It took me 19 years to love the skin I'm in.
I mean as a young child I had nothing against it I'm sure, it was just there, getting little scrapes from playing too hard, and me blissfully ignorant to the importance it would one day hold to me. But then of course, I grew up. This summer and in this past year I learned to love the skin I’m in. I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense meaning loving my whole body more or being comfortable in my body (although those sentiments definitely go along with it), but I literally mean my skin. I learned to fall in love with my golden-brown, mixed-girl skin, and frankly, it took me long enough.
To give some background, I grew up in a very small, very rural, very white town. Yeah you’re probably thinking of the right idea, corn fields and Trump signs and the occasional Confederate flag even though we couldn’t live much further north and still be in America, that town. And that lead to some personal struggles which I’ve spent my college days sorting out.
It’s hard enough when you notice you’re different than everyone else, when you're growing up that’s it’s own struggle. For me it was around Middle School. And when you’re so young and insecure you hope to hear from the community around you, your peers, words of reassurance, or at least a show that they couldn’t care less. That wasn’t what I heard. Instead it was echoes upon echoes of things like this:
“I would never date a black girl”
“I mean you’re pretty… for a black girl.”
“Yeah, I know you’re half white but that doesn’t really count.”
And when I did start seeing someone even he received taunts, “races shouldn’t mix” being probably the most blatantly racist, but also lesser things, smaller comments, from his friends even. And for the longest time I tried to not let any of it make me angry, of course as I got older and the more I heard these things, sometimes it did, and sometimes I made it known, but for the most part, and from early on I said nothing, and I turned it inwards.
Summer was the hardest time. While all my friends strived to get as dark as me, laying out in the sun, I slathered on the highest SPF I could find. Not because I would burn—a kind gift from my melanin, I never burn— but because I didn’t want to tan, I wanted to hide from the sun. When I wasn’t with my friends I stayed inside as much as possible, and I dreaded soccer or cross country practices, where I would undoubtedly tan regardless of how much sunscreen I coated myself with. I didn’t want to be any darker than I had to. And it would work. At school’s start in September many of my tan-loving friends would come in and actually be darker than me, and it’d make me feel better for just a little while, but of course it didn’t actually change anything. Didn’t change outside opinions or my own.
My mom always tells me, “if someone says something unkind to you and it makes you angry, maybe there’s something inside of you that agrees with what they said.” And I think in some ways she was right. I’d spent so long trying to not get angry at these words that I accidentally started to accept them myself, and then it made me angry. I hated my skin, I hated my giant curly hair, I hated these things that made me different.
But then I came to college. And things were different, people were different. I haven't heard the words “You’re pretty for a black girl” in over a year. People consider my ethnic background—all of it, not just the African side—just an interesting factoid, a small part of a bigger picture, instead of a game changer. And my appearance is just my appearance. And that felt amazing to me. Of course these changes didn’t fix how I felt, I had to do that myself. But those comments and the absence of degrading outside opinions allowed me to focus on my own opinions of me instead of everyone else’s. And over time, I did. I realized how much I loved my curly hair, and I wore it with pride. I realized how letting myself go out in the sun and get a little tan actually made my skin glow. I learned that my melanin was not my enemy. And over time I learned to love the skin I’m in. I no longer avoid the sun in the summer, or hope and pray for cloudy days, I just live. And let the things that make me different do just what they’re supposed to.