How Do You Define YOUR Beauty?

March 12th, 2010, byTRACI L. LEE

This is an excerpt from an article first published at BabyGirlz Magazine.

On a February 16, 2010 episode of The Tyra Show, there was a segment titled: “I’m 9 and I Hate my Face.” There were several girls featured, but the caption belonged to a young African-American girl that felt un-pretty based on negative comments that had been made to her by someone she thought was her friend. To feel pretty, she said, her preference was to have lighter skin and lighter eyes because in that way, she’d get more attention from boys — like her friends.

When I was 12, my “friend” and I were sitting on the stairs to our apartments. It was a nice sunny day and I was sitting a few stairs down from her — yet facing her — which meant, I was facing the sun. She looked at me and said, “You would be so pretty if you had light-colored eyes.” That stung. She would go on to tell me that if my complexion was lighter, I would be pretty. Basically, my brown skin was not enough to qualify for “pretty.” Wow. Two things that I could never change as I was born with both.

So, there it was, at the age of 12. If my own friends didn’t think I was beautiful, I couldn’t possibly be, right? Your friends know the most and tell you the truth about everything, right?

Not necessarily. Yet I believed it for years. For years, I died my hair because I believed that lighter-hued hair would give the facade of a shade not as dark as my own.

Then there were the boys. I thought I was in place to be Ronnie’s girlfriend. We spent time together outside with everyone else. Me, often with his arm wrapped around my shoulder, or him, holding my hand — nice moments. Until Angel moved into the neighborhood. Angel with the curly hair, light skin and green eyes. It was as though Ronnie never met me. His attention diverted to her…and there it remained. I was devastated. Further devastated when the same friend told me that, “He chose Angel because she has ‘good hair’ and those pretty eyes.”

Those were defining moments in my life — and moments that turned into years of me doubting that I was anywhere near pretty, beautiful, gorgeous — or if I would ever graduate from “cute.”

One day, I don’t remember quite when it was, things changed. I stopped dying my hair and a real friend said to me, “So, you are finally happy with the way you look?”

I hadn’t even realized. It was just something that kind of happened, I guess. I was happy when it did, but I can’t, with all honesty, say the exact moment. I do know it made me think long and hard about that road I’d just traveled. At some point, without even knowing it, I embraced ME.

Traci L. Lee is Editor-in-Chief of BabyGirlz Magazine, an online resource for young girls of color. She has also written for Moms of Hue.

  • Ms. Dailey

    Reading this blog was like reading a page out of my own diary. I grew up in a primarly white suburbs and I remember feeling if I was a shade ligher or my hair were permed that maybe just maybe someone would notice me. I felt like that until senior year of high school and I was talking to a friend at the time…she told me that she would never date a black man because she wanted a baby with “good hair” and went on to say she would hate to see her child share the same skin as hers. It was at that moment I realized how ridicolus I was. I looked at myself for the first time in the mirror and loved my brown skin, I loved my nappy hair, I love me.

  • adiaha

    Embracing ones blackness in American can be a difficult thing in America. It doesn’t have to be though. Resources like your site BabyGirlz Magazine are much needed, appreciated and loved.
    Thank you for your contributions to helping all of us black Girlz feel pretty.

  • Brooke

    Thanks for sharing the story with us. I spoke with a women just yesterday who said many bad things about her own hair, and it stuck with me all day. I felt so, yucky. She seemed to be an accomplished, successful woman, but the deep pain she felt over her hair texture was still very obvious, and it just hurt me to see someone who hadn’t yet gotten to the point of loving herself. When we meet people who don’t love themselves, it doesn’t just hurt them. It hurts us too. Thanks for loving you.

  • Traci

    @ Ms. Dailey…I went through a phase very similar to yours when I was younger. I didn’t live in a predominately white area or anything, but I did attend school in La Jolla, CA, and that was primarily white. I felt un-noticed and un-pretty for quite some time because no one around looked like me. It made me feel as though I stuck out from the rest, but not in a positive way, and it hurt. Then to carry it through early adulthood as well, it took its toll. I was so happy, so free when I finally got to a place where I could look in the mirror and not only appreciate, but love what I saw. That journey should never have to be traveled – especially alone.
    @ Adiaha…”Thank you so much for that”. I sincerely hope the magazine reaches the masses because it is out of love and the memories of my own experiences of growing up, that it derives. “Thank you, again”.
    @ Brooke…that can be extremely difficult. As accomplished as she is, she is still at a point where she doubts herself, and that is sad. They say that “Every Mother has the power to make her daughter feel beautiful”. While that is true, how convincing is it when you get out into the real world and none of what is “supposed to be beautiful” represents you in any shape, form, or fashion. It’s defeating. She hasn’t been validated and she needs that, unfortunately. Her validation comes from what other people have – that she wants – in this case, it’s hair.

Last modified: May 4, 2011 at 9:50 pm