This has been puzzling me for some time -- years, in fact. I think my kids see their skin as darker than it really is. They will use a dark brown crayon for their skin on a self-portrait, even when other colors are available that seem to me to be a more accurate match. When comparing their skin color to skin color in the book the Colors of Us, they'll declare a match for colors far darker than they are. In making an avatar for a computer game, again they go darker. And yesterday, Maya was telling me that she didn't like the color of her skin and wished she had skin like mine and Zoe's. I wasn't surprised to hear her say she didn't like her skin -- that's part of her don't-want-to-be-different thing (that's a subject for another post). But wanting skin like mine and Zoe's, as if Zoe and I have the same skin?! At one point in the conversation, I said she did have skin like Zoe's, and she said that her skin was far darker than Zoe's. Nothing could be further from the truth -- Zoe is in fact darker than Maya.
So. What does this mean? Is this a problem? Is this common for children of color?
My worry is that the girls have internalized the "lighter is better" message that society promotes, and thus see themselves as darker in comparison. And if "lighter is better," are they seeing themselves as "darker is bad?" Or am I falling for the "lighter is better" trope, and seeing them as lighter than they are?
And I don't know how to deal with this directly -- which is unusual for me, since I'm willing to talk about anything! I don't want to suggest that they are in fact lighter than they think, because it suggests that I think lighter is better. And no way was I going to tell Maya she's lighter than Zoe for the same reason. I once had a Japanese student look at pictures of Zoe and Maya and be very dismissive of Zoe as "dark" and obviously an ethnic minority, while praising Maya's light skin and confidently declaring her to be Han Chinese, and of a higher class. I don't want to promote that kind of within-race color stratification that has been so notorious.
The girls generally seem to have pretty good self-esteem when it comes to their skin and hair and eyes (despite Maya not wanting to be different). Zoe went through a phase where she wanted her skin to be light, but she's mostly out of that phase now, it seems. We talk often about how beautiful their skin color is, but hearing it doesn't mean they've necessarily embraced it . . . .
Any suggestions? Thoughts? Anyone seeing the same thing in their child? In themselves? Does anyone know of any studies about self-assessment of skin color? Any help would be appreciated.
P.S. Kantmakm suggested this video link in the comments (thanks!). In addition to young Asian American women discussing standards of beauty, the filmmaker reproduced the famous doll study from the 1950s, where African-American children invariably picked a white doll as more beautiful than a black doll (an experiment recreated in 2006, sadly, with the same results). Using a white, blue-eyed, blond doll and an Asian brown-eyed, black-haired doll, he asked 20 children which was prettier. Fourteen out of the 20 picked the white doll. Wow.