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Actress Gabrielle Union talks about skin color and hair insecurities

Avatar • Jan 10, 2010

This article written by Gabrielle Union was posted Friday on urban website Global Grind. See the original article HERE.
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If you ask my parents they would say I was a perfect child, a model child, because I did everything that was asked of me. I got great grades, I was a great athlete, I was a student leader, the police were never called, there were never any major scandals on our cul-de-sac…but what was going on inside, and what I was dealing with individually and as a group of girls, was absolute turmoil. Emotionally, physically, spiritually, we were forced to deal with a lot of adult issues and situations as a collective, and often times we wouldn’t turn to each other, we would internalize everything, we didn’t have an outlet. So, I was going through MAJOR low self esteem. I was a black girl in an all white school in an all white community, never feeling good enough, but always being encouraged by my parents to be bigger, badder and better. And perfect is the standard. That’s an immense amount of pressure to put on a child. Then I’m starting to like guys. And in my own town, with me being THE black girl, the white guys weren’t really checking for me in that way. When I got to go to basketball camp and I got be around black boys, I was like cool…until I got dumped…for a light skinned girl. And then that whole thing started. My hair isn’t straight enough. My nose isn’t pointy enough. My lips are too big. My boobs aren’t big enough. And you start going through all of that. And I realize as I’ve gotten older a lot of issues that I was dealing with at 15, I am still dealing with today.

My niece is a teenager and is dealing with her skin, she’s dealing with her hair, she’s dealing with what clothes to wear, the music she listens to…I would love to say a lot has changed, but I certainly believe that there is a lot more work to do be done.

In the business that I am in now, it is incredibly tough, and to be honest, sometimes it is is hard to keep my head above the water, sometimes I feel like I’m drowning. I’m just really fortunate to have people, friends I can call on at any hour. You don’t get a job, and you immediately want to blame it on, if my hair was different, or maybe if my nose…or they just want to go with light-skin girls, and you start to doubt yourself, and the self-doubts and the low self-esteem starts to creep in. When that happens I know that I can call on a good friend. One day, he made me do this exercise, which I thought was ridiculous at first, standing in the mirror and finding things about my face that I loved, whether it be the freckles or my eyebrows, and just concentrating on all of the positive things…and I thought it was a load…and then, I found myself doing it one day and I found myself feeling a little bit better. So I texted him and I was like, “it worked.” But what I found is that it’s great that I have a group of girlfriends that I can rely on, but it can’t just be this one-way street of women validating women. There’s something about a platonic, non-sexual male voice in your life, ideally your parent, your father, relative or brother, which should be a steady, consistent source of nothing but positivity. And having this friend inspired me to reach out to my own dad and tell him that he’s got to tell my niece everyday that she is a beautiful princess. I can tell her that she has a lovely jump shot, or she does well in school, but what she’s gonna start looking out for from other people, from other men, is to tell her how beautiful she is, and she’s gonna find validation in all the wrong ways. So, it is important to be that mentor, to be that guiding figure in her life, so she doesn’t accept validation from the wrong places.

We don’t generally share these stories. These are things that you generally take to the grave with you. You don’t want people to know that I hate my nose. You don’t want people to know that I have this fear a light-skinned woman walking into the room, ya’ know, you don’t want people to know that, so you take that your grave. So, I write this to let you all know that I’m still in it, but it’s getting better and there is light at the end of the tunnel. And when a young person has a mentor, it only makes the light seem that much more real.
‑Gabrielle
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Wow, Gabrielle went really raw with this and I respect her for speaking honestly. What do you guys think?

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Steph
10 years ago

I applaud Ms. Union for addressing this issue. Interestingly enough, I just finished reading “Don’t Play in the Sun” by Marita Golden, a book that touches on the same topic of women’s insecurities in regards to complexion and hair. We all deal with this issue, even the rich and famous sistas. It’s a topic that I wish more people would be open about, so we can help each other out, and heal the wounds; take away the sting from this very painful issue.

Kay
Kay
10 years ago

Good on her for being honest. I know A LOT of black women who have been (and still are) plagued with these thoughts (myself included). Black women need to support each other- no one else is going to help us so lets do it ourselves!!!

