My older sister recently told me a story of a time when I came home from kindergarten and desperately begged to have long and silky locks like all of the other girls in my class. I would love to say this was just an innocent phase, but unfortunately, thoughts like these kept reoccurring until my sophomore year of high school.
I was born in a suburban neighborhood in Pennsylvania, which evidentially had a very low diversity rate. When I was seven, my family moved to another neighborhood in PA, that – just my luck, was even less diverse. However, it's not something I noticed that young. I went into elementary school every day smiling the biggest smile, with my two ponytails – better known as puffs, planted proudly on my head. As time went on, I started to get braids. I personally loved my braids, both cornrow and single braids. My mom did them quickly, she told me it would help protect my hair, and they lasted for a decent amount of time. But soon my friends started asking questions. When they would play with each other's hair, they would ask me why I couldn't just take out my braids and let my hair down. They couldn’t understand why my hair was so short, while theirs on the contrary, flowed down their backs. I started to ask myself the same question. Why wasn’t I born with that hair and not mine? I stuck out like a sore thumb. Being the only black girl, I didn't have anyone who shared my hair texture. One evening in 6th grade, a night I was being stubborn and disobeying my mother, she refused to braid my hair. She sent me to school the next day with two puffs. The puffs no one had seen since third grade. The puffs I used to love became the puffs I now dreaded. I remember crying when I got to school because it was so obvious that my hair was short and kinky and didn't look anything like Rapunzel's.
This is when my insecurities grew. I got to middle school and I started asking my mom to press my hair. Sure the hot comb was long and torturous, but it got my hair straight, and that's all I ever wanted. However, no matter how straight it got, it wasn't long enough, it wasn't silky enough, it wasn't good enough. Unfortunately, my insecurities started to spread from just my hair to my skin.
In middle school, boys definitely stopped having cooties. Girls stopped hanging out with just girls, and the boys did the same. Therefore, people started "dating". My friends got "boyfriends" and asked to dances; meanwhile I couldn't even get a glance from a boy. I started to feel ugly. I started to blame my skin. It's because I'm black. Boys don't like black girls. I'm not pretty because I'm black.
I remember feeling so depressed about the color of my skin, that I would wish for lighter skin at 11:11 every chance I could get. As I blew out birthday candles, I closed my eyes and wished with all my might that the next morning my hair would cascade down my back and my skin would be as light as the other girls. Nights like these I would have dreams that my hair magically grew and my skin lightened in shade. These became my favorite dreams, because in these dreams, I was pretty for a change.
No matter how many times my friends and family told me I was beautiful, it did not matter. To me, the only women who were beautiful were the ones who looked the most like Barbie; the white girls in my class, the white girls in the magazines, the girls who looked nothing like me. Luckily, as I grew up, my views started to change.
It started with beginning to love my African culture. I love when my large family gets together because I get three things: to see my relatives, African food, and African music. It dawned on me that my friends at school don't get the opportunity to eat authentic foods, and listen to a different type of music that's filled with culture. Being Liberian is something I grew proud of. Because of where I come from, I’m different. But different was no longer depressing, different was amazing. My love for African culture began and it led to loving black culture.
Black artist, the creators of R&B, Hip-Hop, Rap, Soul, Gospel, have and will continue to make music that will inspire, empower, create, and leave a mark. Black people have also created trends in fashion, hair, and so many others. It's so gratifying to be in a group of people who have done such amazing things. Finally, my appreciation expanded to my skin.
Gorgeous dark women like Lupita Nyong'o took over red carpets and magazines. Her skin glows and she rocks her short natural hair. Black women with their full lips, dark skin, thick thighs, everything, became my vision of beauty. The black community on social media has started to inspire one another. Women with blogs and YouTube channels talk about how they care for, maintain, and love their natural hair; every curl, every kink, every length. We created hashtags, such as #BlackOutDay, to come together and appreciate the beautiful melanin we were all born with. We empower one another to love our skin color, despite the people who can't see our beauty. We tell one another that we are beautiful, because we used to be told that the color of our skin was ugly. This community admires each other, for those who can't admire themselves. We are raising the bar and standards of beauty and we are creating a new light for all black people: young, old, light, dark, thick, skinny, short, and tall. We are inspiring one another to be proud of our skin.
So I understand. I understand the black girl who goes to school every day looking at her white friend's hair in envy. I understand the black girl who wants her crush to notice her but he's too busy looking at the white girl who sits next to him. I understand the black girls who are wishing one of the most saddening thoughts right now; to not be black. But believe me, believe us, when we tell you that you are beautiful.
Your hair may not be the silkiest or the straightest, but the natural texture is gorgeous. It's different and it's you. If the boys in your class aren't paying attention to your beauty, that's their loss. They can't yet see how alluring black women are because they're not used to it. They haven't yet been exposed to enough black beauty to realize.
I'm seventeen and I can proudly say that I not only accept the color of my skin, I love the color of my skin. You should try doing the same! The color of your skin is seen throughout nature, and nothing is more beautiful than the world we live in. The melanin in your skin gives you a rich pigment that glows. Embrace your skin, it's beyond beautiful. Love every single thing about yourself. Remember that and pass it on.