As a brown-skinned girl, my summers were once filled with self-deprivation. I avoided going swimming or out to an amusement park because of worry I would get darker.
Growing up, kids would tell me my skin color resembled dirt, or poop, or burnt toast. I used to come home from school crying and run straight to the bathroom to try and scrub the brown off.
But, it wasn’t just kids who made me feel this way. TV and magazines reinforced that beautiful was never brown. And, my family -- many brown women who had also been conditioned to be ashamed of their skin color-- constantly nagged me to bathe in 110 SPF sunscreen or better yet stay indoors.
You can imagine, for me, this accumulated into toxically low self-image.
Then my world was flipped upside down when I learned about colorism -- the discrimination against people with dark skin that often even comes from those of the same ethnic group.
I immediately took all this new knowledge to my best friend; my mom. We sat in our PJ’s on her bed and I searched “Dark Girls,” a documentary on Netflix. We watched as sociologists explained how the very statements my mom would tell me like, “Stay out of the sun,” seriously impact young girls’ self-esteem.
Finally, the movie ended, and I studied my mom’s face. For what felt like forever, she didn’t say a word. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Then, one of us -- it might have been me or her, I can’t remember -- started crying. She told me she was sorry.
Looking back on it, summers have totally changed for me. All my closest friends know that I’ll jump at the chance to go to the beach -- that I feel most at home dancing in the waves with the sun baking on my skin. Free to actually enjoy being outside without the pestering fear, “Am I getting darker?”
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