Kigali
Kigali
10 years ago

These are things all kids deal with. There is really nothing special about it. For Gabby to make this an issue is ridiculous. She is now making money from her looks which includes her skin color. Gabby and most women must understand that just like you arent attracted to every guy in the room, not every man will be attracted to you. It is better to get in where you fit in and not expect the whole world to see you as you see yourself. This isnt a contest. This is life.

Jc
Jc
10 years ago

I really find it very fascinating that still today many African women are plagued by being exactly that African! I don’t say this in condemnation only because I am gobsmacked. I also intentionally choose to use the word African and not African American or Black British because the genesis of dark skin is African. I would seriously recommend that anyone who feels the same as Gabriel and Gabriel herself should take a trip to Africa. The reason I recommend this is because it will be an immense learning experience. The skin Gabriel refers to as dark, among her peers —… Read more »

At_Ease
At_Ease
9 years ago
Reply to  Jc

+1

ndeyak
ndeyak
9 years ago
Reply to  Jc

WOW!!! Well put. Thank you.

Itumeleng
Itumeleng
4 years ago
Reply to  Jc

No, Gabrielle would be considered dark skin, at least in my part of Africa, Botswana and South Africa, where the average complexion is caramel or ‘red’, after all we are descendant from the Khoisan tribe. What you mean is in West Africa, east and central where the darkest skinned Africans come from. What you are doing here is saying, hey she is not dark, someone out there, Africans, are darker. And whilst I understand the gist of what you meant, I think the overall message needs to be being comfortable in one’s skin. Which is impossible in a white supremacist world.… Read more »

Nicole
10 years ago

It takes a lot for someone as famous as she is to be so open and honest about what she went through and her insecurities. It’s so important that little girls and teenagers get the idea of what real beauty is. So many people don’t get it, they just don’t get it. It’s sad, but for those of us who do know, we need to share this with our younger ones of all races and cultures of how beautiful they are. It’s not just a black thing it’s everywhere. Red heads wanting to be blonds, blonds wanting to be brunnette’s,… Read more »

Monique
10 years ago

As a chocolate sista with thick hair I know EXACTLY where she is coming from. I have a lot of respect for Gabrielle, I look up to her in a way as she is one of the few chocolate actresses who I always though was beautiful. It’s encouraging to see other people who look like you in the lime light. We need to do a better job in lifting up black ppl of all shades and hair textures! I know some of us have our insecurities. I do think that more positive reinforcement at a young age would help with this. Thanks… Read more »

Sandy
Sandy
10 years ago

Self-validation is difficult to sustain, because not one of us lives in a vacuum. Black self-validation in America and in the midst of being bombarded by an American media that promotes a certain beauty standard is especially difficult. I can pull myself up by my boot straps or love myself until the cows come home, but THAT alone is insufficient to prop me up. One gets by with a little help from the kindness of friends, family, and strangers too. That’s Union’s point. And her point about inter-gender modes of validation is well taken too. If from an early age,… Read more »

MissyD
MissyD
10 years ago

I actually saw this exact same article on another site and literally people were bashing Gabrielle from right to left. They just saw her as a self hater, which I don’t think she is at all. Gabrielle Union has never tried to represent herself as anything more or less than what she is. She’s a great actress and after this a great inspriation. I love that she was open and honest enough to admit how she really feels. African Women around the world are expected to be hard, strong, militant etc. and sometimes in all that people forget that we… Read more »

Apartmentlife
Apartmentlife
10 years ago

@Kigali ita. I think she’s full of rubbish. I can’t listen to someone that has “fixed” their nose in order to feel better about themselves and fit in with society norms. Girl, until you practice what you preach, sit down. Next!

