IN the 1940s, psychologists asked a group of black American children which of two almost identical dolls they liked most. The only difference was colour.
One was white and the other black. The black children invariably picked the white doll.
Asked which doll was good, most children again picked the white one. And most described the black doll, the one that looked more like them, as “bad” or “ugly”.
The psychologists concluded this was proof of internalised racism. Perhaps a sign of the times.
But a more recent study came up with the same results. Filmmaker Kiri Davis recreated the experiment with 21 black children in New York.
In her powerful seven-minute documentary, A Girl Like Me, Kiri presented the children, 4 and 5, with two almost identical dolls — a black and white one.
Their conclusion was the same as the children in the 1940s.
“These children, even though they are four and five years old, they’re kind of like a mirror and they show exactly what they’ve been exposed to by society,” Ms Davis said.
We are bombarded with messages about what it means to be beautiful, good and likeable. We see ourselves through the perception of others.
And often we are not happy about the verdict. We often want to appear different.
C.J. Walker, the first African-American millionaire, hawked skin lighteners and hair straighteners to blacks at the turn of the 20th century.
One of the most popular products in contemporary India claims to make black skins look whiter.
Nothing is so commonplace as the wish to be considered attractive.
Millions of men and women, uncomfortable with their body images, turn to plastic surgery and hair implants.
The pharmaceutical companies make millions selling drugs to numb self-doubters while motivational speakers work hard to convince us we are OK.
It is an endless and futile struggle to think well of ourselves by pretending to be what we are not.
The well-worn messages of the self-help industry seek to elevate our ordinary narcissistic impulses into a religion.
Finding our true selves is realising we are made in God’s image.
God sees each of us as a precious treasure: beautiful beyond our imaginations.
Understanding that, we can begin to change.
God loves us the way we are, but too much to leave us that way.. We can come to know that beauty isn’t always pretty.
It can be revealed in the perfection of a Michelangelo sculpture, but also in the wrinkles of an old woman or old man on the street; in the smile of a homeless person or in the people the world sees as plain and ordinary.