Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"TEACH Responsibly. Stay Thirsty, my friends."

I saw this picture of this little girl on Facebook and thought "what a pretty child."  My immediate thought thereafter was "I hope her parents tell/teach her that she is beautiful before the media tells/teaches her otherwise".  That same day, in fact, I posted that as my FB status, which brings me to this post.

This is not another "team lightskinned vs. team darkskinned" post that we've all seen on way too many a blog or Youtube video.  I mean really folks, it's basically 2013 - can't we all just get along?  This photo resonated with me because I grew up the same brownskinned little girl with the big, kinky hair.  Only then it wasn't chic on trend to say "kinky", unless of course you were talking about...something else.  Anyway, I wasn't dark enough, if you will, to be ostracized by my complexion or called vile, complex-inducing names like "tar baby", "nappy-headed  monkey", etc.  And while those comments weren't directed at me personally, I did hear them thrust upon the classmate standing to the right of me....who was a mere 2  shades darker.  And as an often card-carrying member of the "Invisible Friend Club", I have watched with abashe envy more times tha  I care to count a boy nearly knock me over to get to my pale-skinned friend.  "You light-bright!" " You RED!  You sexy, Red!"  Now don't get me wrong, I got my share of male attention as well, but it was often prefaced with the requisite "You're cute for a darkskinned girl!"  Ugh!!!  That was the worst!   Was that supposed to be a compliment, my equally pigmented dumb brother?  I mean, that has got to be one of the biggest backhanded compliments you can give a person.  Right up there with "For a cripple with one leg, you sure can dance, girl!"  As if my richly-hued skin somehow automatically disqualified me as being attractive.  (Like, awww I will never be Jet Beauty of the Week!)   And then there was the matter of my hair.  It was not naturally straight nor blonde.   It was black.  And poofy.  And to add insult to injury, I was shy.  That was the main thing that haunted me - I couldn't shake the shyness.  I have 2 siblings that have very outgoing in-your-face personalities, and you will know it when they walk into a room.  We should have been cut from the same cloth, coming from the same 2 parents and all, but I walk into a room....and I'm already looking for the nearest exits.  I'm not so much like that now - I had to really work on overcoming being shy.  I had friends, indeed, but I also had trust issues.  I also had self-esteem issues.

As a young girl, flipping through the pages of "Seventeen" and  other magazines where the faces smiling back at me didn't look like mine, the whole issue of beauty was very sensitive for me.  I never publicly made it an issue, but when I looked in the mirror, I cursed that my skin was not 2 shades lighter, and the fact that I couldn't threaten my hair into submission.  And then it happened....

One day I had a talk w/ my aunt who was visiting from New York.  Complexion wise, she was light, bright, and.... you know the rest.  Anyway, with sandy brown/blonde hair and green/blue-ish grey eyes in tow, she was often told she looked like the-beauty-queen-formerly-known-as-Miss-America Vanessa Williams.  We stayed up late one night talking about education, colleges, and sororities.  My aunt, a longtime card-carrying member of the AKA sorority, was giving me her recruitment spiel the history of the AKA's when I asked, "Aren't I too dark to become an AKA?"  After her 2-HOUR REFUTEMENT, she let slip the insecurities that she herself had had growing up as a lightskinned Black woman.  Not just the often-heard stories of jealousy from others, but her own personal issues and insecurities.   I specifically remember looking at her like she had 2 heads!  Why on earth would she, in all her lightskinned glory, have self-esteem issues?   I had never heard such a paradox before!  Well, we ended up comparing notes and that's when the EPIPHANY came:

We ALL have issues as children.  Black, White, Team Darkskinned, Team Lightskinned, Red-Haired ("It's a  GINGER KID!!!" Thank you SOUTH PARK), Tall, Short, Fat, Skinny....that is what youth is all about.   Being insecure and having issues and self-esteem problems.  But eventually outgrowing and overcoming them.  Turning what you perceive to be a weakness into a strength.    My parents also helped me greatly in this regard so that by the time I got into 9th or 10th grade - girl, I was loving myself some me.  I now described my skintone to people by referencing my favorite childhood crayon in the 64-crayon box:  "You never heard of Burnt Sienna?  It's the color of skin kissed by the Caribbean sun, yo!"  That was an actual quote.  From me.  That was how I described my skin.  And as for MY HAIR? Sure, I now wore it relaxed, like every other Black girl in that era, but I was so appreciating my hair.  The thickness, the length,...and by then I had discovered Denise Huxtable (remember the "Gordon Gartrell" episode?), who I believed to be my long-lost fashion twin.  And my inner fashionista came to the fore, meshing with my outer geek.  So now I was the still-shy-weird-girl-with-the-even-weirder-but-cute-clothes in the corner, talking to my 5 friends and ignoring the male attention that I too was now getting.   When classmates walked by and said "Hey Chicki!", I didn't shrink back and attempt to disappear in my locker.  Shoulders straight and head held high, I responded, though admittedly in a much softer decibel than necessary, "Heeey! How are you?"

You see, I guess the point of this painfully long, hard to read, ramble is this: sometimes you have to be taught how to love yourself.  And sometimes you have to teach others to do the same.  For some, self-love isn't always innate.  In today's world of airbrushing, plastic surgery, and all things Kardashian, we may have to help our young ones accept and own their beauty.  And their talents.  Even their weirdness.  The media for sure will tell them that they do not measure up and are not good enough.  They will learn that for whatever reason, they are inferior to the next guy.  That is what they are being taught.  We can teach them otherwise.

* What self-esteem issues did you have to overcome growing up?

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