My skin is my greatest teacher

Eric Miyeni

I don’t like the phrase “body part” much. At its worst it has a tendency to remind me of murders and psychotic murderers. At its best it reminds me of the work of medical doctors. Don’t get me wrong. I love doctors. I’m just not cut out to do what they do. I am incredibly queasy about it. I would probably faint if you made me watch a surgeon cut up a patient. Saying “body part” makes me feel like I’m disassembling a fantastic and intricate machine-like whole that cannot function when separated like that.

But for lack of a better phrase I have to say, my skin is my favourite, here it comes; body part.

Okay, now that we are past using that terrible phrase, here’s why I love my skin; I love that my skin is both absorbent and liquid proof. I love that it knows exactly when to be which of these two. I love its intelligence. I love that when cut, it can sew itself back together. I love the feel of it. I love that it has a functional fashion sense. When it is hot outside, it wears a dark colour to ward off the sun’s stinging rays. And when it’s cold, and the sun is hiding for most of the time, or just not bright enough to provide what the skin thinks is enough vitamin D, it wears a much lighter colour to take in more of the sun’s rays. Whenever there’s danger it is often the first to warn me. And, if I’m to be subjected to any physical pain, it will offer itself first to take the punishment. My skin is my hero and it is my bravest companion. I love the protection it gives my body. How could it not? It is the biggest organ I have.

Testimony to its warrior nature you will recall, resides in how it has marshaled me through treacherous decades of hate. Over the centuries as you know, my skin has been used to subject me to unnecessary cruelty and prejudice. It has been used to justify the most bizarre theories about who I was, am and could be. But through it all, no matter how hard I tried sometimes, it stood strong in its identity and refused to change and be something it is not. My skin taught me over the ages, through all of this, that whatever calamities might befall me, I have to stand strong and believe completely in who I am because truth always triumphs. So no matter how often I stayed in the sun to be darker for a few days or smeared skin lightening lotions all over myself to be lighter skinned for some time, my skin always returned to its true colour, singularly focused on remaining true to its identity and thus making it futile and useless to see it as more important than just being a layer that protects. My skin has been my greatest teacher. And the single most important lesson it has taught me is to never put more importance than is necessary on any single thing. It taught me that like it, I am both majestic and simple and that this duality is only natural and that more than just being okay, this duality is the beauty that defines life on this beguiling planet.

That’s why I could wear it on my back and build the pyramids. That’s why I could wear it daily, under the most hostile glare of people who hate, and beat apartheid. That’s why today, I can wear it like the most beautiful outfit a human being can ever wear and walk with my head held high. This is because when all wars are fought, won and lost, we all get to learn that, primarily, my skin is but one colour that the human race uses to weave its tapestry upon the face of mother earth. Without it, and yours, and hers, and his, together, the world would surely be a lot duller, a lot less interesting and inescapably more boring to look at. My skin is to me, like yours is to you, my greatest asset.


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