My so-called life

As most kids who grew up in a country colonized by the Americans I was raised by literature, films, and TV series created by white people. One of my favorites growing up was My So-Called Life, starring Clare Danes as Angela Chase, a teenager trying to figure out who she is. It’s nothing like those other tween series where everyone is just fighting to be noticed by that one high school jock. This one dealt with social issues (from depression to child abuse) that some of us from the younger audience were still too young to comprehend (thankfully, parents in the third world during that time didn’t monitor what their kids watch).

It was great to be “baptized” into these issues, though. I cried in every episode. One of the things I could relate to was the mother-daughter dynamics, between Angela and Patty.

I don’t want to unpack what it means for a brown girl to grow up watching light-skinned people, or why I could even relate to a white teenager like Angela Chase. But I just want to pick one scene from My So Called Life that got me crying hard for days.

Mom: I would think that you would welcome the opportunity to dress up, to look your best.
Angela: Who am I looking my best for?
Mom: For you! Of course this is for you! I mean, I don’t…
Angela: Mom, just face the facts, okay?
Mom: What facts, what?
Angela: That I’m UGLY, okay? Just face it — I have.
Mom: How can you say that– how can you possibly —
Angela: By looking in the mirror, okay? By looking at you, with the way you look at me.
Mom: How do I look at you?
Angela: By the way you instruct me on how to wash my face so I don’t get zits. Like you have to fix me, like you’re ashamed of me.
Mom: Oh, no — Angela, sweetheart, no!
Angela: You expect me to be beautiful, because you’re beautiful. Well, I’m sorry — I’m not. I’m just not.

Now, I love my mom, immensely. But I understand, as how most mothers from her generation were to their daughters, my mom was concerned about how her daughters will be perceived by those in her environment. That environment glorified light-skinned girls and looked down on brown girls like me (thanks to American/Spanish colonization). This seemed like a burden for my mom who, like my sister and all my aunts and cousins, are light-skinned.

I was too young to figure out why my relationship with my mom was hurtful for me. I was too young to understand why every visit to the mall to get a new dress (“Rhea, that dress looks horrible on you, it makes you look darker! Go get another dress!“), every beauty reminder (“You’ll need this soap to make your skin lighter”) felt wrong. I was too young to understand until I saw this episode.

It’s been ages since My So Called Life went off air, but the only reason I was able to find this mother-daughter dialogue on the internet is because Angela’s few words never left me “That I’m UGLY, okay? Just face it — I have.”

As an adult, I am grateful that I finally got to confront my mom about this. And we made peace with the past, with an agreement that this history won’t be repeated among any of my nieces. But as to the rest of the country…

While there’s little progress – there are more people protesting colorism – people still generally see light skin as the ideal standard of beauty. I do hope, though, that mothers in this generation will make their daughters feel beautiful, regardless of their size or color.

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