This I Believe

Denise - FPO AP, California
Entered on April 23, 2007

I believe the battle to loving yourself starts from within.

But, I know it’s a difficult fight, filled with harsh words, finger pointing and cruel laughs. I believe words can hurt, but they also have the power to build strength and endurance. I believe my experiences and struggle to overcome low self-esteem can help others jogging on a similar path.

Mine is the face of nightly news for my community. It’s a smiling face, full of pride and confidence. I speak with ease as the bright lights and cameras beam me into the homes of many. I’m poised. I know who I am. This is now, that was then.

Tar Baby. Smut. Blacky.

I’ve heard these words pour out of mouths all in reference to my dark skin.

It may sound strange to some and all too familiar to others, but these adjectives caused me tons of pain starting when I was about five years old. You see, black wasn’t always beautiful, and dark skin wasn’t always popular.

Growing up in small-town Georgia, I was constantly teased for being the darker of the Black kids in my predominately white schools. By high school the name-calling had stopped, but the damage was already done. I walked around with my head hung down, afraid to make eye contact with someone for fear of being the butt of their jokes. I didn’t look in the mirror and like what I saw until I was almost an adult.

Something strange happened my first year of college. All of a sudden I was turning heads from left to right. Guys were complimenting me and asking to take me out. Even some of those guys from grade school picked up on the new language. Instead of the painful insults, the ones they thought were amusing and cool, but the ones that made me feel like a turtle stuck in a shell, they switched over. They couldn’t believe how I had changed.

On one hand, I felt like jumping for joy, because I was finally in. I, with my dark skin, was getting some positive attention for a change. But on the other hand, I started to think. What was so different about me? Had I miraculously changed over night? Did I wake up one morning with skin as light as my best friend and roommate?

No.

I was still me. But I was a different me. You see, the change came from within. I started to look at myself differently. I had the same dark skin. Yet, people seemed to notice and compliment my almond shaped eyes and high cheekbones that I’d tried for so long to hide.

I admit that it took some time, but no matter what anyone thinks, whether they see me as the tar baby that tried to bleach her skin, or a confident woman not afraid to wear a bright red suit, I’m happy being me. Just as I am.