Dear “Ugly” Dark-Skinned Girl,
It’s time for healing.
This is a love letter to every dark-skinned girl who has ever felt the burden of society’s rejection of her skin color. It’s true that many dark-skinned girls grow up without developing an emotional complex due to colorism, but that is not the case for everyone. That was not the case for my younger self, a nine-year-old black girl with ebony-colored skin, who was extremely sensitive to the opinions of her peers and highly-attuned to society’s judgement of her value.
I. The Burden
Selfishly, I must admit that this letter is as much for me as it is for other young dark-skinned girls. Because even though I am older and wiser now, and even though I’ve grown into my own skin (at least moreso than before), I too, have felt the intense, burning shame that comes with living as a dark-skinned girl in a colorist society. The pain of interacting with people who don’t appreciate your ebony complexion, aching to see some representation of yourself in the media. Not simply as the loud black girl, but the beautiful, quirky, smart black girl who is desirable and wanted, appreciated and loved.
As you can imagine, growing up in an all-white community only intensified my shame. It was extremely difficult to stand out in every crowd. I remember standing in the mandatory school choir every year, and feeling the eyes of the entire audience glued to me because I was the one person with dark brown skin, a contrast to the pale, white faces of my peers.
I envied my lighter friends, lighter extended family members—anyone who was black, but lighter than my complexion. It was an obsession.
The only solace was that I’d resolved that one day, I would bleach my skin when I could afford to buy whitening cream. I’d head down to the black beauty supply store, buy some skin whitening cream and leave a beautiful girl. In my mind, if I could only be a little bit lighter, then I would be beautiful. I wanted to be Beyoncé, not Kelly Rowland. I felt as though I could never amount to anything—never have success, unless I were of a lighter complexion. I believed that if I’d only had a lighter complexion, my friends would’ve treated me better—it didn’t occur to me that I was spending time with the wrong people. That there were people out there who would love me for me.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. We like to believe we are above colorism, or that our modern society has advanced past the light skinned vs. dark-skinned war. However, research shows colorism remains fully intact, and is just as impactful as racism. A 2013 study from Atlanta University Center revealed that, “empirically, women with light skin experience greater success in relationships, education, and employment”. As well, lighter skinned women report higher levels of confidence and benefit from a greater sense of self-worth. That means there are little dark-skinned girls who will grow up someday and meet a world where they will be at both an economic and societal disadvantage.
So to the girl who feels worthless or feels the need to overcompensate for her ebony complexion: There are a million reasons why you should be loved, celebrated and appreciated, and if society won’t show you the love necessary, I hope you’ll come to know your own worth. Even if your family doesn’t celebrate your ebony complexion. And even though your peers may tease your tight curls, wide nose, and thick lips.
Hip-hop culture, Hollywood and modeling agencies have already made their disdain for dark-skin clear. But for once, this discussion is not about the colorist society we live in—it’s about you. The dark-skinned girl who faces the brunt of colorism every day, and the one who may live with internalized self-hatred towards herself or others. Internalized self-hatred is not a personal flaw; it is a result of being in a society that wants you to hate yourself.
Personally, I’ve had to detox myself from any ignorant ways of thinking that I learned from my family. While they never said anything explicit, my parents would cross the street whenever we encountered dark-skinned black men on the street, despite the fact that we were dark and black too. I also have a cousin who would only take selfies if they were standing under a certain light, so that she would appear to be a lighter complexion.