The first time I ever remember thinking I was ugly was when I realized I didn’t want to play with the black dolls.
I was obsessed with playing with dolls for far longer than I care to mention but I was avidly buying lighter skin dolls every time I went to target. Barbie dolls, Bratz dolls, Polly Pocket, I bought them all. And I would tell myself it was because the hair was better. Thats what I told my mom anyway. But I realized that I didn’t think they were pretty and if they weren’t pretty than I wasn’t either. Thus began my long journey of wishing I was in someone else’s skin. A lighter skin, to be exact.
Growing up, it was normal for me to be the only black girl in my class. I went to a private Christian school in Miami, Florida, where the predominant race was white or Cuban. So it was normal for them to see a tiny speck in a sea of white. For me, it magnified everything. The older I got, It became increasingly obvious how different I was from everyone.
All of my girlfriends had hair that flowed in the wind, light eyes, and light skin. They glorified their tans in the summer and said things like “I got so dark! Almost as dark as Ciara!” Sort of paying me a compliment but not really. I watched boys fall in love with them as I fell in love with boys. I kept thinking “what do they have that I don’t?” And the insecurity in me answered “Everything.” We weren’t at an age where boys were really looking at personality, they were looking at physicality. And back in 2012, the idea of a perfect looking girl was: a perfect looking white girl. So I obsessed over it.
I had a friend who had perfect, dreamy, “beautiful white girl hair”. The texture, the length, the shine, not fizzing up into a crazy ball when exiting a pool, all things I believed were impossible for me to have. During sleepovers I would get excited because she would let me brush it while we watched movies or stayed up late talking and I idolized it. Meanwhile, I was afraid to wrap my hair in a silk scarf before going to bed so that they wouldn’t ask me questions about it. I allowed myself to think that there was only one form of beauty and that there was no way that I would fit into that.
At home, I was beautiful but I didn’t believe it. My mother oozed with beauty and confidence, my sister always had a boyfriend, but for some reason I couldn’t apply that beauty to myself. The books I read talked about “her beautiful porcelain skin”, the movies I watched had skinny white girls play love interests and black girls be the funny, supportive friend without fleshed out character arcs. I remember thinking I could never be the ingenue in a movie because I was too dark and my boobs were too big. These films were not made for me, they were made for my white friends.
After a lot of unrequited love, puberty, and finally coming into my own, I began to realize that beauty was subjective and a lot of the time, a social construct. Everyone’s definition of beauty is different. What they are attracted to varies based a lot on shedding societal norms and actually acknowledging what you, yourself, likes. I grew into myself, I identified my blackness, I fell in love with a person who barely payed attention to the color of my skin, but most importantly, I became inspired by other black people. Kerry Washington, Viola Davis, and Lupito Nyogo, paving the way for strong black female actors who boldly identify themselves as beautiful. Not because someone told them they are, because they found beauty within themseleves. Within their strength and character. To be shown on T.V that my dark skin, dark eyes, kinky hair, curvy body was in fact beautiful was beyond. This is why representation is so important.
Today I can call myself beautiful because of how I feel about myself. I am no longer afraid to be kinky, curvy or dark. I am no longer afraid to look different. When I am the only person of color in the room, I wear my badge boldy, ready to proudly resprent. I wish I could tell my younger self to believe her mother when she called her beautiful. The countless hours I spent looking into the mirror I wish could be washed away by accepting and honoring what I saw. But instead of looking into the past, I’m looking forward, and doing everything I can to convince women of how beautiful they are. No matter what they grew up believing or what society wants them to believe. Each and every one of us, we are beautiful.