I’m 33 and Realizing That “Black Don’t Crack” Is a Lie

POPSUGAR Photography / Natasha Marsh

“You’ll appreciate it when you’re older.”

Those are the words I heard when I interviewed for my first part-time job at 15. I heard them again the following year when I took my driving test; at 18, when I voted for the first time; at 25, when I rented a car; and any time I bought alcohol from the ages of 21 to 29. Convincing someone of my age – despite my “baby face” – was always the precursor of this haunted phrase.

As a Black woman, aren’t I expected to look young forever?

But now, at 33, I’ve realized no one questions my age anymore. I don’t get carded at bars or restaurants, and no one alludes to the gratitude I would experience at an older age. Sure, you can chalk it up to the nature of aging, but it’s been a very confusing, unlearning season for me. Why? Because, as a Black woman, aren’t I expected to look young forever? Aren’t people meant to applaud my face and body for looking significantly younger than they are? And like so many Black women before me, aren’t I supposed to respond to these comments with a coy smile and immense pride, replying, “Well, you know what they say: ‘Black don’t crack.'”

Experts Featured in This Article:

Michael Keyes, MD, is a board-eligible plastic surgeon and the founder of Celebrity Plastics.

The cultural adage describes the expansive resilience and timeless beauty of Black individuals, especially Black women, implying that we age gracefully without showing visible signs of getting older – most notably, wrinkles. Every time someone has been genuinely shocked to learn of my age, it’s made me trust the embedded mantra even more. It became a silent, daily declaration: because I have a certain level of melanin – the dark pigment that protects skin from UV rays – aging wouldn’t be visible on my face. And until last year, I believed this wholeheartedly.

But when I turned 32 last summer, I spotted two thinly etched wrinkles in the middle of my forehead. I am not sure how long they have been there (my curly fringe has potentially blocked them), but they are undoubtedly there.

It’s confusing when I see Black women like Gabrielle Union, Halle Berry, Regina Hall, and Tracee Ellis Ross, who appear to show off the same face in 2024 as they did in 1989. It’s not fair seeing my 63-year-old mom recently discover her first wrinkle, knowing my thinly etched lines have been there for over a year. “Black don’t crack” owes me these moments.

There’s even some scientific truth to the adage. “Black skin contains larger melanosomes, offering higher natural protection against UV radiation and contributing to a slower aging process compared to lighter skin types,” says Michael Keyes, MD, founder of Celebrity Plastics. “[Black skin] also has a thicker and more compact dermis with more fibroblasts, which helps maintain skin elasticity and structural integrity longer.” Additionally, Black skin tends to have larger sebaceous glands, leading to higher sebum production that keeps the skin moisturized and protected. All these factors make Black skin less prone to sun damage, which is what leads to fine lines and wrinkles, sagging, and other side effects of aged skin.

Could it be that “Black don’t crack” proves society doesn’t allow Black women to be fully human?

Although Black skin might not crack, it does age. We get hyperpigmentation, sun spots, and dull texture. “Factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and skin-care routines play significant roles in how our skin ages,” Keyes continues. “UV radiation is one of the primary causes of premature aging, and Black skin is not exempt from this risk.” While “Black don’t crack” may be a symbol of pride in the Black community, the pressure to live up to this quip can be added to our society’s long list of unrealistic standards of beauty.

Maybe that’s one reason 1,781,485 Black people got plastic surgery in 2020. For many of us, the phrase suggests that we should be immune to the natural process of aging, forever maintaining a youthful appearance. The expectations can weigh on us – especially those of us who experience normal signs of aging – and create an idealized image that might not align with reality.

In many situations, “Black don’t crack” can do more harm than good. It only takes into account outward appearance, completely disregarding how environmental stressors – like misogyny, racism, and hypersexualization – can age us mentally, emotionally, and physically. As a community that’s often forced to display strength and resilience, the phrase dismisses our struggles and need for support.

Seeing the wrinkles on my forehead almost feels like a personal failure. Did I not take care of my skin as well as I should have? Should I have avoided certain skin-care products? Should I try not to be so expressive in my face? All of these questions have run through my mind the past year as I’ve stared at the two thin lines on my forehead, thinking, “This isn’t supposed to happen to me.”

Could it be that “Black don’t crack” proves society doesn’t allow Black women to be fully human? Similarly to the “angry Black woman” trope, it implies we should appear strong, graceful, forever youthful and never raise our voice – nothing outside of that. I am sick of the narrow boxing the public puts us in and the insane pressure that results from that. Sure, Black skin might not crack, but if it does, don’t blame us for it.

Natasha Marsh is a freelance writer who writes about fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. Prior to freelancing, she held styling staff positions at The Wall Street Journal, Burberry, Cosmopolitan Magazine, British GQ, and Harpers Bazaar.

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