I was born with brown skin. I loved it because my dad and I would compare arms and it would look like we were cut from the same cloth. It was not until I went to kindergarten that I was first made aware of the fact that I looked different. I was tall, overweight, curly-haired, dark skinned; most little girls did not look like me.
Growing up, I was called all sorts of names. At home, I am blessed to have an encouraging and nurturing environment. But elsewhere, in the company of strangers and even distant relatives, I was always compared to fair-skinned girls. I was the smart one at best, but I was never be the pretty one. After years of being told this, I believed it. I was living it. I believed that I was somehow less-than and unworthy. When no one asked me to dance at my grade school prom, I was hurt but not surprised. I understood that no boy wanted to be seen with the dark-skinned girl.
Where does this mentality even come from? On what stone was it carved that “only fair is beautiful”? We might not have that, but we have something just as constant: a bombardment of messages from the media telling us the same thing. All the people who told me I was ugly were only echoing what they heard and saw. It’s strange to be treated as a second-class citizen in my country, a country of brown-skinned people. Growing up seeing “whiten this, whiten that” and airbrushed photos of lean, light-skinned women made me want to be like them so bad. I thought, “Maybe if I’m like them, I would be more attractive. If others find me attractive, then maybe I would be happier”.
Having more melanin came with its problems. Hyperpigmentation was one of them. I begged my mom to buy me underarm whitening creams when I was ten. I scrubbed hard every day with papaya soap hoping that even just a little at a time, my darkness would wash out with the bath water. Scrubbing so hard sometimes wounded me and those would scar and turn into keloids: another problem with darker skin. Trying to “solve” my problems created new ones, and it kept piling up like heavy rocks on my fragile self-esteem until it was pulverized.
Picking up the pieces was not easy. It took active seeking of representation and positive messages for brown girls, brands who make products suited to brown skin, love and light from people who see you beyond what you look like. But over time, I came to learn that there is so much to love about being morena. For one, brown skin pops against certain colors of clothing and makeup. But for me, mostly it's the liberating thought of not constantly worrying about something I can’t change. This is what I have and I am going to love me.
From this resolution, we can then shift our attention and energy toward things that we can change. We can focus on the health of our skin instead of the color. Make sure your skin is moisturized, clean, and protected with SPF when you go under the sun. Eat clean and drink plenty of water so you glow from the inside, no matter what shade of gorgeous you are.
Most importantly, do this all for yourself. Do it to make yourself happy. Our self-worth must not rely upon what others think of us. Trying to impress everyone is the most stressful, miserable job in the world. Do not do it so others will find you attractive and source the happiness from the validation of others. Do it so that your soul is happy; so that you can look in the mirror and smile from your heart. Happy, kind girls are the prettiest.