I used to regret that I wasn’t born with olive-toned skin, the kind of blond hair that you’d see in L’oreal commercials, and blue or hazel eyes–I’m sure I’m not the only one, but you gotta admit that’s a far cry from black girl with a seemingly unmanageable halo of kinky coils.
I wanted to be what felt like the world’s standard of beauty. I wanted to be the kind of girl that I read about in all of the Sarah Dessen or Nicholas Sparks books (or any other book that I’ve read, or movie that I’ve watched, for that matter). It’s like I believed that was the only way I’d find any sort of love or acceptance in the world; like that’s the only way I could be successful and limitless in my potential.
Maybe I thought it was the only way people would see what I had to offer.
I’d dream of waking up and looking different. I’d pray for it. I’d make wishes for it on shooting stars. I’d try bartering with any power that could possibly hear me. And when that didn’t work, I tried to lighten my skin with oatmeal and tomato baths, perm my hair. It’s almost embarrassing to admit.
But there was a sort of shame that came with this; a darkness kind of balled up inside me. It hurt to reject myself so fully–to reject everyone that looks like me, or has felt the way that I did. It hurt to strive to be something that I wasn’t, and give in to that feeling that I would never be enough unless I was something else–someone else–entirely.
Someone that wasn’t me.
I could never be Snow White with skin as white as snow, or Rapunzel with a river of blond hair. I could never be one of those Disney Princesses who, in their moment of empowerment, stood with the wind rushing through their hair. I didn’t realize that my misconceptions of what it meant to be any different person of any different race were only based in what the media told me they were, but left me feeling left out.
It wasn’t easy getting over that. I still have my days where I wish I could be different–and if I let myself get too carried away, it eats at me until I’m doing nothing but dreaming of some other, unrealistic life.
But I’m doing far better than I’ve ever been–at least in that aspect.
It helps that I see more of myself in characters in the media these days, though there’s still some things to be wanted.
But even before the last few years when media began to be more inclusive (and my, what a shift we’ve made), I was hunting down images of women that had similar features to mine. If I looked at what I liked about them and their features, it made me feel a little more confident about my own.
And if I could imagine and maybe draw images and scenarios in which those types of women felt normalized and, hell, even admired, even better.
I imagined a future for myself at my best. Who did I want to be–what qualities did I want to have that were achievable? Even if the only one that loved and respected me was me alone, what did I have to do to make that happen? Who did I want or need to be to feel like I was worthy of a great life? Although I’m not quite there yet, this really got the ball rolling for me.
The hardest part of all, though, was accepting myself for who I am now. In my rawest form, hair unstraightened, no makeup, sometimes a little lazy, sometimes a little clumsy–everything that I am and that I’m not–was I lovable? Could I love myself? Embrace my differences and make them beautiful?
It’s hard, some days. But I had to (and still have to) learn how to be my own biggest cheerleader, even when I let myself down. I had to be the voice to myself that I’ve always been for others. Give support and a little bit of tough love. It all goes a long way.
Maybe I could do with a little more tough love, though.