Skip to content

Behind the Essay: A Senior Breaks Beauty Norms

Every one of our graduating seniors has a fascinating story to tell - and there are some we have been fortunate enough to learn about through a short but powerful 500 word college essay. One of those is DSST: Cole senior Reem , who opened up about shattering beauty norms that were unconsciously enforced by both family members and society at large.

Reem’s family is from Sudan, but she was born in Denver. While she has lived here for almost all of her life, she moved to Sudan after 5th grade and returned right before the beginning of 8th grade. In her essay, she shares that while watching an Arabic drama on TV with her aunt, starring mostly characters with light complexions, her aunt blithely recommended that she use some whitening creams to fully actualize her beauty. This hurtful comment that her aunt viewed as simply helpful awakened in Reem the extent of colorism throughout Sudan. Walking down the makeup aisle, she saw bottles filled with liquid makeup markedly lighter than her own skin. As she listened to the chatter of her female relatives and observed the beauty rituals of those around her, she saw how it was also oftentimes women enforcing these standards onto other women.

Thankfully, she had an older cousin who went through a similar situation and assured Reem there was no need to lighten her skin - in fact, the melanin in her skin made her beautiful. Reem is looking forward to college next year, where she will not only take the next step in becoming a pediatrician or radiologist, but hopes to join a Muslim student club or a BSA. Grateful to have had a trusted confidant and mentor like her cousin, she is dedicated to finding a community of other young people, working together to build powerful bonds to overturn existing societal challenges to help others be more comfortable in their skin.  

DSST: Cole is a place where students have close connections with both their peers and educators. One notable educator is Internship Coordinator Maggie Dering, who sends weekly emails alerting students to different opportunities that they may otherwise not have known about. Reem noticed a college prep program at Princeton that another student had participated in over the summer - he later went on to attend Stanford. He helped her apply for this opportunity offered through LEDA (Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America), and she thoroughly enjoyed attending this past summer.  

Reem credits this program for helping to improve her writing and for giving her the skills to tell her story beautifully. Of course, her hard work and intelligence play no small role in the amazing options for college next year, including Pomona, Northwestern and UC Boulder. We can’t wait to hear her decision on stage at Senior Signing Day on May 1!