How Do You Define YOUR Beauty?

March 12th, 2010, by TRACI 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.

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