Loving the Black Skin You’re In
As far back as I can remember I’ve always had a self-image issue. I was tall, dark, and skinny as a child, with the body of an aspiring model. However, I was too busy worrying about my dark skin to appreciate just how fabulous I was. I did not have to worry about my size, I wore and ate whatever I wanted, but my hunched over shoulders was clear evidence I felt insecure.
Building my self-image or not
My insecurities started around age five with my grandfather and the way he spoke to me, versus my cousins. Among the five grandkids at the time, two were light skinned, and the other two dark ones were the first-born girl and boy. I knew they were special by default. I was a middle grandchild and darker than the rest. At that age, in my mind, I concluded that he probably did not like me because I wasn’t the right shade. I wasn’t a pecan tan or a redbone, and I definitely wasn’t a first-born. I felt his aggression towards me could not be anything else than dissatisfaction with what he saw in front of him.
Then there was my grandmother who revered anyone Caucasian, Asian, or mixed race with ‘nice hair.’ My dark friends got no respect from her; they were always the ones who would steal from me. I should be cautious, she would say. Observe them carefully! I could never understand it, so I stopped bringing them around her. These misguided criticisms and harsh treatment from both my grandparents, coupled with the grown-ups who looked at me and called me weird and wild, did nothing to build my self-confidence.
I wasn’t weird and wild, I was just awkward…a bit… and I was carefree, which went over most people’s head. You see I knew I was different, and I accepted that, but everyone else was making it an issue and I internalized it.
“Don’t rely on someone else for your happiness and self-worth. Only you can be responsible for that. If you can’t love and respect yourself – no one else will be able to make that happen. Accept who you are – completely; the good and the bad – and make changes as YOU see fit – not because you think someone else wants you to be different.” – Stacey Charter
Missed opportunity to start a trend
Had I known that years later, Issa Rae would make awkwardness a thing, and we would be embracing awkward black girls everywhere, I would’ve packaged that and sold it off in truckloads at least two decades ago. Regardless of that missed opportunity at creating a viral trend, I did not think kindly of me. I viewed myself as just a tall, skinny, too dark little girl who would only be received for her academic ability. With this as my whole reasoning, I placed little emphasis on my body after this. I didn’t care much for fashion or hairstyles, which remains with me today. I can clean up well, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t claim fashionista or diva at all.
Growing up in Trinidad society back when I was a teenager didn’t do much to change my perspective either. There was a silent but strong campaign that excluded me, a dark skinned girl from entering certain clubs unless of course accompanied by my friends of a lighter persuasion or we knew someone at the door. I was from the most cosmopolitan island on the planet. How was this acceptable? Weren’t we all just supposed to get along?
What society is offering me and many regarding body image
Societal messages and media images even today as an adult do not help me in my quest to make peace with my skin color. I’m seriously misrepresented and blatantly stereotyped. Mainstream media amplifies the fact that my dark skin is not acceptable. This culture of colorism—the hierarchical preference for lighter skin—within and outside of the Black community, makes self-esteem and self-love a tiresome journey for so many of us colored girls.
Learning to love me
It took leaving my home to start accepting myself finally. Howard University had a massive influence on my self-acceptance; it was everything I needed in a college that dished out the black experience. There was black excellence, achievement, and magic everywhere! I felt it too! For the first time, I was among others like me who didn’t just excel academically, but we shared boldness and belonging and vibrant shades of black to accompany all that. We were badass, all together, every single day. All different, but same.
I learned a valuable lesson at Howard. This color complex I grew up with, although influenced heavily by the adults in my life as a child, was compounded into adulthood by me not fully accepting who I was, and not understanding the rich history of my ancestry. My grandparents had their world view, but travel, relocating and multicultural interaction helped me form my own. My aha moment! In celebration, I whispered positive affirmations to myself every day. My confidence grew. Then, I started using my voice, and now they can’t get me to shut up! Lol!
We all look in the mirror and see something we don’t like or would like much better. If we could just love what we see and embrace ourselves in every moment, we could start a real campaign on self-acceptance. I’ve accepted myself and my ebony skin. I’m proud to be a black woman, living in a melanated world and if I ever had the chance to relive this life, I’ll choose to be ebony Mellany all over again.
Here’s an exercise for all my melanated sisters who still struggle to make peace with themselves: Stand in front of a mirror and take a good hard look at yourself. Look, then write down five positive things that you see. You can’t love yourself if you continue to hate what you see.
Oh, one more thing.
Once you make a decision to make peace with yourself, you begin to make room for connectivity and purpose. I’m thinking of curating some fun sisterhood meetups. I’ll be sharing details soon about how you can join me in New York to hang out with other amazing women this coming Fall. Join my mailing list to stay in touch. Who knows? We just may start another black girl collective!