As a child I thought I was cursed to be dark-skinned. I always felt wrong, even once I started my career. I have spent 20 years working as a beauty journalist, but I knew I would never be a beauty director in the early aughties, the Sex and the City heyday of the magazine world. Jobs I was qualified for — and was actually already doing — were given to women with no beauty experience. But they were a size 0, with blue eyes and swinging blonde hair. They fit the image of power that those magazines wanted to exude.
I knew my Blackness would hold me back in that world. So I became a freelance writer at the age of 23, and never looked back. I wasn’t prepared to play “Mammy” to anyone’s Scarlett O’Hara. It was painful to acknowledge that my nose and my lips, my hair, and my ass were the reason my dreams were out of reach. However, I knew deep down it was in my power to build my own table at which to feast. I wouldn’t wait around for the crumbs off of someone else’s, a table where I might never be invited to pull up a chair.
At 43 and as a mother of biracial twin daughters, I knew I had to break the cycle of negative noise so many of us have been brought up with. My daughters are a wonderful mix of me and my husband, who is blond and blue-eyed. But colorism is already an issue for these beautiful nine-year-old girls, as my blue-eyed, lighter-skinned daughter is heaped with praise compared to my daughter with a tighter curl pattern and darker skin. Today, I see it as my responsibility to reframe the story and to try and make things better for these two incredible young ladies.
And if I could go back in time? I would give my 10-year-old self a hug and say, “Despite what those movies tell you, you are seen, you are powerful, you are beautiful. And you are aspirational.” I’d also tell her to “just hold on. In the year 2020, the world will turn upside down and in all the chaos and destruction there will be rebirth. People will begin to talk about all the invisible, painful things you have felt. It’s not you. You are not wrong and you’re not the negative things you’ve been made to feel you are. When the time comes, raise up your voice and help heal what’s going on. You will be seen. You will be heard.”
Ateh Jewel is an award-winning journalist, producer, and director. She currently runs a production company with her husband and is creating a makeup line (including foundation) for skin of color.
Photographer: Delphine Diallo
Stylist: Peju Famojure
Hair: Naeemah Lafond
Makeup: Jezz Hill
Models: Vegabon / Community, Jaiiy / Community, Enga /APM
Zeba: Sylvie Rosokoff
Michaela: Helen L. Collen
Ateh: Courtesy of Ateh Jewel
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