, not a problem to be solved.

5. “A Trip Into the Ethnic Plastic Surgery Minefield.” (Maureen O’Connor, New York Magazine, July 2014)

Is “ethnic” plastic surgery inherently racist, or do the people who seek it out have reasons other than conforming to Western standards of beauty? In this in-depth piece, Maureen O’Connor talks with the doctors that perform these controversial surgeries, as well as several women who’ve gone under the knife or needle to achieve a certain aesthetic.