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This post was mentioned on Twitter by bglhonline: great stuff on BGLH today: actress gabrielle union talks about skin color and hair insecurities http://tinyurl.com/yzjtgjw

Kadiane*francophone
Kadiane*francophone
10 years ago

@ JC seems like she have had a nose job : http://news.makemeheal.com/gabrielle-union-nose-job/421 @ all I don’t know why we even bother we such stories. This woman works for the ”body insecurity business”. She will always be the worst enemy of anybody that wants to feel more secure. I mean.…their bodies always has to be ”perfect” and slim, aging is not an option, the hair has to be straight etc. Some will say: but a lot of people relate to her experience. Isn’t it better to pay attention to the experiences of people like her who have overcome their specific insecurities?… Read more »

Cris
10 years ago

i think this is beautiful! it helps me just knowing that someone i think is absolutely beautiful has the same insecurities that i have. and it also makes me appreciate my features as well. it takes a lot of courage to fess up to something as personal as this. & unfortunately this is all too common in the black community. and it may not be anything “special,” but as long as the issue is there, out beautiful black daughters, sisters, and nieces coming up need that encouragement and to know they are not alone.

Kadiane*francophone
Kadiane*francophone
10 years ago

.…. an inspiring video : I also think that people that work for the insecurity industry are less likely to be confident amongst all the people. They know that the love they seem to receive is mostly due to their physical appearance. Most of us do not know them personally so they know we do not genuinely love them. Confidence comes from love. If you only depend of external love that you have no control on.…you will alway leave in the fear of loosing it: insecurity trap 101 I believe this people are more insecure than the average everyday people so we… Read more »

Monica
Monica
10 years ago

I’m surprised that she was this honest. I totally understand where she is coming from.

Sonya
Sonya
10 years ago

I don’t think she had a nose job. The link someone posted from makemeheal.com looks like she was only wearing some nose contouring make-up. That’s all. Either way, I’m glad that someone like Gabby can speak to these very real & serious issues average black women face on a daily. I always wondered if these celebrities had to deal with everyday self-esteem issues. In my life for example, my ex-bf dated only girls that had lighter skin than me. And I’m not very dark but fairly light brown. Anyway, before I decided to go natural — he was completely against the… Read more »

Nikki
Nikki
10 years ago

Wow, she was really honest. No one does like to point out their insecurities, but I think she was brave to do so, and what she talked about was real. Sometimes you do just need a male figure to help give you that boost on days when things aren’t too great.

I think it’s so funny how we all have the things that we don’t like about ourselves. I’ve always thought that she was so gorgeous but at the end of the day, it all comes down to what you believe about yourself.

chrissystina
10 years ago

I’m glad Gabrielle said this, because whehter we like her or not, she is speaking the truth without sounding “preachy”. Me and my friend were having this same discussion (again) just last week. We are very different in color, hair, and body type. She is from Uganda, I am African-American. Our conversations are always raw, and Gabby was saying more than a taste of it. Go Gabby, do you, good for you trying to be positive!

dani
dani
10 years ago

That doesn’t look anything like a nose job to me. Looks like obvious shading with makeup. The nose is practically the same with some dark lines along each side of the bridge.

dani
dani
10 years ago

I forgot to add that I think she’s a very cute and talented woman, yet she’s still insecure. It’s about getting the inside together.

revolution grl
10 years ago

i’m glad that gabrielle talked about this–while some of us may get tired of this constant struggle, there are many who still benefit from it. i am brown, i have a nose that looks a lot like gabby’s (btw, i loooove my nose and hers, too!), and big lips. until a year or so ago i hated my lips more than anything else on my body–i never had a problem with being dark, my parents (a father a shade lighter than me and a mother who is light-skin) always instilled in me that i was beautiful and even though i’m… Read more »

Jamie
Jamie
10 years ago

Her honesty is very refreshing and I find it admirable that she would speak about the pressures black women face esp in entertainment. Whether we have self esteems issues or not,we are all affected in some way via magazines, movies, commercials. You may have grown up in the most supportive environment but you may be confronted by someone who was not and does not like you because she may have not have gotten that support at home.

Black women are strong and we are beautiful but that does not mean we should not be honest. What affects one affects us all.

NappySexyFly
NappySexyFly
10 years ago

She told her truth and it will be a light for someone else living through this. Black women have been maligned since we were taken from the source and placed elsewhere. This is a truth. We have to build each other up. We have sites like this one to re-educate us into accepting the way God made us. We wouldn’t need them if it weren’t suffering.

