In the digital, I am beautiful.
I am 500 right swipes in 18 days.
I am a question of “is this algorithm working right?” and “oh — it is working right?” and “oh.”
I am a question of, “how can I be swipable and approachable and 691-matches-in-7-months beautiful
when I am a statement of unapproachable and invisible
and radio-silence in real life?”
If you’re confused, I used to be, too. I write this knowing that many of us experience the disconnect between swipes and reality. I write this knowing that for many of us, we get a lot more lovin’ on the Internet than we ever do in real life.
I also write this with the knowledge that most of you reading this don’t understand what it’s like to have your dark skin preclude you from every dating or intimate situation you are in. You are not privy to the experience of being a masterpiece in the digital, on the pedestal, and not being allowed to exist (or slay, or thrive) in the actual dark.
If you couldn’t have guessed it already, my skin is a couple thousand hex codes too dark for an upstanding man to bring home to his mother.
And I know that I am beautiful. I also know that the last time I dated a boy at Wash. U. was 2 weeks into my freshman year. I know that my Facebook profile pictures will get 497 likes on my best day, 121 on my worst, and I know that the last guy to express interest in me in person, in 4 years, was my dumb freshman year boyfriend of 2 weeks.
I know that I have gone to bar after bar and club after club in my Akua glam and my Akua beautiful, knowing that while I had 3,477 people in my Bumble Beeline to swipe back on when visiting Chicago over spring break, my real-life personhood would be far too much for the unsuspecting, beer-imbibing dude named Garrett*.
And so I watch as my friends get asked to dance by Connor and Mikey and Todd. The music is deafening and their attempts to “hit dem folks” are off-putting and these boys are probably, definitely not my type, but it’s endlessly frustrating that they don’t even try.
I sip my sugar (with a splash of vodka) and feel like I am invisible. I know I can’t be invisible, because I know how hard I try.
But my eyebrows are threaded, and my afro’s flowing all nice, and my shaven legs are positioned atop each other — and all I get are blank stares from men and whispers of “sorry!” from well-meaning-but-understandably-thirsty friends who give Matt and Brennan their numbers.
My own thirsty tail goes between my exfoliated legs and I start to feel crazy. I am not visible — I’m no object of attraction. I am only blank stares and “sorry”s and I mostly feel that they’re apologizing for their refusal to see me. I struggle with the club’s shitty WiFi and turn to the App Store to re-download my validation.
I just want to make sure I am not crazy.
So I go on dates, always facilitated through the apps. Afterwards I receive texts like, “you were ridiculously pretty” and “you are stunning Akua, Glad we matched” (verbatim, because I’m vain and also trying to prove a point). I am polite and say “thank you,” because I no longer see a prosocial obligation to deny what I know to be true.
But reveling in the compliments I’ve received isn’t the point of this essay; conveying the canyon between real-life neglect and on-screen attention, avowals, and proposals is.
I know that Hunter and Zack would have never approached me without an app orchestrating our activity.
They just wouldn’t do it — not for 20 dollars. Maybe they’d do so for 100 dollars, but only sheepishly. I know that boys like them would have never seen me as “pretty” or “stunning” if the Machine weren’t helping them to do so.
And I don’t know if I should be given the space to feel frustrated about this — who am I to believe that I deserve male attention every time I go out? What do swaggering Joey or sweaty Steven even owe me? Can I ask tone-deaf boys to care about my visibility? Can I ask you readers to try to believe how much my darkness erases me? And if I know I’m fairly attractive, and if I’m fairly upset that my beauty only counts online — does that make me entitled? Does that make a bitch?
So this is the Machine.
This is why, with 5 weeks left until graduation, I have 5 dating apps downloaded on my phone.
This is the only reason why I get to feel like all of the other reindeer — a college girl worthy of being dated for more than two weeks, imagine — and this is why I get to be fatalistic about my grievances. If the palpability of this disconnect makes me feel crazy, you all deserve to feel crazy too.
I’ve had 21 years to grapple with my invisibility. I grew up with no prom date, no high school boyfriend, no proof whatsoever that boys or men or man-boys could ever be into me and my skin. I was too black for Arizona, too dark for the, like, 9 black guys in my hometown, too much for my college peers and their date parties.
I’ve had 2 years to figure out the Machine. The Machine tells me that in 2 months, 826 people will “like” me on OkCupid. The Machine divulges that for so many guys, I will be “the most gorgeous woman they’ve ever seen.” It also shows me how many chocolate bar emojis I’ll be obliged to roll my eyes at, or how many statements like “I’ve never been with a black woman before 😍😍” and “am I sick, or do I have jungle fever?! 👀🙈” I will have to endure before deleting all my apps and attempting to delete myself off the Internet forever.
I’ve realized that in the constraints of the Machine, posting a picture with bomb-ass lighting will get me many more swipes than posting another picture with poorer lighting. (And by “poorer,” I mean lighting that makes me look less light, which really means less desirable, because I’m already on thin, black ice.)
And if a terrible man swipes right on Picture A but discovers I look a few shades more like Picture B in real life, can I blame him for his reluctance? Is my facial medium just too dark for uninspired white boys who want a sloppy dance and an easy lay? Am I too complicated and mysterious for them, because my dark skin preempts me?
If I wore Uggs to the club, would they take me seriously? What about if I showed up with my 4 closest white friends? What about now?
What about now?
I’ve gone out twice (sometimes thrice) a month for the past 6 months that I’ve been legal. That means I’ve gone to a club or bar around 15 times, and only twice has a guy approached me, in isolated incidents months apart from one another. One of the guys was an Emory Law student who told me, drunkenly, that I was his “beautiful ebony princess.” It was too loud to hear what the second guy thought of me.
When I re-downloaded Bumble to write this article, I had 1263 people “already interested in me,” which I think means that 1263 people in the previous few days swiped right first. While the encouraging amount of matches could be “fake news” designed to get me to pay for Bumble Premium, the disconnect I feel is not just a result of the liberal news media I consume on the daily.
I guess I’m trying to say that at a ratio of 2:1263, I’m pissed that my skin complicates my beauty.
I’m pissed that in 2018, my skin still complicates how human I get to feel (although I could have predicted this in the 3rd grade when my classmates voted that I looked like tar, but informed me in a nice way).
I’m pissed that, in the Machine, my skin is the beacon of my beauty, while in real life, it is a caution sign and a “slow down, work around” sign and a “danger, cliff ahead!” sign that fucks up the tar and her mental state beyond recognition.
The warnings say that I am good, but not if I’m close enough to touch. I am pretty, but only if I’m trapped in a screen. I am dark — as in black, as in too black, as in, “Jesus Christ, you’re beautiful,” typed Tommy, the liberal white guy who did his online-part.
He never even showed up to the club.
*= All of the names listed in this essay are the whitest names I could think of. I would write about trying to date black men, but the last response I got when I was interested in a close black friend was literally, “You’re cute enough that your darkness doesn’t matter.”
It is too difficult to unpack the histories and the factors and politics that enshroud colorism in the black community, and it feels a lot better to laugh at Tommy’s n’em’s refusal to see me than it does my own brothers’.