I’ve been holding off on writing this blog post for a few months now. Why? Mostly out of fear; fear of being open and vulnerable. But, my life journey calls for me to live truthfully and do things that make me uncomfortable. So, here it is!
About four months ago, I was laying wide awake at 1 a.m. while my boyfriend slept soundly. I counted a bunch of sheep, and it didn’t work, so I turned to my trusty companion: Reddit. If you’re not familiar with Reddit, it is fascinating. This site is like all of the bad things and all of the good things about the Internet in one place. It melts my heart to browse the “good” communities, where the kindest people go to show the world some love.
Anyway, that night, I stumbled upon a post from a 13 year-old-girl asking for advice. She asked for help on how to love herself, because as it stood, she hated everything about her appearance. “I hate being black,” she wrote. “I can’t live like this. I really want to love myself, but I feel like I just can’t.”
My heart shattered for this girl, and then those pieces melted when I read the top response to her.
Guys, as I laid in bed that night, I felt my former 13-year-old self crying out to me … because once upon a time, I was this young lady.
My journey to self-love
At 13, I wanted so badly for my hair to be stick straight and soft, like the hair on the Barbies I played with at seven years old. I wished for a smaller nose that would look delicate on my thin face. I abhorred the gap in my teeth that the kids in middle school made fun of me for having.
I’ve explored the topic of self-identity before on this blog, but this is a whole ‘nother beast.
It all started in Kindergarten. Yep, you read that right. I was five years old when I first started wishing I could change my appearance. I was the only black girl in my class, but I hadn’t really given it much thought until one day during snack time. We were eating Rice Krispies Treats, and this little girl who sat across from me made an interesting comparison.
“Stephanie,” she said as she pointed to the girl next to her, “We’re Rice Krispies Treats, and you’re a brownie. Rice Krispies Treats are so much better!”
It was an innocent comment from a five-year-old kid. In her mind, she was drawing parallels between her classmates and the treats she liked. But, my five-year-old mind warped that into, “You are different and less than.”
The actual self-loathing began one year later in first grade. One morning, my mom styled my hair into two huge braids, and I was super proud to show them off to my friends. A little girl in my class who had straight, black hair touched one of my braids and said, “Oooooo your hair feels so crunchy and dry. It doesn’t feel good. Why is your hair so dry?” Shame washed over me.
As the years went by, these feelings of shame grew stronger. You see – there weren’t too many black or brown girls on TV or magazines that did cool stuff. I saw the Pink and Yellow Power Rangers, the girls on all those WB dramas, and the women on “Friends,” and I consistently prayed I could wake up one morning looking like them.
But, my lawd, how things change.
We have to do better
Those awful feelings began to dissipate in my late teens. I became close friends with black and brown women who were proud to be who they were, and living their best lives. One of my best friends in high school, Kya, had one of the highest grades in our class, got into an Ivy League school, and is now a doctor! My college friend Kassandra was natural, and she’s the one who inspired me to wear my hair the way I do today. Asia, the best roommate I’ve ever had, introduced me to the concept of “Black Girl Magic.”
Today, I’m proud of my brown self and everything that comes with it because guess what? It’s unique and awesome. Trust me—people never forget this fabulous ‘fro. My face is still not the standard of beauty in our society, and I do still get odd comments about my features … but y’all, I am so thankful that these features make me … me.
So, for people who might be taken aback by movements like “Black Girl Magic” or “Black Girls Rock,” this is why they exist. They’re for girls like me who spent their entire childhood feeling like they weren’t valuable, and who were constantly embarrassed to speak up and show up.
My perception of my blackness has shifted 180° since I was 13, but there are a lot of women who have carried their self-loathing into adulthood. That’s not okay.
Every woman deserves to feel proud of who she is.
Yes, we are absolutely making leaps and bounds with how women of color are portrayed in the media. We are seeing fantastic women like Uzo Aduba and Viola Davis grace every stage they walk on, and we’re watching young rockstars like Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles take the world by storm.
For every young girl in search of her special. Deepest thanks to @cindi_leive and the entire @glamourmag family for having me. It was a remarkable privilege and honor. #dayofthegirl #Repost @glamourmag (@get_repost) ・・・ @uzoaduba didn't always love her name. Today, while hosting our Glamour x The Girl Project rally for girls, she brought down the house with her story of how she came to OWN it. Tap the #linkinbio to watch the full event. #Glamour4Edu #IDG2017
But, we still have work to do. It is super important that we show every single little girl out there just how valuable she is – regardless of her appearance. And if you’re reading this and just so happen to be a girl who doesn’t believe in her magic yet, please know this: You are unique and incredible. There’s only one you, and we want to see your greatness.
If you have an experience you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it. As always, feel free to leave a comment below, or shoot me an email [firstname.lastname@example.org].