Preface: This short editorial offers an account of my journey of overcoming personal insecurities rooted in anti-blackness. 

The revelation came to pass one fateful day in the eighth grade when a classmate brought up the dark hue of my skin tone. The statement followed with surrounding laughter, and just like that, they erased the beauty I saw in myself. It was like an instant attack that left wounds that would take years to heal. 

I was 13 when I first understood what colourism was. Despite being bullied, I often mistook my peers’ mean comments to reflect their character, not relating the topic of my skin to their actions. I was naive – oblivious to the forms of anti-blackness that surrounded me. I had no conception that my skin colour was less desirable, less wanted, and less loved in the narrow ideals of society. 

But the moment did not end; the ridicule of my appearance became an ongoing experience. I would get not-so-friendly stares in public, overhear whispers filled with laughter, and become subject to cruel nicknames that until now hurt to repeat. 

Looking back, I remember feeling stuck in a “mental sea of self-hate and discomfort”. I hated going outside because the thought of being bullied brought me so much fear and anxiety that I preferred to stay home. I wore long sleeves in twenty-plus degree weather to avoid getting “any darker” and drawing attention to myself. I hoped to be invisible. I succeeded.  

I had no conception that my skin colour was less desirable, less wanted, and less loved in the narrow ideals of society.

These actions felt like my most reasonable solutions to addressing the problem. They suddenly halted when I came across skin bleaching. It felt like a saving grace – something that could free me from rejection. For those who don’t know, skin bleaching is a process where one reduces or eliminates melanin production in the skin with products such as lotions, creams and body washes. Yes, it is dangerous. Nevertheless, it is practised globally in Africa, Asia, and South America.

My experience was short-lived but influential in how I perceived myself. If I am being honest, using the creams and soaps felt toxic, not just to my skin but also to my spirit. The discomfort towards my skin remained, but I concluded that I could not practice bleaching. Instead, I set out on a journey to build myself in every other capacity outside of “beauty”, realizing that that was an area I could not win. I told myself that if people couldn’t value my appearance, hopefully, they could value my character and accomplishments. 

It worked. However, the feelings attached to my insecurity manifested into low self-confidence and a heightened sense of wanting to be “perfect” in all aspects of my life. These all remained until the Black Girl Magic movement came and flooded my consciousness, not erasing the feelings, but bringing me ease and comfort from the vast examples of representation. 

Never had I been exposed to so many images of black women who varied in complexion, hair types and features. Watching them embrace and affirm their beauty was everything my soul needed. My most notable influence was Ms. Lupita Nyong’o, whose grace, poise and confidence inspired me in so many ways. During a speech she gave at an Essence festival, she read the story of a young woman who resisted her urge to bleach after seeing Lupita’s face on TV. The story felt like it was mine as if I was that young girl who had written the letter. 

This moment set a precedent for my journey of self-love. Lupita’s ability to love herself gave me confidence that I could do the same. I still feel insecure like any person, but reflecting on that story allows me to resist attempts to dilute aspects of myself, revealing just how much power exists in representation. Like the girl in Lupita’s letter, knowing that someone looked like me on TV helped me resist the urge to bleach. 
I share this story because I know I am not alone. So for women who have felt othered because of their appearance. I see you. I hear you. I have faith you will overcome.

About the Author