About a week before heading to Hawaii for my honeymoon, I started thinking about how silly it is that women everywhere — specifically women of color — are ashamed of their dark knees and elbows. But why? It isn’t at all uncommon, but like a lot of other body image “things,” dark elbows and knees aren’t often represented in the media.
This first picture is hysterical to me because as long as I can remember I’ve had darker knees and elbows which is so normal for women of color, but after my husband took this picture, he looked at it and said, “wait…. what are you trying to show? You don’t even have dark knees… actually you don’t even have dark elbows.” I got up and very rudely snatched my phone from him, and… I’ll be damned. He was right. But seriously, middle fingers to the Maui sunshine (just in that moment!) I had been planning this photo since before we left on vacay and the sunny, glowing lighting somehow made it look like I’m the most evenly toned human of life. Ergo, picture number 2 taken back home in California.
In reality, my knees truly have always been darker but for some unknown reason, I never cared much. My elbows on the other hand have more or less always been cringe-worthy to me. I even remember looking through my wedding photos and thinking, “hmm… I wonder if I could photoshop my elbows?” Sadly, before the photos were taken I even considered applying make-up on each elbow but decided that would surely rub off on my guests.
As I used my sugar scrub on my “too” brown knees and elbows when I first thought of this post, I really started to feel silly. I’ve spent my entire life unhappy with my stubborn elbows that won’t lighten no matter how much lotion, body butter, sugar scrub, rose salve, or anything else is used… but why the need to change?! And then it dawned on me: in the media, women of color are never portrayed with dark elbows or knees… ever. Okay maybe at some point it has happened but if so it is rare. Those “imperfections” are airbrushed out or photoshopped away, making little girls everywhere think their dark knees and their dark elbows aren’t okay. Beyond the photoshopped/re-touched photos, growing up, most of the women I saw in the media weren’t even women of color at all. So, I’ve always been made to believe it was abnormal, uncommon, unusual, and plain NOT CUTE to have darker knees and elbows. But seriously, F**K that!
I’m probably always going to put extra lotion on my elbows and knees, and maybe even still use my sugar scrub (because they get ashy!), but I’m also going to be aware. Aware that this dislike for body parts that have never failed me, comes from a lack of representation… nothing more. And if you too have ever felt your dark knees, or maybe even your crazy amount of freckles, or your stretch marks, or your cellulite, or whatever, should be changed immediately, take a minute to figure out if the real problem is simply a lack of representation and not a personal fail (nor oddity, nor ugly mark against your personal beauty, nor imperfection).
I won’t lie and say that this realization has made me happy to have dark elbows and that I no longer wish to photoshop them from my wedding pictures… I’m not even going to require myself to love them. But, awareness is the first step, and I hope one day to at least feel indifference rather than dislike.
P.S. Of course, I don’t speak for every woman of color and I’m aware not everyone is ashamed or trying to change this aspect of themselves… but I also know of others who feel/have felt like me. And frankly, reaching just one person who has felt the same would be worth it.