I used to hate my hyperpigmentation, but not anymore.

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Credit: Ari Bines, HelloGiggles

"Inclusivity" may be a buzzword, but for anyone who has ever felt left out of conversations in the beauty space, it's so much more. In Shades of Melanin, we celebrate Black beauty, support the brands and founders that are fighting for inclusivity in the industry, and unpack the issues that still need to be addressed.

As a dark-skinned Black woman, I was taught to hate my kinky, coarse hair, my skin color, and my hyperpigmentation. Growing up with dark lips and even darker inner thighs, meeting impossible white Eurocentric beauty standards felt unachievable. The only Black and brown women I knew who were desired by successful Black and brown men proudly draped their mono-toned bodies over rappers as leading ladies in music videos like 50-Cent's "Candy Shop." I felt like an old patch doll compared to the pristine Barbies and even-toned Theresas presented before me. In the words of Selah from Selah and the Spades, "they'll only like you if you look impossible."

I first started hating my hyperpigmentation at the age of 10, when I discovered that I was not under consideration by the white boys in elementary school who "liked brunettes." I thought if I could get the darkening around my mouth under control, someone in class would be interested in me, so I tried befriending the boys, talking about rap music and asking them to join my kickball team when I made captain. Yet despite my efforts, they would point out when I had a flare-up and make fun of me when I licked my lips because the flare-ups made my skin unbearably dry. I got the attention I craved, but not in the way I wanted. 

At the time, I thought all I had to worry about was getting rid of the darkness and irritation surrounding my mouth to seem attractive. To my dismay, when I went to summer camp, I found that wearing a swimsuit amongst my white friends made my insecurities about my inner thighs peak. Looking at my peers as we all sat cross-legged while playing Indian Chief, I realized my legs looked nothing like their perfectly pale and blemish-free limbs.

Unlike theirs, my thighs weren't just deep brown because of a slight tan; they were damn near the color of the camp's blacktop, especially compared to the rest of my body, and irritated from chafing. I hated them.

From there, I learned that while I couldn't change how my thighs looked, since it was my literal skin color, I could cover them. I attended a Catholic middle school in the Bronx where I only ever wore tights with my uniform, and I stopped wearing shorts in the summer completely. I also tried to stop my thighs from chafing (or touching at all for that matter), as it was what I thought would prevent my skin from getting any darker. But I was too unmotivated and depressed in my new school to exercise and get to a point where my body could even achieve such a thing.

Even though they were also Black, the boys didn't look at me in middle school. I wanted so badly to have just one of them to seem curious about me, the new Black girl in class, but it happened. 

High school wasn't much better. I attended classes with all girls, and the few chances I had to interact with boys at dances and after-school programs, I only got more insecure about the varying shades of melanin on my body. I met my first boyfriend online. It was easy to hide everything there; I could wear makeup to cover my lips and I knew I had time before actual sex became a thing, as we were taking it slow as each other's "firsts."

Once we did start getting intimate, I didn't let him see the lower half of my body until I was comfortable with it. By that time, I knew he loved me, and he didn't seem to care that I was "always cold during sex" and covered us up all the time. Still, I neglected any form of oral sex from him and never participated in any activities above the sheets. As you'd expect, sex started to suck for me. Although I liked the act, putting myself in a swaddle position every time afterward was becoming very much not sexy and unenjoyable. 

Even though I was confident in other areas of my life, I still could never get wild in the bedroom the way I truly wanted to, in fear of having to present my dark discolored thighs—what I saw as my biggest imperfection—to someone else.

When I went to college, I visited my boyfriend's school for the first time, and there, something in me snapped. Maybe it was being in a new environment or being on his turf that gave me the body confidence I'd previously lacked, but I banged that man. Loudly, proudly, on top of the covers—and on top of my man. I felt like Samantha Jones on a sex swing. I didn't give a single fuck. Later, when I introduced myself to my then-boyfriend's roommate as his girlfriend in the school's burger joint, his only reply was, "I heard." Although slightly embarrassed, I was also proud. I had done it. I let that inner thigh insecurity finally go. 

That same night, I let my boyfriend eat me out on his twin-size bed, and it was amazing. To my surprise, he had no questions, qualms or concerns about the color of my thighs. Genuinely, he was happy that I was no longer "cold."

Over time, in the years that followed, I became more understanding of how my melanin works. Having discoloration or hyperpigmentation isn't ugly by any means, and it's not something that I can move around or hide from. I also understand that anyone who decides to make fun of my color is just anti-Black and racist. Now, as a young, single woman in her mid-20s, I know my darker inner thighs are exactly what makes me beautifully Black. 

Right before the pandemic, I started hooking up with an old flame, and I'd never felt more comfortable with a partner. It's exactly what I needed when I first started having sex, and it's still something I seriously value now. Having a partner that I feel safe with is not just restricted to giving consent. It's about being with someone who isn't going to judge my body, how it moves, or what it looks like.

These days with the world slowly opening back up, I'm not at all concerned with how my body is perceived when I get back in the dating game. I'm a dark-skinned Black, plus-size woman—my partners know what they signed up for. If not, they'll have to learn just how beautiful the sides and shades of my melanin really are.