MsProverbs31
10 years ago

Thank you Ms. Union for sharing your story.
All the best as you continue your journey of self-love!

Afrika
10 years ago

@ Kigali

I don’t get your point. So are mad because she is addressing a sensitive issue in the black community???????

@ Apartmentlife

And you have concrete evidence that she fixed her nose? gossip rumors concocted by gossip bloggers who are looking for cheap blog hits should not be presented as hardcore facts. Second of all, Gabrielle is not “preaching” anything. She is simply discussing an issue very common in the black community so I don’t why you are saying she needs to practice what she preaches. LOL

Steph
10 years ago

Hmm, I wonder why a few of us have such a bitter take on this piece? I looked at the pictures, and I don’t see any evidence of a nose job. Yes, makeup, plus she had more weight in her face in the “before” pics. Yes, this is life, and in the life of an American black woman, we share similar struggles. Why not talk about them and bring them to light, without pouring salt into anyones game? After all, haven’t most of us “fixed” things, for example RELAXING OUR HAIR, to fit into society’s norm, before we set ourselves free… Read more »

Kigali
Kigali
10 years ago

@Afrika, What I am saying is that there is nothing special about what she went through. We all do especially as young teens when our bodies, our minds and our world changes quickly. I dont think skin tone is a sensitive issue in the black community. It doesnt affect half of us (men) and it doesnt really affect most of us (women) because we come in many different colors. The idea that we must be loved by everyone all the time is very destructive. Gabby is a very attractive woman. She is better off and better looking than most. I… Read more »

Steph
10 years ago

@Kigali,

You stated “I don’t think skin tone is a sensitive issue in the black community.”

If it was never an issue in your community, you are truly blessed. I’m from the deep south, and it’s a constant issue for men and women both. Even my own family made me feel “less than” because I was darker than most of them. The fact that we come in many colors makes it all the more an issue.

My intention is not to dismiss anyone’s opinion, but my wish is for everyone’s struggle to at least be validated, even if we don’t all agree.

TerraD
TerraD
10 years ago

I’m loving the fact that she was that honest!

Patricia Grannum
10 years ago

@ Jc I think you are absolutely right

Jamie
Jamie
10 years ago

I think there is something special and unique about all of our stories. When I heard the story of the little girl whose braid was cut off or the story of the white father with the Ethiopian daughter those stories touched me to the core. Why would anyone want to dismiss her story? Because she’s beautiful and works in the entertainment industry? I don’t think that Ms. Union is exempt from her story being any more special because of her job. What I felt was a common bond between us all. There seems to be one prominent image that our daughters,… Read more »

April
April
10 years ago

WoW hold the press, stars are people too.

Kaikou
Kaikou
10 years ago

I can not connect to what Gab has to say at all. Sorry it is not every black girl’s story.

Nell
10 years ago

@the article i don’t think Gabrielle needs any bells rang for coming out and saying this. she does not have DARK skin, and her nose looks almost like Gwyneth Paltrow’s.…i don’t see how this is something black women need to rally with. she has insecurities just like any woman-white, black or other. now, if she had the physical features and skin tone of someone like Alek Wek or Oprah, then i think its something to make newsworthy. that being said though, i do think it is important for people, celebrities, and anyone in the limelight to continue to bring up… Read more »

Dreamlover225
Dreamlover225
10 years ago

i don’t see how this is something black women need to rally with. she has insecurities just like any woman-white, black or other. now, if she had the physical features and skin tone of someone like Alek Wek or Oprah, then i think its something to make newsworthy.”

I don’t understand. So because Gabrielle Union is an attractive woman we should dismiss her story? Her tales resonate with black women because many women in some way, shape or form have the dealt with the issues she speaks of.

