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Rough Beginnings

Growing up in the inner city, I lived in a single parent household with my mother. In my lifetime, I met the man said to be my father once. I yearned for security, a sense of knowing where I belonged or whom I belonged to.

Unfortunately, I was a black child among many growing up in single parent households. This was normal for me, and every other kid I knew. Having “no daddy” around wasn’t something that I thought really bothered me at the time. However, my skin complexion, now that was a problem.

I was pretty much the only dark-skinned person in my family. Being teased at school and family gatherings was a norm. The names included ‘burnt toast’, ‘crispy critter’, and my favorite: ‘chocolate chip cookie’.  These names were in some way a reflection of how unattractive dark skin was…well except cookie. Everyone liked chocolate chip cookies; I grew to like being called this one because it seemed least harsh than the others.

But all of them hurt my feelings. As a little girl I thought, “Why did people love to eat chocolate, but think the color of it was ugly on my skin?” When I looked in the mirror, I thought I was pretty. The light was on; that made my skin appear to be light brown. I wished all the kids at my school were in the bathroom with me and could see me “light and pretty.”

Lesson Learned

In the summer before my tenth grade year, I remember taking my mom’s ole school “Gold Medal” catalog and seeing advertisements for skin brighteners. They had something called “Hydroquinone” in them that was supposed to lighten your skin. I decided to use my summer job money and buy a jar.

Two weeks of daydreaming went by, and the package finally arrived. I half read the jar “apply to face twice a day, do not sit in the sun” (huh?).  I put the cream on my face, and after a few minutes noticed a throbbing sensation, like I had a headache all over my face, a face-ache. I rubbed it off. The next day, I just had to try it again — it hurt. I think it took me a week until I finally gave up. I never wore it again. I was so disappointed and thought about all the teasing I would still have to endure, no dates and everyone thinking I was ugly, just because my skin was dark.

Finding My Identity

As time went by, and artists like Lauryn Hill started becoming popular, it seemed as if dark skin did too. Suddenly, every time I turned on a music video, there was a chocolate girl. Society began to be a little more accepting in the music industry, but I still lived in the hood, the real world. Seeing more girls that looked like me on TV gave me a little more self-acceptance, but I still yearned for the acceptance and approval of others.

My favorite verse, the only one I knew as a teen was “I sought the Lord, He heard me and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).  I remember repeating this to myself often. I knew there was someone watching over me, but didn’t understand “who” it was. As I grew older and went off to the military, I had dark-skinned friends, but then found myself comparing the hues of our skin. I was the darkest, and in different ways, people never let me forget it.

When I left the military, I went to college. This was weirdly my first experience being around other several black cultures. There were a lot of students from Africa, and they were proud of their heritage. They didn’t fit the mold of the dark babies with distended bellies and flies in their faces that appeared often on American TV when I was a little girl.

The girls I saw were beautiful. All the stereotypes I knew were defeated once I met them. Most people thought that I too was from Africa. I began getting more compliments about my skin, how smooth and pretty it was. It was hard for me to accept the compliments, after I’d been so used to hearing the opposite.

Over the years, I have grown to love my dark skin. It is what makes me unique. I went to Jamaica a few years ago, and there were many dark-skinned people in the small town that I visited. They loved and embraced their skin, which was great especially in a place where skin lighteners is a million-dollar-business.

I wondered what would life had been like for me if I grew up there as a child. Would I have had more confidence growing up? Would I have still been teased?  I don’t know. What I do know now is God knew everything about me when He created me in my mother’s womb. He uniquely designed me with his own two hands.= (Psalm 139). He is an intentional God, and I believe He wants me to use my story to encourage other women and young girls, dark-skinned or not.

A Work in Progress

Am I fully healed of the past wounds and hurt the insults left? No. But I constantly rely on God for strength. I need to be reminded daily that I am honored and precious in his sight and he loves me (Isaiah 43:4). It’s amazing how words from years ago can still hold you hostage, if you don’t continuously seek the Lord for deliverance.

I used to hold my head down, and when a guy glanced my way, I’d look away, or put on the attitude face. I realized this was out of insecurity. I didn’t understand what they were looking at, or why they were looking or interested in me. Those comments from long ago were still haunting me, and keeping me hostage. A beautiful butterfly acted as if she was still a slimy ugly caterpillar.

I can easily put up a front with clothes and makeup, but it doesn’t work for long. My total confidence will come from the Lord. There is so many things he has shown me about myself: issues of not growing up with my dad, and looking for security in relationships; yearning for comfort in men and thoughts of others, I breathed and lived for them.

The Lord has shown me he can mend my heart and make all things new as I come to him in all repentance and humility, realizing my total need and dependence on him. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God (Psalm 51:17).

As I take steps now towards growing a closer relationship with him, he is where my true beauty lies; not in opinions from guys, family or friends. I am resting my beliefs of myself in the one and only maker of us all: Jesus Christ.
Photo credit: Javier Sánchez. via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

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