Nell
10 years ago

no, i’m not saying it should be dismissed. i think its good that she brings light to the color complex, since it is often downplayed in the black community as something outdated or altogether non-existent, as well as the relationship and the affirmations a daughter needs to receive from males early in her life. however, there are many women that wish to look like her, ones that are much darker than she is, have larger noses and lips than she does, with natural hair that need to be rallied around. once these types of women i’m talking about (like Alek Wek… Read more »

melonie
melonie
10 years ago

“her nose looks almost like Gwyneth Paltrow’s”…ummm, not quite. Her features are much more like Oprah’s, but whatever. I think your comments point to the subjectivity of how ppl perceive skin tones and facial features. B/c technically Alek Wek’s features are not astoundingly full; they are very much in proportion with her face. I hear what you’re saying about Alek Wek’s skin tone, but she is Dinka. Most Africans of the diaspora and a number from the continent do not share her skin tone (Oprah included). I know Ghanians who comment on her tone as being distinctly darker than theirs.… Read more »

HijabiApprentice
HijabiApprentice
10 years ago

I really liked the honesty of this. It seems like people (here and other hair forums) give Gabby a hard time or do no like her but that doesn’t make her experience irrelevant. Although this was not my struggle I know a lot of women who struggle with the hair/skin color thing.

asmalltowngurl
asmalltowngurl
10 years ago

I live in Gabby’s hometown and I can defintely related to being the only black girl around. Our city is very segragated. Whites or those w/ money live out west, latinos in the south and blacks and the poor ppl in the north of the city. If you go to one of the better schools out west and your smart, you’ll definetly be the only one. I can relate to wanting to have my hair as straight as possible, my face smaller…I lost 40 pounds during the school year trying to imitate what they believe is beautiful…it was hard, but… Read more »

laceebia
laceebia
10 years ago

It sounds like some people are saying that Gabrielle Union is not black enouph to voice her experience, or feel insecure about her hair or complexion. That seems crazy to me. I read the article, and I think the things she saying make plenty of sense. She can only speak from HER experiences!! I applaud the article. I’m letting my 15 year old daughter, who happens to be about the same complexion as Gabrielle, read the article. My daughter is smart, kind, popular, athletic, and beautiful, but I’ve overheard her make comments about her complexion. I constantly remind her that… Read more »

Lonitra
Lonitra
9 years ago

WOW! People have always told me i resemble Gabriel a lot in my appearance and mannerisms.My cousins even call me “Gabby” lol I find it funny though now that Gabriel Union and I Share a STRIKINGLY similar history, its almost scary. I read this thinking OMG! shes an older version of ME! I applaud her for sharing her personal experiences as a dark skinned girl in a light skinned world with parents who wanted me to be the best among them all. Though now im so over it it wasnt that long ago when was in that same position. I… Read more »

TWA4now
TWA4now
7 years ago

Wow! We really don’t talk enough about this.….and if we don’t, we will just pass it on to the next generation. You are beautiful your hair is beautiful and good enough! Say it everyday…I’m not white I don’t have white features. I’m “me” 🙂

kat
kat
7 years ago

Thanks so. Much for positing this
It’s validated and clarified that I’m on the right path mentally and emotionally
As I wasn’t sure what was going on with me (I’m more motivated at work,I’ve completly lost interest in ‘finding the one’ I dress to pleasemyself not others and I’m becoming more and more interested in getting closer to being the woman I want to be
It’s started with me really taking care of my hair

TWA4now
TWA4now
7 years ago
Reply to  kat

So true! It can start with our natural hair and then other avenues of our life.….mind body, soul, and spirit. What we eat or don’t eat effects our hair and face and inward parts. Although, I love to please people and love their opinions, I cannot neglect my own. I have to take care of myself for ME whatever age…happy for you. <3

trackback

[…] felt self-conscious about her complexion.  I remember reading the article in 2010. Link: http://bglh-marketplace.com/2010/01/actress-gabrielle-union-talks-about-skin-color-and-hair-insecur&#8230; she recently opened up about actually being a “mean girl”  as a panel guest at the […]

Aliyah
Aliyah
5 years ago

Gabrielle I feel exactly how you do . I went through that in middle school and Highschool. I didn’t feel as pretty as the white girls and light skin black or mixed girls . In college , I did research on my history and I learned to love myself . I surrounded myself with blacks who love being black and want to build up our community . I did what my grandma told me to do looked at the good things about me instead of my flaws . I looked in the mirror and told myself I was beautiful black… Read more »

JichaelMackson
JichaelMackson
4 years ago

I really enjoyed this article!

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